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Gabapentin Addiction: Key Facts About Abuse and Treatment

what is gabapentin addiction

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Gabapentin is the generic name for the widely prescribed drug Neurontin. The medication is an anticonvulsant and is available in capsules, tablets, and oral solutions. Doctors use it to treat seizures, post-herpetic neuralgia, and restless leg syndrome. Some wonder how to abuse gabapentin. Gabapentin abuse rarely involves just gabapentin; in most cases, it is abused alongside other medications.

Gabapentin works by decreasing brain activity and changing the way the body senses pain. The effect it has on pain perception is particularly potent when combined with opioids. Mixing it with other medications or taking it in high doses can lead to euphoria and extreme relaxation that is often compared to the effects of using marijuana. In fact, many suffering from gabapentin addiction turned to the drug to stop using marijuana.

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Table of Contents

What Causes Gabapentin Addiction?

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The medical community is only now starting to become aware of the severity of gabapentin abuse. Because the medication is not part of the more commonly abused classes of medication — such as opioids and benzos — it does not immediately arouse suspicion. Also, as it is not yet a controlled substance, doctors are not required to be as careful in their prescribing of the medication.

Despite the overall lack of awareness, gabapentin addiction is real. In many cases, the lax attitudes of medical professionals contribute to this addiction; because the medication must often be taken and it is common for doctors to increase the prescribed dose, forming a habit of taking the drug is natural, and the body can quickly become tolerant of it.
The medical community does not consider gabapentin to be physically addictive. Many reports experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they cease use of the drug. It is also possible to develop a psychological addiction to the abuse of gabapentin. Additionally, physical addictions to the drugs often abused in conjunction with gabapentin are highly probable. All this is to say that gabapentin addiction is both possible and complicated.
There are many negative side effects of Gabapentin use, even when not abused:

  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Red and itchy eyes
  • Memory loss
  • Tremors
  • Double vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Impaired motor control
  • Heartburn
  • Suicidal thoughts

Out of all of these Gabapentin side effects, suicidal thoughts are among the most concerning. According to the FDA, one in 500 people taking the drug as prescribed will experience suicidal thoughts. For those abusing the drug, especially in conjunction with other drugs, the potential for suicidal ideation is even higher.

What drugs include gabapentin?

Gabapentin is commonly known by the brand names Horizant and Neurontin. This drug comes in pill form, as an extended-release tablet, or as oral solution. People taking the brand Horizant normally take it once a day, particularly in the evening, whereas other brand names are taken in several doses over the day.

The Signs and Symptoms of Gabapentin Abuse

Young depressed woman suffering from drugs addiction.

Can one abuse gabapentin? Yes, but recognizing gabapentin abuse is not easy. This is because when addicted to the drug alone, the symptoms mimic those of prescribed use and when used with other drugs, the signs of gabapentin addiction to the more powerful drugs may override those of this drug addiction.

This means that the user must be honest to get the treatment they need. While not a clear indication of abuse, there are symptoms associated with higher doses of the drug.
Signs that indicate the user is taking a high dose of the drug include:

  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness and struggle to remain awake
  • Memory impairment
  • Severe loss of coordination
  • Uncontrollable shaking and jerking
  • Pronounced and frequent eye impairments
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

It is important to keep in mind that taking a high dose of the drug is not the same as abusing it. In many cases, a high dose is prescribed by a doctor to treat the underlying condition properly. As such, gabapentin abuse signs tend to be more psychological and behavioral than physical.
Some signs to keep watch for include:

  • Exaggerating symptoms, especially when speaking to doctors
  • Hopping from doctor to doctor to hide their use or get more prescriptions
  • Developing a new friend group, especially if at the sacrifice of family and long-term friends
  • Changes in hygiene and grooming
  • Frequently brings up gabapentin in conversations
  • Becomes upset if the drug is not available
  • Refusal to stop the medication, or a desire to quit but an inability to do so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after going too long between doses of the medication

Because gabapentin is rarely abused alone, it is helpful to know what other substances the user might be taking. This includes prescription drugs, street drugs, and alcohol. Then the signs of abuse of these substances can also be checked, making it easier to determine if it is a problem.

What are the Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse?

If taken in large doses, side effects of gabapentin may include:

  • Blurry or double vision
  • Feeling of anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty in memory
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Ear pain
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Swelling in the extremities
  • Weight gain
  • Unsteady

Other serious side effects include itchy eyes, swelling of face and mouth, difficulty in breathing, and seizures.

Gabapentin abuse is a serious problem, as dependence on this drug can result in life-threatening conditions.

In the event that one feels this drug has taken control of physical and emotional well-being, notify doctor immediately or seek a drug intervention specialist.

What are the Symptoms of a Gabapentin Overdose?

Gabapentin overdose can happen either accidentally after taking a larger dose than prescribed, or by intentionally taking a larger dose to get high. Serious side effects of a gabapentin overdose an cause long-term damage to the heart, lungs, and kidney. Symptoms of a gabapentin overdose include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

Gabapentin users with overdose case must be brought to the hospital for immediate medical assistance.

What are Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms?

If one decide to put an end to gabapentin abuse, doctor will gradually reduce the dose, through a process called “tapering,” to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. Common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Change in appetite
  • Crying spells
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sweating
  • Temporary increase in seizure symptoms

Facts and Statistics about Gabapentin Use

Facts and statistics are vital to understanding the risks of gabapentin.

While gabapentin is often able to improve the quality of life of patients taking it to treat specific medical conditions, there are a lot of risks involved, as evidenced by these gabapentin addiction facts.

More and more, it is being linked to drug-related deaths. For example, a study in Scotland in 2011 found that out of 1,400 postmortem examinations of overdose victims, 48 had used gabapentin, with 36 of those having also used morphine or methadone.

Amongst the general population, the rate of gabapentin drug abuse is low, at about 1%, but amongst opioid abusers, that percentage rises to 22%. Perhaps the most shocking statistic of all is that amongst all users with gabapentin prescriptions, addiction occurs in about 65% of cases.

In response to the rising rates of addiction and associated deaths, politicians in the United States have urged the FDA to reclassify gabapentin citing gabapentin abuse potential. However, there does not seem to be any change in the works for now.

Treatment and Recovery for Gabapentin Drug Abuse

Many drug rehabilitation centers do not offer gabapentin addiction treatment. This is primarily because the ill effects of the drug have only recently come to light. However, the fact that gabapentin is often used in getting patients off of stronger drugs may also play a role.
With that said, there is treatment available; it is more limited than with many other drugs. Gabapentin abuse treatment is similar to detoxing from other substances in that the patient is weaned off the medication slowly and there is a focus on skills to keep the user in recovery.

However, because it is uncommon only to be abusing gabapentin, in most cases, treatment for abuse gabapentin will mean also treating the addiction to the other substance or substances.

If the patient was taking gabapentin as part of medical treatment, they would need to be placed on an alternative medication once detox is complete. Some potential alternatives are Cymbalta, Lyrica, and pregabalin. However, there is still the potential to become addicted to these medications as well.

Abuse of Gabapentin Can Be Treated

Although the medication is not considered to be addictive, dependence on and abuse of the drug is acknowledged by the medical community. Despite this, not all doctors fully understand the risks of prescribing gabapentin. The drug can be abused for its euphoric effects on its own or in combination with other drugs, which increases its risks. Gabapentin abuse can be treated in many rehabilitation clinics across the United States, with therapy addressing both gabapentin addiction and addiction to any other substances. However, it is important to select a center experienced in treating gabapentin abuse.

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Medically Reviewed By Michael Espelin APRN
Olivier George

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.


Leave a comment

  • Darline
    Need to doctor has told me nothing about the hazards of gabspentin.can taking gabspentin cause exhaustion I cannot walk 100 steps before gasping for breath and the need to sit or lean against something. Please help, I think something is very wrong.