How to Help Someone With a Gabapentin Addiction

Gabapentin produces feelings of relaxation and calmness, which can help relieve nerve pain, sleeplessness, and anxiety

Gabapentin is a prescription painkiller that is less addictive than opioids. However, it still carries its own set of risks. Gabapentin abuse, overdose, and addiction are all possible risks among users.

What Is Gabapentin (Neurontin)?

Gabapentin is a prescription painkiller and an anticonvulsant that is sold under the brand name Neurontin and Gralise. Most often, doctors use it to treat restless legs syndrome, epilepsy, hot flashes, and neuropathic pain.1 It can also be used as an addiction treatment medication and may be prescribed during alcohol and cocaine withdrawal.

Gabapentin is chemically similar to a brain chemical called Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which affects the body’s central nervous system. Neurontin works by producing feelings of relaxation and calmness, which can help relieve nerve pain, sleeplessness, and anxiety.

It is prescribed in several different forms, including capsules, tablets, extended-release tablets, and oral solution. Doctors recommend taking gabapentin with a full 8-ounce glass of water three times a day.

Although gabapentin has a low potential for abuse, it does cause a high similar to marijuana. As a result, some people misuse it recreationally. Common street names or slang terms for gabapentin are gabbies or johnnies.

Is Gabapentin An Opioid?

Gabapentin is used as a less addictive alternative to opioids, but many people abuse it and develop gabapentin addiction. If you’re wondering, “Is gabapentin a narcotic?” the answer is no. Although it is a prescription painkiller that shares many similar qualities to opioids, gabapentin is not chemically the same as opioid drugs and it works differently.

Both gabapentin and opioid drugs slow the functioning of the neurons in the central nervous system. However, they do so in different ways.

  • Opioid drugs work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors affect the way a person experiences pain and stress.
  • Researchers still do not fully understand gabapentin’s mechanism of action, but they know it affects the electrical activity within neurons, which may have an inhibitory or slowing response. As a result, GABA levels in the brain and spinal cord increase.

Both gabapentin and opioid painkillers require a prescription for medical use and both types of medication can be abused. Gabapentin does not produce euphoria to the same extent as opioids, so it has a lower potential for abuse than opioid drugs. However, chronic misuse of gabapentin or opioids can produce physical tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

How Is Gabapentin Used for Addiction Treatment?

Although gabapentin is not an FDA-approved medication for addiction treatment, it is prescribed off-label as an addiction treatment drug. Gabapentin is most often used to treat alcoholism, but it has been used to treat other types of addictions too. Medical professionals use it during medical detox and throughout subsequent treatment to enhance relapse prevention.

Due to the way gabapentin affects the central nervous system, it can help reduce the anxiety, agitation, and pain many people experience during alcohol withdrawal. Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms and withdrawal progress, the frequency of gabapentin administration will vary. However, doses usually range from 100 mg to 800 mg. 

Using gabapentin for depression, nerve pain after herpes, tremors, restless legs syndrome, extreme calf muscle discomfort, neuropathic pain, acute pain following an operation, and alcoholism are all rather common. In general, studies show that gabapentin appears to have some benefit for anxiety disorders, has modest efficacy for alcohol craving and withdrawal symptoms, and may have some benefit in opioid dependence as an adjunct therapy.2,3

One study from the American Journal of Psychiatry also found that patients who were treated for alcoholism with both gabapentin and naltrexone had better results than those who were only treated with naltrexone.4 Another study found that individuals treated for alcoholism with gabapentin showed a significant reduction in their drinking and a greater rate of abstinence than the individuals who were given a placebo.5

Although the evidence shows gabapentin is an effective addiction treatment drug, it can cause severe side effects like suicidal thoughts, mood swings, and abrupt behavioral changes. As such, individuals should never use it to self-medicate during alcohol withdrawal without the direct supervision of a doctor. 

How Long Does Gabapentin Last?

The gabapentin half-life is about seven hours for most people. That means it will take about 48 hours for the drug to be completely eliminated from your system.6 However, several other factors can influence how long it takes, such as:

  • The size of the gabapentin dose
  • Your age
  • Your kidneys’ function
  • Your BMI or weight

Normal drug tests don’t typically check for the presence of gabapentin, but it can be detected if a test is specifically intended to find it. Although gabapentin is not detectible with saliva swab tests, it can be detected with a blood test for five to seven hours after taking it. It is also detectible with a urine test for about one to three days after taking it.

Can Gabapentin Be Abused?

Gabapentin is not considered an addictive drug but the potential for misuse is high due to the withdrawal symptoms it causes and the psychoactive effects it produces when misused.7 

When taken alone, there is very little potential for misuse and addiction. However, many people who misuse it do so to enhance the effects of other medications and drugs in an effort to increase their high or achieve a sense of extreme sedation.

A gabapentin high has been said to feel like a marijuana high and it produces feelings of calmness, euphoria, and increased sociability. People who abuse it may develop a habit of crushing the tablets and snorting gabapentin or chew up the tablets before swallowing them. They may also take other people’s prescription gabapentin, buy it illegally online, or take larger or more frequent doses than were prescribed by a doctor. Taking gabapentin in these ways is never recommended, but people do it because it allows them to experience the euphoric effects more quickly and powerfully.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), gabapentin abuse is becoming more common and emergency department visits related to gabapentin misuse are rising. According to the 2016 annual report of AAPCC’s National Poison Data System (NPDS), gabapentin was detected in a total of 168 fatalities from 2012 to 2016. Of those cases, gabapentin was the primary cause of death in 23 individuals. Total exposure calls as a result of gabapentin increased from 5,889 in 2012 to 20,064 in 2016 for a total of 72,283.8

Researchers also found that of patients taking gabapentin illegally, 56 percent were taking it with an opioid, 27 percent were taking it with an opioid and a muscle relaxant or an anxiety medication, and the remaining 8.6 percent of patients were combining it with other illicit substances.9

Despite its slight potential for abuse, researchers and authorities are finding that the frequency of gabapentin misuse is increasing. One survey completed by 129 patients attending six different substance abuse treatment clinics found that 22 percent of them admitted to abusing gabapentin, compared to 47 percent who misused benzodiazepines and 43 percent who abused cannabis.10

Gabapentin is the fifth most prescribed drug in the U.S.11 Unfortunately, even if the use of this prescription drug begins for legitimate medical purposes, it can turn into misuse, especially for those who have a history of substance abuse. Media reports are even indicating evidence of a black market for the drug now too, further indicating the presence of illegal sales of gabapentin.12

What Are Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse?

woman who can't sleep sits on bed at night

Abusers describe the effects of gabapentin abuse with feelings of euphoria, improved sociability, a marijuana-like high, relaxation, and a sense of calm.13

When people take too much gabapentin or use it when they don’t need it, they may also experience some of the following side effects, which can be uncomfortable, painful, and downright dangerous.

  • Anxiety
  • Back or joint pain
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Ear pain
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Increased appetite
  • Shakiness 
  • Swelling of the arms or legs
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Weakness 
  • Weight gain

Can You Overdose on Gabapentin?

Yes, gabapentin overdose is possible if you take too much. You also run the risk of overdosing on gabapentin if you complete the withdrawal process and then return to abusing it without gradually increasing your dosage. Signs and symptoms of gabapentin overdose include:

  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Double vision
  • Speech slurring
  • Diarrhea 

Gabapentin abuse may also cause unpredictable or life-threatening effects, especially if it was purchased illegally from a dealer or untrustworthy online source. Sometimes, in these instances, illegal drug producers mix other substances with gabapentin or give the buyer something else entirely, which can lead to overdose. If you think that someone has overdosed on gabapentin, call 911 immediately.

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

Gabapentin is not currently scheduled as a controlled substance in the U.S. However, it still has the potential to cause tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Much like other drugs of abuse, it can cause serious side effects when taken in large doses, produces mild or severe withdrawal symptoms, and it is especially dangerous if it is misused with opioids or other addictive substances.

What Are the Signs of Gabapentin Addiction?

If someone is addicted to gabapentin, he or she may display some of the following behavioral signs:

  • Lying about symptoms or exaggerating symptoms to get a gabapentin prescription from a doctor.
  • Seeing more than one doctor to get several gabapentin prescriptions.
  • Refusing to stop abusing gabapentin despite negative life consequences.
  • Constantly being preoccupied with using gabapentin.
  • Trying to stop using gabapentin but being unable to.
  • Demonstrating major changes in social habits or social circles.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to get or use gabapentin.

What Are Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms?

You may experience gabapentin withdrawal if you’re physically dependent or addicted to gabapentin. Most people start to experience gabapentin withdrawal symptoms between 24 and 48 hours after the last dose.

Common gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include:14

  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of muscle control
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating 

Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms typically peak around three days after your last dose and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. The safest way to stop using gabapentin is with the help of your doctor or with a medical detox program. Quitting cold turkey is extremely uncomfortable, dangerous, and is unlikely to produce lasting sobriety.

Pregabalin vs. Gabapentin: What’s the Difference?

Gabapentin and pregabalin (Lyrica) are both anticonvulsant medications used to treat seizures, neuropathic pain, and pain caused by shingles. They are also both classified as a type of drug called gabapentinoids and can produce some similar side effects. However, although they are both potential drugs of abuse that can cause dependence and addiction, there are some differences between the two.

One of the major differences between pregabalin and gabapentin is that the DEA has classified pregabalin (Lyrica) as a controlled substance, whereas medications containing gabapentin are not currently scheduled as controlled substances in the U.S.

Lyrica is also absorbed more quickly than gabapentin and studies suggest that it may be a more potent anticonvulsant and neuroleptic medication. As a result, it is often viewed as being more effective for reducing a patient’s frequency of seizures or severity of pain.

Gabapentin and pregabalin both produce withdrawal symptoms, but these symptoms vary slightly.15,16

Gabapentin Withdrawal SymptomsPregabalin Withdrawal Symptoms
Sweating AnxietyNauseaInsomniaDrowsinessLack of muscle controlVomitingFatigueDizzinessSweating AnxietyNausea Sleep problemsHeadachesDiarrhea 

Since both gabapentin and pregabalin can cause tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms, medical professionals recommend tapering off these drugs if you want to get sober.

———–> Read more about the differences between Lyrica and Gabapentin.

How to Stop Taking Gabapentin

If you or a loved one is addicted to Neurontin or Gralise, stopping gabapentin abuse may seem impossible. But you need to know that you’re not alone. If you’re wondering how to stop taking gabapentin,  many other people have wound up trapped by a substance abuse disorder, seemingly facing two outcomes: severe discomfort and pain during withdrawal or a life plagued by addiction.

Fortunately, stopping gabapentin abuse isn’t impossible. Gabapentin detox is often the first step toward healing. Quitting cold turkey isn’t likely to produce long-lasting sobriety but a medical detox program can provide medication-assisted treatment for withdrawal symptoms and clinical counseling to help you navigate the difficult psychological withdrawal symptoms you may face during detox.

After abusing gabapentin for a long period of time, your body will become dependent on the substance and you will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it suddenly.

To safely stop all use of gabapentin, you should complete a medically-assisted drug detox program. This type of detox will slowly wean you off the drug while treating any uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. This will give you the opportunity to achieve a stable state of sobriety before continuing your addiction treatment with a drug rehab program if that’s what you choose to do.

If you are struggling with gabapentin abuse, you may also be suffering from addiction to other substances, such as opioids or alcohol. An individualized polydrug detox program will address the complex needs of multiple types of addictions occurring simultaneously.

Some drug detox centers also offer H&I meetings, which serve as a low-pressure introduction to the 12-Step Program. Detox clients are encouraged to attend to gain insight and knowledge about the program, talk to sober peers about their recovery experiences, and connect with potential sponsors.

Gabapentin Addiction Treatment Programs

After drug detox, an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab program can help you adjust to your new sober life and develop the skills and tools you’ll need to sustain long-term sobriety. In rehab, you’ll work with clinical counselors, recovery specialists, other addiction treatment professionals, and sober peers to make positive life changes that will help you overcome your gabapentin addiction for good.

Reputable and trustworthy gabapentin addiction treatment modalities are certified and affiliated with well-known organizations like The Joint Commission, NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, and the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). Other affiliations or certifications through local organizations like the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals (TAAP) can also signify a facility’s commitment to excellence and quality care.

A solid gabapentin addiction treatment program will also use evidence-based and research-based treatment methods throughout the program, such as:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • 12-Step facilitation therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Creative arts therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Contingency management

A gabapentin addiction treatment program will likely also consist of educational lectures, life skills development, regular drug testing, and peer recovery support programming or group activities.

Residential drug rehab and an intensive outpatient program (IOP) both provide comprehensive treatment and support, but your detox treatment team or doctor should be able to provide a recommendation based on your treatment needs.

The cost of gabapentin addiction treatment programs can vary greatly depending on the facility’s location, amenities, and treatment services offered. However, if you have health insurance, your policy should cover drug detox and rehab services.

Alternatively, most drug rehab centers provide potential clients with several different payment options, such as financed healthcare loans or scholarships to help alleviate the financial burden of rehab. If you have are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, have personal savings, EAP, an HSA, or an IRA or 401(k) plan, you may also use those options to pay for detox and rehab. Other payment alternatives include:

  • Fundraising or crowdfunding
  • Selling items of value
  • Getting a personal loan from a family member
  • Getting a SAMHSA grant

How to Help Someone With a Gabapentin Addiction

If you believe a friend or loved one is abusing gabapentin, you may have noticed some of the behavioral and physical signs and symptoms listed above. These symptoms are no doubt cause for concern, but how can you help someone see the problem and make a change?

Unfortunately, the addicted person must ultimately decide that they’ve had enough and that they are ready to get sober. There is nothing you can do to force someone to change their behavior. However, you can make changes in your own behavior, such as eliminating enabling behaviors like:

  • Lending the person money to pay for bills or drugs.
  • Covering up for the person when they miss family events, don’t show up for work, or find themselves trapped in a lie.
  • Picking up the person’s slack at home, at school, or work.
  • Abusing gabapentin or other addictive substances with the person.
  • Ignoring the telltale signs of addiction and embracing denial.
  • Making excuses for the person’s inappropriate behavior.
  • Downplaying your emotions or suppressing them instead of honestly communicating about how the addiction affects your life.
  • Believing the person can overcome gabapentin addiction on their own without help.

Often, changing enabling behaviors feels a lot like giving up on the addicted person or refusing to help them. However, by allowing the person to experience the consequences of their addiction, they may be more motivated to seek treatment and get help. As long as you continue to cover for them and pick up the pieces, they will likely continue to be set in their ways and you will suffer the consequences for their actions.

Ditching enabling behaviors and prioritizing yourself can be difficult, so it’s wise to seek counseling and support through community groups like Nar-Anon. A licensed professional counselor can help you identify what you’re feeling, learn to accept it, and determine how to best move forward, even amid a relationship that is tarnished by addiction. 

Let Us Help You Plan and Host a Gabapentin Addiction Intervention

Addressing a loved one’s substance abuse is often a delicate situation that requires tact and a peaceful and respectful approach. Since emotions often run high when it comes to addiction and families, confronting a loved one about his or her substance abuse is often very challenging. However, you don’t have to do it alone.

If you have a friend or loved one who is abusing gabapentin and needs help, the professionals at Briarwood Detox Center can provide intervention assistance by connecting you with a professional interventionist. Interventionists are individuals who are trained in planning and hosting addiction interventions. They are experts in planning interventions, coaching loved ones on what to say and how to say it, and creating an atmosphere that promotes positive change.

Helping a loved one with an addiction can be so difficult and sometimes an intervention is the best way to lovingly challenge the addicted individual to acknowledge their behavior and do something about it. 

Call Briarwood today to learn more about our medical detox services or to get a referral for an addiction interventionist. If you are committed to making a change in your own life, call (888) 857-0557 today and let us help you overcome your gabapentin addiction. We are here for you.

References:

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a694007.html 
  2. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4732322/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21454917
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18052562 
  6. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/
  7. https://www.goodrx.com/blog/gabapentin-now-a-controlled-substance-in-kentucky/
  8. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/gabapentin.pdf 
  9. http://www.pharmaciststeve.com/?p=16101 
  10. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/826680 
  11. https://www.statnews.com/2017/07/06/gabapentin-opioid-abuse/ 
  12. https://www.wxyz.com/news/local-news/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404313/ 
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493228/ 
  15. https://journals.lww.com/clinicalneuropharm/
  16. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605045.html

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