Currently, gabapentin is not classified as a controlled substance on the federal level by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). However, in some states, it is a schedule V drug, indicating that it is considered to have a relatively low potential for abuse and addiction. It is commonly prescribed to address neuropathic pain, epilepsy, and restless leg syndrome.
Gabapentin (brand name Neurontin) is a relatively new medicine that was introduced in 1993. As such, its mechanism of action and side effects are still being researched. Gabapentin appears to impact the GABA neurochemical but does not seem to manipulate receptors related to other common substances of abuse, such as opioids.
For this reason, it’s not considered to be a common drug of abuse, and yet, it still has depressant properties that are comparable to many other abused substances. Also, it has been known to produce withdrawal symptoms in persons who have become dependent.
This prescription medication can function as a tranquilizer and induce feelings of well-being that, although mild, are similar to the high produced by marijuana. It can also cause feelings of calm and increased sociability.
It is commonly used by polydrug users who combine it with other substances to amplify both the gabapentin’s effects. It is also misused by those seeking to relieve symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol or other drugs.
Gabapentin abuse is believed to be unlikely considering its low potential for dependence and addiction. However, it can cause withdrawal symptoms, which is a hallmark sign of physical support. Effects induced by the drug could also lead to psychological dependence. Treatment for gabapentin addiction may be more complicated than other addictions because the individual will be more likely to be dependent on other substances concurrently.
Gabapentin Use and Abuse
Prescription drug abuse is characterized by use above and beyond that is taken as directed by a doctor. This includes using the medication without a legitimate prescription or making up or exaggerating symptoms to obtain a prescription. Using a higher dose or more often than instructed is also considered abuse, which is likely to lead to withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped.
It is not uncommon for those enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs to report abusing gabapentin without a legitimate prescription. One study revealed that 22% of the patient surveyed misused this medication for its potential to induce intoxication, especially for intensifying the effects of methadone.
Gabapentin has also being used as an adulterant in illicit drugs such as heroin. The fact that this drug is uncontrolled means that it’s not difficult to obtain legal prescriptions, in which the product can then be sold on the black market.
Suppose gabapentin follows the trend of many other psychoactive prescription drugs. In that case, recreational use will likely increase until the DEA and other government agencies recognize the danger and begin putting restrictions.
Signs of Gabapentin (Neurontin) Addiction
Although the potential for an addiction to gabapentin is low, it can still occur. Addiction can be a severe problem due to the potential for overdose and death. If you suspect that someone you love is using gabapentin without a prescription or in combination with other drugs or alcohol, you can watch for the following abuse symptoms:
- Impaired memory
- Impaired motor skills
- Jerky movements
- Erratic eye movements
- Double vision
- Slurred speech
Suppose an individual is using gabapentin as directed with a prescription. In that case, these effects are not necessarily an indicator of abuse or addiction, although side effects tend to be more intense based on how much a person uses. Several symptoms hallmark addiction and a few are specific to prescription drugs. Common signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction may include the following:
- Making up or exaggerating symptoms to physicians
- Doctor-shopping (visiting multiple doctors or pharmacies to get extra doses)
- Switching doctors after a doctor has refused to continue prescribing the drug
- Changes in friends and social circle
- Noticeable changes in personal hygiene and grooming
- Constant obsession regarding obtaining and using the drug
- Feeling stressed about not being able to get the drug
- Refusal or inability to stop using a medication despite social, financial, or legal issues
Lastly, the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing drug use is a hallmark indication of dependence and possibly full-blown addiction. These occur because the body has become accustomed to its presence and has become unable to function without it. In addition to dependence, tolerance also usually develops, characterized by the desire to use an increasing amount of the drug to experience its sought-after effects.
In general, the higher the dose an individual’s system adjusts to, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. Common gabapentin withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Changes in appetite
- Muscle pain or spasms
- Stomach pain
- Suicidal ideations
While most of these symptoms are not dangerous, seizures can cause harm or even death, and suicidal thoughts are always caused for alarm. For these reasons, individuals considering going off gabapentin are advised to consult a physician or addiction specialist. This should be done regardless of whether they are using it with or without a prescription. It may also be beneficial for the person to undergo medical detox during the withdrawal period’s initial days.
Prescription drug overdose deaths have been rising steadily for many years. Gabapentin overdose is similar to that of opioids, such as heroin or Vicodin. However, unlike opioids, there is no antidote for a gabapentin overdose that can instantly reverse symptoms and prevent further effects on the brain and body. As such, permanent damage is possible, even if medical intervention is performed early on.
Overdose is most likely to occur when gabapentin is used in combination with alcohol or other drugs. Thus, the fact that gabapentin is commonly being added to heroin by dealers is particularly concerning. Moreover, heroin users usually have almost no way of knowing what is in the substance they purchase on the black market. This is one reason why opioid overdose fatalities are so common.
Common signs and symptoms of gabapentin overdose can include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Double vision
- Slowed heart rate
- High or low blood pressure
- Slowed respiration
- Profound CNS depression
Among the biggest threats to a gabapentin overdose victim is a lack of oxygen to the brain (hypoxia), which happens mostly when consumed in conjunction with other CNS depressants. Depression of the CNS can lead to slowed breathing and can even cause breathing to stop altogether. An overdose on any depressant is considered a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
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