While gabapentin isn’t currently listed as a controlled substance, it still has a potential for abuse. Specifically, it may often be mixed with opioids to strengthen the desired effects.
If you or a loved one may be taking higher doses of gabapentin than prescribed or abusing gabapentin in other ways, there may be some noticeable signs and symptoms.
General signs of drug addiction may include changes in motivation, energy, appetite, or sleep patterns. If a person has developed an addiction to gabapentin, they may have additional noticeable side effects.
While these side effects may seem mild at first, gabapentin abuse can be potentially life-threatening. For this reason, gabapentin misuse should never be taken lightly.
Abusing gabapentin regularly can lead to severe, potentially permanent damage to the brain and body.
Some of the most serious side effects that can occur from gabapentin abuse may include:
- double vision
- slurred speech
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, or eyes
Of course, the risk of addiction and the risk of overdose are also possibilities when it comes to gabapentin use.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a painkiller and anticonvulsant that belongs to a class of medications called gabapentinoids. In the United States, gabapentin is commonly prescribed under the brand names Gralise, Horizant, and Neurontin. Street names for gabapentin may include “gabbies” or “johnnies.”
It’s currently used to treat certain types of seizures in people with epilepsy, nerve pain that develops after shingles, and restless legs syndrome.
In addition to neuropathic pain and restless leg syndrome, doctors may prescribe gabapentin for off-label use, including the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, symptoms of fibromyalgia, and hot flashes.
Unfortunately, gabapentin is a popular drug of abuse. A person can develop a physical tolerance or physical dependence on the drug, which may lead to abuse or addiction.
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The drug mimics the chemical structure of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which affects the body’s central nervous system. It can make people feel relaxed, ease nerve pain, calm symptoms of anxiety, and help with insomnia.
Because of these desired effects and how easy gabapentin may be to access, it’s also commonly abused.
Side Effects Of Gabapentin
Whether gabapentin is taken as prescribed or being abused, there are several short-term side effects that can occur.
Common side effects and symptoms of gabapentin use may include:
- tiredness or weakness
- uncontrollable tremors or shaking
- double or blurred vision
- memory problems
- strange or unusual thoughts
- unwanted eye movement
- nausea and/or vomiting
- dry mouth
- increased appetite or weight gain
- back or joint pain
- flu-like symptoms
- ear pain
- red, itchy eyes
Additional, more serious side effects may include rash, itching, swelling of the face or throat, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and/or seizures.
The risk of these side effects and other adverse reactions is increased when gabapentin is taken in high doses or mixed with other drugs/prescription medications.
Signs And Symptoms Of A Gabapentin Addiction
If you’re afraid that you or a loved one may be abusing gabapentin prescriptions or have developed a gabapentin addiction, there may be some noticeable signs and symptoms.
Common signs of gabapentin addiction may include:
- poor coordination
- tremors or shaking
- depression or suicidal thoughts
- changes in mood
- memory problems
- inability to feel pleasure
- difficulty speaking
- misleading doctors to get higher doses prescribed
- visiting multiple doctors who are prescribing gabapentin
Gabapentin is commonly abused alongside other drugs including alcohol, benzodiazepines, painkillers, and other illicit or prescription drugs.
Some general signs of substance use disorders or polysubstance use disorder may include:
- changes in sociability
- lack of personal hygiene
- financial problems
- relationship problems
- lack of motivation or energy
If you notice these signs and symptoms in yourself or someone you know, consider reaching out to a treatment specialist or healthcare provider to discuss the possibility of a gabapentin addiction.
Can Gabapentin Abuse Cause Withdrawal?
Gabapentin abuse can lead to potentially serious withdrawal symptoms.
After extended use, even at the recommended doses, a person’s brain can get used to gabapentin and have a hard time getting used to its absence. In this adjustment period, mild to severe withdrawal symptoms can occur.
Most commonly, gabapentin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- involuntary shaking or tremors
- increased likelihood of seizures
Be sure to talk to a doctor, healthcare specialist, or treatment specialist before quitting gabapentin “cold turkey.” It may be recommended that you gradually lower doses until it’s safe to stop taking the drug completely.
Other Long-Term Effects And Dangers
While a person may have to go through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they quit taking gabapentin, continuing to take the drug can be even more dangerous.
Long-term effects and dangers of gabapentin abuse may include:
- memory loss
- weakened muscles
- respiratory failure
- suicidal thoughts and actions
- sudden and unexplained death in people with epilepsy
The longer a person takes gabapentin, the more likely a physical dependence is to occur. Plus, the risk of overdose is always a possibility when it comes to substance misuse.
Gabapentin Overdose Risk
In addition to the potentially severe side effects, long-term effects, and dangers listed above, gabapentin misuse also leads to an increased risk of overdose. Gabapentin overdoses may take the form of a seizure or respiratory depression. Overdose deaths have been attributed to gabapentin.
Common symptoms of a gabapentin overdose may include:
- double vision
- slurred speech
If you suspect an overdose, call the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222. If the person has collapsed, had a seizure, has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, call 911 immediately.
Gabapentin And Polysubstance Abuse
Taking Gabapentin with other substances such as drugs or alcohol is known as polysubstance abuse. Mixing drugs is extremely dangerous as it is hard to predict how the drugs will interact with each other.
In some cases, drugs may have opposing effects and will make the user feel like they are not getting the desired effect. This leads them to take more of the drug which can lead to overdose.
In other cases, the effects of the drugs can intensify and worsen the side effects, putting the user at an increased of serious health consequences.
Common Gabapentin drug combinations include:
Gabapentin Addiction Treatment
Because of the overdose risk, withdrawal symptoms, and other potentially life-threatening side effects, gabapentin abuse or addiction should never be taken lightly. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an addiction specialist or healthcare provider to figure out which treatment options would work best for you.
Gabapentin addiction, like other substance use disorders, can be treated with a variety of methods and therapies. These may take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
Inpatient treatment options are more intensive and may work best for a person who’s struggling with severe drug addiction, dual diagnosis, or polysubstance abuse. Within these programs, people visit a treatment center and stay full-time for several days, weeks, or months.
Alternatively, outpatient treatment programs are available. With this option, people visit an addiction center several times each week in order to receive resources and support that can help them through a successful recovery.
Specific methods for treating gabapentin addiction will vary based on a person’s individual needs. Still, behavioral therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or contingency management will likely be used. Individual or group therapy will also likely be a part of the treatment program.
These types of treatments help motivate people to stay sober, teach strategies for coping with addiction, and aim to help prevent relapse. The skills learned through these exercises can also help to improve communication, relationships, parenting skills, and family dynamics.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Additionally, a person may be evaluated and treated for other mental health illnesses. Unfortunately, mental health illnesses often go hand-in-hand with drug addiction.
Treating these symptoms and using psychiatry to find the root cause of the substance use disorder can help a person recognize when and why they abuse drugs. In turn, this can help a person to maintain a drug-free lifestyle.
Find Help For A Gabapentin Addiction Today
If you or a loved one may be struggling with Gabapentin abuse, don’t put off getting help. Reach out to an AddictionResource.net treatment specialist today to find the best treatment program for you.
Published on November 11, 2020
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Gabapentin use, abuse, and the US opioid epidemic: the case for reclassification as a controlled substance and the need for pharmacovigilance
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Substance misuse of gabapentin
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — What is drug addiction treatment?
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — Gralise (gabapentin)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — Neurontin (gabapentin)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Gabapentin