Gabapentin, while not currently listed as a controlled substance, still has a potential for abuse and addiction.
Gabapentin works by binding to neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. There, it works like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a natural chemical in the brain, to affect the central nervous system.
People who have abused gabapentin report positive-feeling effects, such as:
- improved sociability
- a marijuana-like high
- sense of calm
Additionally, gabapentin can increase the effects of opioids which may lead to increased risks of addiction and polysubstance abuse.
Even if taken as prescribed, a person may also experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. The desire to avoid these unpleasant feelings may lead to ongoing use, and in turn, gabapentin addiction.
How Is Gabapentin Used?
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant and painkiller that belongs to a class of prescription medications called gabapentinoids. It’s typically in the form of a capsule, tablet, or oral solution.
Currently, in the United States, the FDA has approved gabapentin for certain treatments. It’s often prescribed under the brand names Gralise, Horizant, and Neurontin.
Gabapentin may be prescribed to help with treatments related to postherpetic neuralgia, seizures and epilepsy, and restless leg syndrome.
It may also have off-label uses for a variety of treatments related to:
- neuropathic pain from shingles
- bipolar disorder
- postmenopausal hot flashes
- essential tremors
- resistant depressant and mood disorders
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- alcohol withdrawal
- nausea and vomiting
- headaches and migraines
- interstitial cystitis
- diabetic neuropathy
- social phobia
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- refractory chronic cough
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While gabapentin can certainly be helpful for nerve pain and other conditions when taken as prescribed, taking higher doses can easily lead to addiction, worsened side effects, and additional dangers.
Side Effects Of Gabapentin Use And Addiction
Whether gabapentin is being taken as a prescription drug or a drug of abuse, there are a few common side effects that can occur.
Side effects that may occur after the use of gabapentin can include:
- uncontrollable shaking of a part of your body
- blurred or double vision
- loss of coordination
- memory loss
- strange or unusual thoughts
- suicidal thoughts or actions
- uncontrollable eye movements
- nausea or vomiting
- diarrhea or constipation
- dry mouth
- increased appetite or weight gain
- swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
- back or joint pain
- ear pain
- red, itchy eyes
- flu-like symptoms including runny nose, cough, and sore throat
These side effects may be more severe if a gabapentin addiction has developed. Additional serious side effects that may occur include rash, itching, swelling of the face or throat, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and seizures.
Signs And Symptoms Of Gabapentin Abuse And Addiction
Because gabapentin prescriptions can be easy to get and the drug can be habit-forming, it may be easy to begin abusing gabapentin or develop a drug addiction without realizing it.
Signs of gabapentin addiction could include:
- poor coordination
- tremors or shaking
- mood changes
- depression or suicidal thoughts
- memory loss
- loss of pleasure
- trouble speaking
- attempting to get higher doses prescribed
- visiting multiple doctors who are prescribing gabapentin
If a person doesn’t have a gabapentin prescription, they may be getting it illegally. People who buy gabapentin as an illicit drug may ask for “gabbies” or “johnnies.”
Unfortunately, gabapentin misuse is often an indicator of a substance use disorder. People with substance use disorders often end up abusing multiple drugs in order to get an increased high. Gabapentin may be mixed with opiates, benzodiazepines like Xanax or Vicodin, and alcohol.
If you’re afraid that someone you know may be struggling with polysubstance abuse or addiction, here are common signs to look for:
- changes in sociability
- decreased personal hygiene
- problems with finances
- problems in personal relationships
- loss of energy or motivation
These signs may point to a gabapentin addiction. For help and to learn about treatment options, talk to your doctor or an addiction treatment specialist if you or a loved one has a gabapentin prescription and begin showing these signs.
Gabapentin Overdose Risk
In addition to the side effects listed above, gabapentin abuse and addiction can also lead to an increased risk of gabapentin overdose. The use of gabapentin has been associated with seizures, respiratory depression, and overdose deaths.
Common signs of a gabapentin overdose can include:
- slurred speech
- double vision
When you suspect an overdose, it is crucial to reach out for help immediately. Contact 911 for help with a suspected overdose, especially if the person is having trouble breathing, experienced a seizure, or is unconscious.
Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms And Dangers
Even after taking gabapentin as prescribed, a person can experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug.
In fact, avoiding the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is one reason that people may continue abusing gabapentin and worsening the risk of addiction.
When a person introduces a drug like gabapentin to the brain, it can quickly get used to the increased supply of the chemical (in this case, GABA). When a person stops taking the drug, withdrawal symptoms can occur.
Common gabapentin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- nausea or vomiting
- insomnia/difficulty sleeping
- involuntary shaking or tremors
- increased likelihood of seizures
Not all drugs pose health risks when you try to quit the use of them, but gabapentin is a drug that may threaten your health when stopping use of it. It is best to seek professional help when quitting gabapentin to ensure your safety.
Gabapentin Addiction Treatment Options
Gabapentin addiction can be treated with several different methods including a variety of treatment options.
Inpatient treatment programs are more immersive, intensive, and generally more effective for drug addiction. In these programs, a person will visit a detoxification center and stay full-time while receiving treatment.
Of course, this type of treatment program may not be practical for everyone. If you have a job, family, school, or other obligations that keep you from being able to seek full-time treatment, consider an outpatient program.
Outpatient programs typically involve a person visiting an addiction treatment center several times throughout the week in order to receive the support and resources they need.
No matter which type of program you choose, gabapentin addiction treatment may involve a combination of methods including:
- group or individual therapy
- cognitive-behavioral therapy
- contingency management
- evaluation and treatment for mental health illnesses
These practices can help people learn the skills necessary for a successful recovery, including how to identify the root cause of addiction, recognize and avoid triggering situations, and how to prevent relapse.
If you or a loved one may be struggling with gabapentin addiction or drug use in any form, contact an AddictionResource.net specialist today to find the best addiction 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.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — Gralise
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — Neurontin
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Gabapentin
- National Center for Biotechnology Information — Substance misuse of gabapentin
- National Institutes of Health — Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts
- National Institutes of Health — What is drug addiction treatment?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Gabapentin