Alcohol And Gabapentin: A Dangerous Combination

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 11, 2020

Alcohol and gabapentin both depress the central nervous system and may lead to dangerous side effects when combined. Treatment for polydrug abuse can help individuals manage substance abuse and avoid overdose and other potential side effects, such as addiction.

Dangers Of Mixing Alcohol And Gabapentin

Many people who take regular medications may not realize that mixing their prescriptions with alcohol could have adverse effects. Mixing gabapentin and alcohol is a drug combination which can have dangerous consequences.

This is partly because the substances have similar effects on the body—they are both depressants—and may cause the central nervous system to slow to dangerously low levels of function. Learn about the dangers of mixing alcohol and gabapentin, side effects of the drug combination, and what to do if someone you know is abusing these substances.

What Is Gabapentin (Neurontin)?

Gabapentin is a generic medication that was originally developed by medical researchers for the purpose of treating epileptic seizures. It is labeled as an anticonvulsant.

There are several different brand-name versions of the medication, including Neurontin, Gralise, and Horizant. The medication usually comes in a capsule form that is meant to be taken whole. Crushing or chewing the pills can change the way that the body absorbs it.

People may abuse gabapentin for its depressant effects: feelings of relaxation, drowsiness, and euphoria. Those who abuse gabapentin with alcohol may be looking to enhance the depressant effects of both. Gabapentin may also be abused as a “downer”, or to counteract the effects of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine.

Conditions Gabapentin Treats

Gabapentin mainly treats seizure disorders. The brand-name versions of gabapentin are tailored for treating other types of diseases. For example, Gralise works best for reducing neuropathic pain that is caused by shingles. It is not effective for treating seizures. Horizant is able to treat neuropathic pain as well, but is mostly used for restless leg syndrome. Neurontin is still strictly used for seizures.

Some of the other conditions gabapentin can treat include:

  • alcohol withdrawal
  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder
  • borderline personality disorders
  • chronic low back pain
  • diabetic neuropathy
  • essential tremors
  • high blood pressure
  • insomnia
  • itching
  • migraines
  • mood disorders
  • stress

How Gabapentin Works In The Brain

Gabapentin gets its name from a neurotransmitter in the brain called “gamma-Aminobutyric acid,” or “GABA.” GABA is responsible for acting as a messenger to tell certain brain signals to slow down.

In order to work, gabapentin has to grab onto GABA receptors. Many health supplement companies sell over-the-counter versions of GABA for those who are struggling with tension and anxiety because of the calming effect that it produces.

Side Effects Of Mixing Gabapentin With Alcohol

Gabapentin is sometimes used to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in people who are trying to quit drinking. It is only supposed to be used for this purpose if a person doesn’t ingest any alcohol with the medication.

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This is because dangerous side effects of mixing alcohol and gabapentin can occur if the two are ingested at the same time.

Some of the most harmful side effects of mixing alcohol and gabapentin include:

  • anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • erratic behavior
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • myopathy
  • respiratory failure
  • suicidal thoughts and actions
  • trouble concentrating
  • vomiting

Risks And Dangers Of Combining Alcohol And Gabapentin

Risks and dangers of mixing alcohol and gabapentin are mostly due to the way that both substances impair the central nervous system by reducing the brain’s ability to react to environmental stimuli and stress.

Alcohol interferes with the ability of the brain receptors to communicate properly, which results in a suppression of the excitatory activity that would normally occur when a person is in danger or a stressful situation. This causes a drastic reduction in a person’s ability to make good decisions, coordinate their muscle movements, and react to what is occurring in their environment.

Gabapentin has a relaxing effect when it slows down brain activity. Some people abuse the medication by crushing it up and inhaling it through the nostrils after they have already consumed a large amount of alcohol. This causes it to hit the bloodstream faster than it would if it had to break down slowly in the stomach first.

The combination can lead to unpredictable or erratic behavior as a result. The resulting dangers of mixing alcohol and gabapentin is a high risk for car accidents and falls or possible damage to the heart and lungs from the organs being suppressed.

Can You Overdose When Mixing Alcohol And Gabapentin?

Most medical research shows that there is a relatively low risk of overdosing on gabapentin when it is taken under a doctor’s supervision solely for its intended medical purpose.

However, in the last several years, there has been a steady increase in the amount of addicted individuals who use it as part of a polysubstance use disorder so they can experience the “zombie-like” high that abuse of the medication is commonly known for.

Unfortunately, a tolerance builds up rather quickly in most individuals who misuse gabapentin. This causes them to crave higher and higher doses of the medication so they can feel its effects. This is usually when they start taking alcohol and gabapentin together.

Other illicit drugs, like heroin and fentanyl, are sometimes taken with it too, which further increases the risk of an overdose occurring because alcohol, heroin, and fentanyl all suppress the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of the body.

Signs Of Alcohol And Gabapentin Overdose

Those who take gabapentin in extremely high doses or combine it with other substances, such as alcohol, can experience overdose which can have serious and harmful effects on both short- and long-term health.

Signs of overdose symptoms may include:

  • agitation
  • ataxia
  • brain damage
  • coma
  • delirium
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • double vision
  • drowsiness
  • low blood pressure
  • nausea and vomiting
  • respiratory failure
  • seizures
  • shortness of breath
  • slurred speech
  • tachycardia

Treatment Options For Overdose

An overdose on alcohol and gabapentin has to be treated quickly to ensure a person has the best chance of survival. It is best for anyone who finds an overdose victim to call 911 for emergency help immediately. Never leave the person alone.

If the overdose victim has stopped breathing, CPR should be started and continued until the person either begins breathing on their own or the emergency medical technicians are able to take over.

Since one of the symptoms that can occur with this type of overdose is vomiting, it may be necessary to tilt the person’s head to the side to prevent them from choking on their vomit if they are unable to move their head on their own. It is also important to try to keep them warm and uncomfortable.

Once an overdose victim arrives at the hospital, they will most likely be given activated charcoal to help absorb some of the gabapentin that is still in their stomach. They might also have their stomach pumped to help remove any alcohol they drank. If respiratory failure has occurred, it may be necessary for them to have a ventilator inserted until they are able to breathe on their own again.

Find Treatment For Polysubstance Abuse Today

Combining alcohol with gabapentin as part of a polysubstance use disorder is dangerous because it can increase the risk of permanent brain damage, lung damage, heart failure, and numerous other health conditions, especially if a person overdoses.

It is crucial that anyone who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol and gabapentin gets the help they need at a drug and alcohol rehab center that specializes in polysubstance use disorders. For more information on how to find the best addiction treatment for your individual needs, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 11, 2020

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