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Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant medication, is generally considered to have a low risk profile for addiction, but some people may still misuse and abuse it to get high. Chronic gabapentin abuse can increase the risk of developing a gabapentin addiction. Understanding this risk and the signs of gabapentin addiction are critical if you use this medication, whether you are prescribed it or are taking it without a prescription.
Signs and Symptoms of Gabapentin Addiction
The risk of developing an addiction to gabapentin is becoming more well-known as the medication’s use has expanded to treat more conditions. Although not in the same class of drugs that traditionally carry the risk of addiction, such as benzodiazepines and opioids, gabapentin can produce a high, which reinforces continued use.1
Gabapentin can also elicit powerful psychedelic and sedative effects, including dissociation similar to that caused by dextromethorphan (over-the-counter cough syrup). Another reason people may abuse gabapentin is for its disinhibition—it can improve friendliness and talkativeness. Lastly, people may use gabapentin in order to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms. As with many other drugs, misuse and abuse of gabapentin increases the risk of becoming addicted.1
If you or someone you know has a gabapentin addiction, you may notice these signs and symptoms:2
- Strong cravings for gabapentin
- Inability to control or reduce gabapentin use despite efforts to do so
- Continued gabapentin use despite persistent problems with social functioning or interpersonal affairs
- Failure to fulfill major obligations at home, work, or school due to gabapentin use
- Withdrawing from social, occupational, or recreational activities due to gabapentin use
- Using gabapentin for longer periods or in higher amounts than intended
- Spending a great deal of time finding, using, and recovering from gabapentin use
- Continuing to use, despite awareness of negative consequences related to gabapentin use
- Development of tolerance to gabapentin
- Withdrawal symptoms when gabapentin use is discontinued
Someone who has an addiction to gabapentin may demonstrate some, or all, of the above-listed symptoms, depending on the stage of their addiction. Those who are newly developing an addiction may not demonstrate all of the gabapentin addiction symptoms. Likewise, those who have been addicted for a longer period of time may exhibit more symptoms, and their symptoms may be more severe.2
Experiencing one symptom by itself may be concerning, but not always an indication of a developing addiction. For example, tolerance can be a normal side effect of continued use of gabapentin but does not always indicate an addiction.
Who is at Risk of a Gabapentin Addiction?
Although research shows that gabapentin has lower abuse and addiction potential than other medications, such as opioids, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and prescription stimulants like Adderall, some people should proceed with caution based on their medical conditions and history.
People who appear to be at increased risk for developing a gabapentin addiction include people:3,4
- With a history of addiction
- With a family history of addiction
- Who may need to take gabapentin in higher amounts
- Who may need to take gabapentin for longer periods of time
If you have a history of substance abuse, it’s important to disclose this information to your doctor so they can determine if gabapentin is the right medication for you. After weighing the pros and cons, they may prescribe an alternative with lower addiction potential.
How to Treat Gabapentin Addiction
If you or your loved one is addicted to gabapentin and wants to get sober, the process often begins with detoxification. Detox involves professional management of your gabapentin withdrawal symptoms and medical stabilization. This phase can be done in either an inpatient or outpatient setting, but please speak with your medical provider to determine which setting is best for your particular situation.
If you have only been taking gabapentin for a short period of time, and your medical provider does not feel your addiction is severe enough to warrant inpatient care, then an outpatient detox may be sufficient.6 Conversely, if your gabapentin addiction is more severe, your doctor may recommend an inpatient detox program, where you will receive around-the-clock care and supervision to ensure your comfort and safety.
It is advised that you don’t abruptly quit gabapentin use, as unpleasant withdrawal symptoms may emerge. Instead, medical professionals use a tapering method. This will allow you to gradually wean off the medication to prevent withdrawal symptoms. The tapering process can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.7
Addiction Treatment Programs
Detox doesn’t address the underlying issues that caused you to abuse gabapentin in the first place. Once the detoxification phase is complete, it’s vital that you transition into an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program.
With inpatient care, you will be admitted to a residential care unit, where you will be living within a community of others recovering from gabapentin addiction. While there, you will receive individual counseling sessions and group therapy sessions to help you work through your addiction, triggers, and cravings. You will also work with your counselor to develop a relapse prevention plan.6
Traditionally, when inpatient treatment is complete, you will step down to outpatient treatment. This is where you live within the community, in your own home, or a sober living group home, and still attend individual and group therapy sessions as you continue to work on your sobriety.8
Once you complete outpatient treatment, it can be beneficial to support group meetings in the community, such as through Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These support groups provide people in recovery with a safe space to share their experiences related to addiction and receive encouragement from others.
Recovery from a gabapentin addiction may feel overwhelming and sometimes impossible, but with the right support and treatment, long-term sobriety is possible. Please call 800-926-9037 (Who Answers?) if you need additional guidance on where to find recovery resources.
- Quintero, G. (2017). Review about Gabapentin misuse, Interactions, Contraindications, and Side Effects. Journal of Experimental Pharmacology, 9, 13-21.
- Pergolizzi Pergolizzi, J. V., Raffa, R. B., & Rosenblatt, M. H. (2020). Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms, a Consequence of Chronic Opioid Use and Opioid Use Disorder: Current Understanding and Approaches to Management. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 45(5), 892–903.
- Jainren, M., & Lucy, C. (2000). Gabapentin in pain management. Anasthesia & Analgesia, 91(3), 680-687.
- McPherson, D., & Wick, J. (2019). Gabapentin: change is in the wind. Senior Care Pharmacist, 1:38(8), 490-498.
- Mersfelder, T.L., & Nichols, W.H. Gabapentin: Abuse, Dependence, and Withdrawal. (2016). Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 50(3):229-233. doi:10.1177/1060028015620800
- Weinstein ZM, Wakeman SE, Nolan S. (2018). Inpatient Addiction Consult Service: Expertise for Hospitalized Patients with Complex Addiction Problems. Medical Clinics of North America, 102(4):587-601.
- Tran KT, Hranicky D, Lark T, Jacob Nj (2005). Gabapentin withdrawal syndrome in the presence of a taper. Bipolar Disorders, 7(3):302-4.
- Margaret Allison & Robert L. Hubbard. (1985). Drug Abuse Treatment Process: A Review of the Literature. International Journal of the Addictions, 20(9), 1321-1345.