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Gabapentin Abuse and Addiction

What is Gabapentin Addiction?

Gabapentin is a medication that is used to treat different types of neuropathic pain as well as to control seizures in individuals who have epilepsy. It can also be used to treat the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Gabapentin is in a class of medications called anticonvulsants and treats seizures by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. It also changes the way the body senses pain.

While gabapentin has many positive uses, it is only meant to be taken as prescribed by a doctor and should not be used at higher doses to experience euphoria. Gabapentin can cause intense adverse side effects and has recently become a common drug of abuse, though addiction most often occurs with individuals who already have a history of addiction.

People abuse gabapentin because of the desirable effects it causes when abused. The drug’s effects vary with the user, dosage, experience, psychiatric history, and expectations. Because the medication has not been studied at great lengths for its abuse potential, the syndrome caused in those who take it recreationally is not as well-defined as with other drugs of abuse. However, it is becoming more understood that gabapentin abuse is a legitimate concern.

Potential psychotropic effects of gabapentin include:

  • Euphoria
  • Improved sociability
  • Feeling “high” and euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • A sense of calmness

Risks of Gabapentin Addiction

Although there is little likelihood of becoming addicted to gabapentin when it is taken as prescribed, between 40 and 65% of individuals with gabapentin prescriptions misuse the medication.

Studies of the toxicology reports of individuals caught driving under the influence of gabapentin show that only 7% were using gabapentin alone; the other 93% combined it with other substances, such as benzodiazepines, stimulants, and opioids. The effects of gabapentin can vary widely depending on the substances it is mixed with, and some of the effects, such as a zombie-like feeling, are not pleasurable.

In some instances, the drug may cause seizures, which can be extremely dangerous, especially for someone who has never experienced them before. While gabapentin can cause some enjoyable short-term effects when abused in high doses, it can also be dangerous, causing multiple harmful side effects and even overdose.

Side Effects of Gabapentin Addiction

In addition to the draining effects that some individuals report experiencing with high doses of gabapentin, the drug may also cause other side effects, even when it is taken at the correct dosage. If an individual consumes the drug in higher or more frequent doses, these side effects become much more intense and dangerous.

Side effects of gabapentin include:

  • Blurry vision or double vision
  • Dizziness
  • A headache
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
  • Rash
  • Anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Fatigue
  • Coordination problems
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Heartburn
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Fever
  • Pain in the ears, back, and joints
  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Acting on risky impulses
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggressive and violent behavior
  • Mania (abnormally excited, frenzied mood)

Signs of Gabapentin Addiction

Being able to recognize gabapentin abuse in a loved one is essential, especially because the drug is not as well-known as other substances of abuse. When a person takes Gabapentin recreationally, they begin to change, showing signs such as:

  • Secretive behavior
  • Changes in social circles or social isolation
  • Apathy and lack of motivation
  • Declining performance at work or school
  • Erratic sleeping and eating habits
  • Neglected hygiene, grooming, and self-care
  • Unexplained swings in mood and energy

Misuse of gabapentin has been noted for some years in clients attending substance misuse treatment and recovery services and within secure environments such as prisons. While most people who use gabapentin as instructed will not develop a dependence, anyone with a history of substance abuse should be carefully monitored for possible misuse of this medication. Since it can cause euphoria, many people who still crave that feeling from past drug use will take it in high doses to achieve this effect. Doctors must be especially wary of this type of history when prescribing gabapentin to patients.

What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Gabapentin?

Gabapentin has little potential for addiction and is not usually associated with drug-seeking behavior. However, dependence will develop after prolonged treatment, and withdrawal symptoms such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anxiety, pain, nausea, and sweating will occur, even with normal use. Addiction and adverse effects are more likely to occur when gabapentin is used in conjunction with other substances.

Advice for avoiding gabapentin abuse:

  • Do not take the drug in higher doses, more frequent doses, or for longer than you were prescribed to do so by a doctor.
  • Do not stop taking gabapentin suddenly, unless you are experiencing extreme side effects caused by the drug, you must talk to your doctor before you stop taking it. Suddenly stopping the medication will lead to withdrawal symptoms.
  • Let your doctor know if you have any history of drug abuse before you start your gabapentin regimen. If you are taking the drug as part of a treatment program for addiction, make sure you attend therapy sessions and discuss your treatment needs with your doctor on a regular basis.

If someone you love has been misusing gabapentin and may be suffering addiction, they could be at risk of overdose. Call for emergency medical attention if they exhibit any potential gabapentin overdose symptoms, which include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Double vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizure
  • Difficulty breathing

If you want to try talking someone you love into seeking professional help for their addiction, first do some research on addiction and available treatment options, so you can speak to them from a place of knowledge and understanding. Approaching this kind of conversation from a place of blame, judgment, or anger will be counterproductive, leading your loved one to become closed off and defensive. Make it clear that you are speaking out of love and concern, and tell them about treatment options available to them right now.

If you are unable to get through to your loved one through normal conversation, you may wish to hold a formal intervention. Although you can organize and run your own intervention with careful planning and preparation, you can also hire a professional interventionist, or ask a counselor for help. Many treatment facilities offer free intervention advice and services for potential patients.

Treatment Options Available for Gabapentin Addiction

Gabapentin addiction on its own does not seem to be severe, and most likely will not require inpatient treatment. Patients should carefully taper off of gabapentin treatment with medical supervision, however, and outpatient treatment with group and individual therapy, family counseling, 12-step groups, and other interventions is advised. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been demonstrated to be particularly effective for all forms of addiction, as it helps patients identify environmental factors that make them more likely to use drugs, and to learn healthy coping techniques that support a positive lifestyle and continued abstinence.

Individuals with polydrug addictions that include gabapentin may wish to consider inpatient treatment, especially if their home life is not safe, stable, and drug-free. Having a structured environment that is devoted to addiction recovery 24/7 gives patients a much greater chance of a successful recovery.

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