What is gabapentin?
Gabapentin belongs to a class of drugs known as anticonvulsants. It’s prescribed for treating epileptic seizures as well as postherpetic neuralgia, which is a kind of nerve pain that can occur when you get shingles. It’s also used to treat a condition called restless legs syndrome, which causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs.
This drug comes in several brand names, such as Neurontin, Horizant, and Gralise. Each brand has a different use case, so you should only use the brand that your doctor prescribed to you.
Among the three, only Neurontin can be used for both epileptic seizures and postherpetic neuralgia. Gralise is used for managing pain from postherpetic neuralgia only. Horizant is used for treating either postherpetic neuralgia or restless legs syndrome.
How does it work?
Although there is no definite mechanism of action for this drug, the gist is it reduces electrical activity in the brain and nervous system, which helps to stop seizures and nerve pain.
Some researchers think this effect is because of the drug’s influence on a neurotransmitter called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Neurotransmitters are molecules that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other.
GABA is known as a calming neurotransmitter; by enhancing it, gabapentin helps relieve pain and hyperactive nerves.
Is it a painkiller?
Despite the drug’s ability to relieve nerve pain, it is not considered a painkiller. It is classified as an anticonvulsant because it’s mainly used for treating seizures and uncontrollable movements.
If this drug is used to treat pain, it’s primarily for nerve pains (neuralgia). It is not prescribed for other kinds of pain. So, it should not be used to treat pain that is not connected to the nerves. It is not meant to be used in the same applications as opioids and other prescription painkillers.
Gabapentin’s potential for abuse
Unlike opioids, though, gabapentin is not considered a controlled substance. It’s easier to obtain this drug, and in turn, it’s easier to be misused and abused, despite having only a low potential for abuse.
Often, those who abuse this drug already have an addiction to other drugs, like opioids. As opioids are tightly regulated, some users look to alternatives that are easier to get, like gabapentin. Most users obtain this drug without a prescription.
There are also street versions of this drug. These do not have the same composition as those sold in pharmacies. Often, they are “cut” with other drugs, and you can’t be sure of the exact composition of each one. On the black market, this drug is known as “Gabbies” or “Johnnies.”
Users have described this drug’s effects as calming, euphoric, and giving a sensation similar to the high produced by marijuana.
What are the signs of a gabapentin addiction?
If you have been using gabapentin excessively for a while, you may experience these symptoms:
- Problems with coordination
- Difficulty speaking
- Mood changes
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Other than these symptoms, addiction to this drug also produces changes in your behavior. Some of these signs include:
- Keeping lots of pill bottles at home
- Presenting fake or exaggerated symptoms to your doctor
- Going to more than one doctor to get extra prescriptions
- Having a new circle of friends (most of whom also abuse drugs)
- Distancing yourself from friends and family when they show concern
- Neglecting personal hygiene and grooming
- Feeling uneasy when you can’t get any gabapentin
- Refusing to quit the drug even if you know its negative effects on your life
- Several failed attempts to quit
Most of the time, if you are abusing gabapentin, you already have an addiction to another drug, like opioids. It’s also common for users to combine gabapentin and opioids to get the kind of high they want.
If you’re not careful, you could even suffer a fatal overdose, especially if you take it along with other drugs. This is particularly dangerous because there are no antidotes for gabapentin overdose. If you or someone you know are suffering from these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- Muscle weakness
- Drooping eyelids
Does gabapentin have withdrawal symptoms?
If you’ve been misusing the drug for a while, it’s likely that you have developed a physical dependence on it. At this point, when you suddenly try to quit using the drug, you’ll experience a range of withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty sleeping
Withdrawal symptoms can begin about within 12 hours of the last time you took the drug. These can last up to a week.
When you’re on gabapentin medication for seizures, suddenly stopping your intake of the drug can be dangerous as well. It can lead to more frequent seizures.
Withdrawal from this drug also has psychological effects, such as:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Mood changes
These psychological withdrawal symptoms often last much longer than the physical symptoms. They can last for weeks to as long as months.
Currently, there are no known medications for treating withdrawal from this drug. This is one challenging part of recovering from gabapentin addiction.
What are the treatments for Gabapentin addiction?
When you are suffering from an addiction to this drug, recovery is very possible. The first step is to train your body to function without the drug. This can be a bit hard, as you need to deal with the withdrawal symptoms without medications. Some of them, like pain and nausea, can be managed with some medications, but you will have to endure the others.
You will also go through a range of behavioral therapies. These are designed to address the root causes of your addiction. Your therapist will teach you to identify drug triggers and help you find ways to avoid them.
Another integral part of the recovery process is developing new coping mechanisms for stress and negative emotions. Often, it’s these that drive you to take drugs. If you can find healthier ways of managing these emotions, you can live a drug-free life once again.
Talk to a mental health professional today and begin your recovery journey.