Gabapentin is a medication that prevents seizures and pain, but like any medicine, it can be misused. Learn what can happen if you misuse gabapentin and have a substance use disorder.
While the nation is addressing an opioid crisis, other pain-relieving drugs share the potential for abuse as well. Gabapentin is not an opioid but is commonly prescribed by doctors. Gabapentin prescriptions increased in the United States from 39 million in 2012 to 64 million in 2016. Gabapentin misuse is particularly concerning due to its potential interactions with other medications and drugs.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a pharmaceutical medication originally intended for use in the treatment of seizures. However, gabapentin is most commonly prescribed for conditions other than seizures and epilepsy, such as pain syndromes. Since gabapentin is not an opioid, in theory, it has lower abuse potential and is more readily prescribed for pain than more addictive medications. Gabapentin can also be used to treat:
- Nerve pain, such as from a shingles outbreak
- Treating alcohol or cocaine withdrawal
- Restless legs syndrome
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Hot flashes
How Does Gabapentin Work?
Gabapentin is a calming chemical that has a similar chemical structure to Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a brain chemical that calms the nervous system. However, gabapentin does not bind to the body’s GABA receptors. Instead, gabapentin affects the body’s calcium channels to reduce seizures and nerve pain.
Common Gabapentin Nicknames and Street Names
Gabapentin is known by various names rather than its generic name. Almost all drugs have a trade name. A drug’s trade name is a brand name given to the drug by the company that produces it. Some of gabapentin’s trade names are Neurontin and Gralise. Additionally, street names, or nicknames, are often given to drugs. Gabapentin’s street names include “gabbies” or “johnnies.”
How Addictive is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is thought to be less addictive than opioid medications for pain relief. Overall, gabapentin is not considered a highly addictive drug. Many cases of gabapentin abuse occur in people who already have addictions to opioids and other drugs.
In response to increased abuse of gabapentin, some states are classifying gabapentin as a Schedule V controlled substance. While gabapentin appears to have low abuse potential, it is often used in conjunction with other, more addictive, drugs.
Before a drug hits the market, it must go through a series of clinical trials where its safety and efficacy are assessed. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will only approve a drug if it meets specific safety criteria, after which it can be prescribed to the general public. During clinical trials, all participating individuals are monitored for adverse events which range from relatively minor to dangerous. Though extremely rare, gabapentin comes with several warnings based on its performance in clinical trials. Some gabapentin warning signs include:
- Coordination problems
- Tremors and dizziness
- Changes in mood
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Individuals who notice changes in their mood or behavior when taking gabapentin should contact a medical professional right away.
Gabapentin Addiction Statistics
A study published in 2013 conducted in Kentucky showed that among 503 participants reporting illegal drug use, 15% reported using gabapentin to “get high” in the previous six months. That percentage was a 165% increase from the year prior. A national assessment found that nearly a quarter of patients with co-prescriptions of opioids and gabapentin had three or more prescriptions exceeding established dosage thresholds. In comparison, in patients prescribed just opioids or just gabapentin, the figures were 8% and 3% respectively.
If you or a loved one live with gabapentin addiction, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how personalized treatment programs can help address addiction along with any co-occurring disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
Gabapentin is not currently a controlled substance at the federal level, but certain states have made gabapentin a controlled substance at the state level. This includes Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The FDA has issued several warnings for gabapentin. These include certain side effects like Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms, or DRESS, and allergic reactions like anaphylaxis or angioedema, a swelling of the lips or face. The drug should be stopped immediately if any of those side effects are suspected. Other side effects that need to be monitored include impaired motor skills, drowsiness, dizziness, mental status changes, slowed breathing and a possible increase in suicide risk.
Gabapentin is taken by mouth. There are various dosage forms of the medication, including capsules, oral solutions and tablets. The drug comes in both immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (ER) formulations.
Gabapentin may be sold under different brand names, including Neurontin and Gralise.
Gabapentin is part of its own drug class, called gabapentinoids. Typical dosages range from 100 milligrams to 800 milligrams of the drug. Some inactive ingredients in the gabapentin tablets or capsules include:
- Colors such as FD&C blue no. 2, yellow iron oxide
- Titanium dioxide
- Poloxamer 407
- Magnesium stearate
- Copovidone, cornstarch
- Candelilla wax
- Hydroxypropyl cellulose
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