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:

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.

Gabapentin Warnings

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:

  • Drowsiness
  • Coordination problems
  • Tremors and dizziness
  • Depression
  • 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.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of editing experience, Tom is a content specialist for Advanced Recovery Systems, where he edits the great research articles, news releases and blog posts that are produced every day. Read more
Navin Ramchandani
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Navin Ramchandani, MD, MBBS
Dr. Navin Ramchandani is a Medical Doctor, Diagnostician and Owner of R&R Medical Centre in Barbados. Read more

FAQs


Is Gabapentin a controlled substance?

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.

Does Gabapentin have any warnings when taking the drug?

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.

How is Gabapentin taken?

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.

Does Gabapentin have other names?

Gabapentin may be sold under different brand names, including Neurontin and Gralise.

What ingredients are in Gabapentin?

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:

  • Lactose
  • Talc
  • Cornstarch
  • Gelatin
  • Colors such as FD&C blue no. 2, yellow iron oxide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Poloxamer 407
  • Magnesium stearate
  • Copovidone, cornstarch
  • Candelilla wax
  • Hydroxypropyl cellulose
Sources

Bonnet U and Scherbaum N. “How addictive are gabapentin and pregabalin? A systematic review.” PubMed Central, December 2017. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Calandre EP. “Alpha2delta ligands, gabapentin, pregabalin and mirogabalin: a review of their clinical pharmacology and therapeutic use“. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, June 27, 2016. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Medscape. “Gabapentin Rx”. Accessed May 5, 2019.

Michigan: Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. “Gabapentin Scheduled as Controlled Substance to help with State’s Opioid Epidemic.” January 9, 2019. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Peckham AM.  “Gabapentin for Off-Label Use: Evidence-Based or Cause for Concern?” PubMed Central, September 23, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Peckham, Alyssa., Ananickal, Mariah., Sclar, David. “Gabapentin use, abuse, and the US opioid epidemic: the case for reclassification as a controlled substance and the need for pharmacovigilance.” Dove Press, August 17, 2018. Accessed May 14, 2019.

RxList. “Neurontin.” October 17, 2018. Accessed May 5, 2019

Smith RV. “Abuse and diversion of gabapentin among nonmedical prescription opioid users.”  American Journal of Psychiatry, April 30, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Smith RV. “Gabapentin misuse, abuse and diversion: a systematic review”. Addiction, July 2016. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Uchitel OD. “Acute modulation of calcium currents and synaptic transmission by gabapentinoids.” Channels, December 31, 2010. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.