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How Does Gabapentin Work?
Gabapentin is a prescription medication recommended to people with epilepsy to control seizures. It’s also prescribed to relieve discomfort from a condition called postherpetic neuralgia, which is pain following a shingles attack. Gabapentin can in some cases be prescribed to patients who have nerve pain related to diabetes. This medication is believed to work by balancing electrical impulses in the central nervous system, which are responsible for seizure and certain types of nerve pain. Another use for gabapentin is to treat symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Gabapentin is thought to alter the amount of GABA produced, changing the firing of electrical impulses. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter in the brain that reduces the excitement of nerve messages. Gabapentin may also slow the production of something called glutamate, which is an agent that causes nerve excitement and is a contributor to epileptic seizures.
Gabapentin is available as an oral solution, tablets, and capsules, and it doesn’t treat the underlying condition it’s prescribed for. Instead, it helps manage the symptoms. This medication is available in immediate-release and extended-release versions, and it’s usually taken several times a day at evenly spaced times. When people are prescribed gabapentin, their physician will usually start them on a very low dose which is increased as necessary. While gabapentin does have therapeutic benefits, it’s not without risks. Because it’s used to treat pain, people often wonder, “is gabapentin an opioid?”
Gabapentin Side Effects
Possible side effects of gabapentin range from mild to severe. Some of the mild, common side effects of using this medication can include drowsiness, dizziness, coordination issues, nausea, vomiting, double vision, jerkiness in movements and swelling in the legs and feet. Milder, more common side effects will usually go away once a person takes gabapentin for a few days or weeks. If not, it’s important to speak to a physician.
Severe side effects of gabapentin can be related to mood. People prescribed this medicine are advised to monitor their thoughts and behaviors carefully. Mood symptoms related to gabapentin can include suicidal thoughts or behaviors, new or worsening anxiety, restlessness, or panic attacks. Other possible mood-related severe side effects can be aggressiveness or violent behavior, increased talkativeness or general emotional changes. If any of these are occurring patients should seek medical attention immediately.
Is Gabapentin an Opioid?
People frequently wonder, “is gabapentin an opioid?” Opioids are a class of drugs also known as narcotics. This drug class includes habit-forming prescription painkillers, as well as heroin. There are a few reasons people might incorrectly think gabapentin is an opioid. First, gabapentin can be used as a pain reliever, and the primary use of opioids in a medical setting is to relieve pain. Gabapentin can also lead to sedation, which is a major side effect of opioids. When taken at high doses it is possible to feel high from gabapentin, and again, this is an effect of opioids.
With both gabapentin and opioids is the potential for physical dependence. Dependence isn’t the same as addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease where a person is psychologically dependent on a substance. It’s characterized by symptoms like compulsive drug use and drug-seeking behaviors. Dependence refers to a scenario where a person physically, not psychologically, depends on a drug. If someone is dependent on gabapentin and stops taking it suddenly, they may go through withdrawal. Gabapentin withdrawal can be severe or deadly because it can trigger continuous seizures. People should only stop taking gabapentin on the advice of their doctor. Physical withdrawal can occur with opioids as well, although the symptoms aren’t usually as severe as what can occur with gabapentin.
Despite some of the similarities, gabapentin isn’t an opioid. It’s classified as an anticonvulsant, and there are some differences between this drug and opioids. First, gabapentin isn’t generally considered addictive. Opioids, on the other hand, are extremely addictive. Gabapentin doesn’t affect the central nervous the same way as opioids, either. Gabapentin is believed to affect GABA levels but not bind to opioid receptors. Opioids do bind to these receptors, which is why they have certain effects. Gabapentin isn’t currently a controlled substance in the U.S., while opioids are. Prescription opioids are carefully regulated and controlled in the U.S., while heroin is completely illegal.
Even though gabapentin isn’t an opioid, there is an increasing amount of evidence showing that using these types of drugs together can raise the risk of an opioid-related death. A recent study showed that people who combined opioids and gabapentin simultaneously had an increased chance of dying from opioids as compared to people who only took opioids. This is particularly frightening because it’s not uncommon for gabapentin and opioids to be prescribed together to treat chronic pain. Both suppress respiration, however, and that’s what can lead to a fatal overdose.
While gabapentin isn’t an opioid, it does have some similarities to this class of drugs including the potential to cause respiratory depression and lead to the development of dependence. It can also be dangerous or deadly to combine gabapentin and opioids, and patients should discuss this risk with their physician. It’s important to let a physician know about any substances regularly used before being prescribed gabapentin.
Do you or a loved one struggle with an addiction or dependence on prescription drugs or other substances? Please contact us at The Recovery Village, because we can give you the answers you need to make a change or help a loved one do so.
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.