Primarily used as an antiepileptic and nerve pain medication, gabapentin has also been used in the management of withdrawal symptoms. Learn more about this pharmaceutical, its applications, and how it used in the treatment of addiction.
Background & History
First developed in the 1970s, gabapentin was approved by the FDA in 1993 for use in the United States. It has been marketed under the name Neurontin, although other brand names exist.
Gabapentin is structurally related to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the brain. However, it does not directly affect GABA binding or absorption, and the mechanism by which it works is not fully understood.
Gabapentin may be prescribed for several types of conditions:
An effective anticonvulsant medication, gabapentin is used in the treatment of various epileptic conditions including partial seizures. Also called focal seizures, these are seizures affecting only one hemisphere of the brain. The medication is not typically prescribed for absence seizures as it may worsen that condition.
Gabapentin is sometimes prescribed for the treatment of neuropathy and nerve pain. Common conditions treated in this way are:
- Shingles (herpes zoster)
- Diabetic neuropathy
Prescription for this purpose is to treat nerve pain symptomatically, and typically does not address other symptoms or underlying conditions.
Study into the efficacy of gabapentin for the treatment of anxiety is ongoing. While considered an “off-label” use, treatment of anxiety conditions with gabapentin has seen promising results from initial studies and case reports. Anxiety disorders treated with this medication include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
Gabapentin has also been used in the treatment of phobias and bipolar disorder.
Use in Treating Addiction
- Mood Swings
- Tremors or seizures
- Irritability or confusion
- Hallucinations (tactile, auditory, and/or visual)
- Irregular heartbeat
One reason the drug appears to be effective in treating alcohol withdrawal is that alcohol can affect GABA receptors and other neurotransmitters. Because of this, those suffering from alcohol dependence may, in part, be experiencing low levels of GABA and using alcohol to self-medicate. Gabapentin helps the brain supplement its natural GABA process and reduce related symptoms without the use of alcohol.
Those who are using gabapentin may experience side effects. Reported side effects include:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Ataxia or clumsiness
- Peripheral edema (swelling of extremities)
- Involuntary eye movement or blurred vision
- Sexual dysfunction
While generally considered safe, gabapentin may produce withdrawal symptoms in users upon cessation of use. Factors that contribute to the likelihood and severity of symptoms:
Length of use – the longer the medication has been in use, the more likely withdrawal symptoms will appear.
Dosage – similarly, higher daily doses of gabapentin are more likely to produce withdrawal.
Patient physiology and overall health – a patient’s unique physiology can affect the type and severity of symptoms.
Cessation method – whether medication use is ended abruptly or tapered off over time.
Reports of gabapentin misuse and abuse are relatively uncommon, but there have been reports of individuals taking the medication outside its prescribed use. Those abusing the drug may experience a mild euphoric high, or be seeking the calming, symptom-mitigating effects of the drug.
Due to withdrawal risks, it is usually recommended that a patient taper off of gabapentin rather than abruptly stop. As with any change in medication, it is important to do so with medical supervision. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to other medications, and can include:
- Insomnia or sleep disturbance
- Tremors or seizures
- Muscle pain
- Suicidal thinking
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If you are struggling with gabapentin dependence or have questions about its use in the treatment of addiction, please contact our trained staff today.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.