What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a prescription painkiller belonging to its own drug class, Gabapentinoids. It is often used as a less-addictive alternative to opioids; however, Gabapentin addiction and abuse still occur in many patients. Gabapentin has a similar chemical structure to Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the brain chemical which affects the body’s nervous system.
Gabapentin is prescribed to treat nerve pain, alcohol and cocaine withdrawals, restless leg syndrome, diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and seizures. It works by altering one’s calcium channels to reduce seizures and ease nerve pain. Some brand names of Gabapentin are Neurontin and Gralise. The drug’s known street names are “gabbies” or “johnnies.”
In addition its potentially addictive nature, Gabapentin can cause suicidal thoughts, moods swings, and abrupt changes in a user’s behavior. It can also cause elevated blood pressure, fever, sleep problems, appetite changes, and chest pain.
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Gabapentin abuse tends to occur in people who already have an addiction to opioids or other drugs. The effects of Gabapentin intoxication have been described as a sense of calm, euphoria, and a high similar to marijuana.
A 2013 study in Kentucky found that of the 503 participants reporting illegal drug use, 15% reported using Gabapentin in addition to other drugs to get high in the previous six months. Another study, working with a sample of participants meant to represent the national population, found almost a quarter of patients with co-prescriptions of opioids and Gabapentin were getting more than three times their prescribed amount to supply their addiction. People using the drug without a prescription is a growing problem in many areas. Due to the drug’s legal status, this is difficult to address from a policing standpoint. States where Gabapentin abuse is becoming more common are beginning to classify the drug as a more strictly controlled substance.
Gabapentin’s unique ability to address multiple ailments has made it one of the most popular prescription medications in the U.S. In May of 2019, GoodRx reported that it was the fifth-most prescribed drug in the nation. Despite its low abuse potential, its ability to be used in conjunction with other drugs causes widespread harm and addiction.
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Signs of a Gabapentin Addiction
Effects of excessive Gabapentin use include drowsiness, coordination problems, tremors, dizziness, depression, suicidal thoughts/behaviors, and other changes in mood. It is important to try to recognize these symptoms and to be wary of other red flags, such as the presence or abundance of pill bottles. These effects can be detrimental to one’s health, livelihood, and overall safety.
Gabapentin abusers typically take the drug in addition to opioids to produce their desired high, a dangerous and potentially deadly combination. It is possible to fatally overdose on Gabapentin, both on its own or in conjunction with other drugs. However, there is currently no antidote that can be administered to someone in the case of a Gabapentin overdose as there is with opioid overdoses. If you find a loved one showing signs of an overdose–drowsiness, muscle weakness, lethargy and drooping eyelids, diarrhea, and sedation—seek medical attention immediately.
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Treating a Gabapentin Addiction
Frequent and excessive use of Gabapentin can lead to a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. This is when someone becomes so accustomed to taking a drug that they need it to feel and function normally. Quitting a drug like Gabapentin cold turkey can be dangerous and induce several withdrawal symptoms of varying severity. These include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, pain, and sweating. Quitting also increases one’s likelihood of having a seizure which can lead to personal injury or the development of medical problems and life-threatening emergencies. Trying to quit should be done at a rehab facility or with the guidance and supervision of a professional during a medical detox.
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