Gabapentin* is a widely-prescribed anticonvulsant medication that carries a risk of causing dependency. Any potentially addictive substance is dangerous for people recovering from substance abuse, so it is essential to acknowledge the real dangers of this often-overlooked prescription drug. Some people may receive prescriptions for gabapentin for various legitimate medical issues, but prescribing doctors need to take patients’ past struggles with substance abuse into account before prescribing gabapentin medication.
What Is Gabapentin?
What is gabapentin used for with a typical prescription? The medication exists in several forms. Fast-acting versions can help treat seizure disorders and manage the symptoms of post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition commonly resulting from shingles infections that causes skin and nerve pain. Long-acting gabapentin can help treat restless leg syndrome. Despite the fact that gabapentin does not have a controlled substance scheduling, there is still a significant risk of a legitimate prescription leading to gabapentin abuse.
Risk For Dependency
How is gabapentin addictive if it is just an anticonvulsant? Doctors who prescribe gabapentin typically recommend increasing dosages over time, which can lead to tolerance and in turn, dependency. When combined with opioids like hydrocodone, gabapentin can produce an intense feeling of euphoria. Research shows that 15 to 22% of opioid users also abuse gabapentin**. Is gabapentin an opioid? Not exactly, but many doctors prescribe it as an opioid alternative. It can produce powerful effects when taken with opioids.
How Can Gabapentin Interfere With Substance Abuse Treatment?
It can be relatively easy for a person to abuse a gabapentin prescription by taking the medication with an illegal drug, like heroin. It’s also possible for a person who finished rehab to receive a gabapentin prescription for restless leg syndrome or a seizure disorder and start experiencing withdrawal symptoms, potentially triggering relapse. Anyone who completes rehab must be extremely careful with any medications he or she takes in the future; any medications that have habit-forming qualities require careful scrutiny. There are almost always alternatives that won’t encourage habitual use or won’t interfere with past substance abuse treatments.
Unique Problems With Gabapentin
Gabapentin side effects range in severity. Taking gabapentin with other substances like opioids or alcohol can intensify these effects. Some of the most commonly reported side effects of gabapentin use include:
- Angry outbursts or fits of rage
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Reclusiveness and lack of interest in social activity
- Suicidal thoughts
- Memory problems
- Sleep problems
- Manic episodes
- Eye twitching
These are just a few of the commonly reported gabapentin effects that can be uncomfortable or upsetting. It is important to remember that gabapentin may not produce habit-forming effects when taken by itself, but the risk of addictive effects increases dramatically when people take gabapentin with alcohol or other drugs. Combining gabapentin and alcohol can not only amplify the side effects of gabapentin, but also increase the risk of respiratory complications.
Another unique aspect of gabapentin that may complicate substance abuse recovery is the fact that gabapentin will not appear on a drug screening. A person who finishes rehab for another substance abuse issue may start abusing gabapentin and it would be impossible to confirm the problem with a screening. Additionally, gabapentin is relatively cheap compared to most other addictive drugs.
Aside from gabapentin’s typical uses, the manufacturer also extolls several off-label uses for the drug. Some people use gabapentin for bipolar disorder, diabetic neuropathy, migraines, and other psychological and neuropathic conditions. In 2017, gabapentin was the fifth-most prescribed medication in the United States, but more than 80% of prescriptions were for off-label uses***. Some substance abuse treatment centers actually use gabapentin to help stop the seizures that often result from alcohol cessation.
Medically-Assisted Detox And Addiction Treatment
Medically-assisted treatment is essential for substance abuse recovery. The standard of care for addiction in the U.S. typically requires a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. For example, a person who suffered from opioid addiction may take methadone during the post-acute withdrawal phase to keep withdrawal symptoms manageable. He or she will also undergo psychiatric counseling to address co-occurring disorders and receive medical treatment for preexisting conditions and the other effects of addiction.
Some substance abuse treatment centers may think gabapentin is safe as an anti-seizure countermeasure, but it is essential to review each patient’s risk for dependency on an individual basis before prescribing this medication. Once a person recovering from substance abuse experiences a high from gabapentin it can easily open the door to dependency or relapse.
Finding Support During Addiction And Recovery
It’s important to seek substance abuse treatment as soon as possible once you recognize the problem, and arming yourself with knowledge in advance is a great way to eliminate a lot of the uncertainty that typically surrounds detox and rehab. Recovery is not a single life event; it is an ongoing process with many phases that all require a strong commitment to getting clean.
Share Your Experiences With The Fight Addiction Now Community
The Fight Addiction Now community is a large network of advocates, professionals, researchers, survivors, and friends and family of people who have experienced the worst of addiction firsthand. If you or a loved one are uncertain about the idea of entering detox or rehab or simply want to learn more about gabapentin and other types of substance abuse, we invite you to join our community and take part in our discussions.
Fight Addiction Now aims to connect people struggling with substance abuse to valuable support services and resources for rebuilding life after rehab. Exchange your own stories with other members and find common ground with people all over the country who have experiences similar to your own. Addiction can feel isolating and alienating, and having access to a knowledge and support base like Fight Addiction Now can be tremendously beneficial to your recovery effort.