Understanding Gabapentin Abuse

gabapentin pill bottle

Evidence suggests that gabapentin abuse and addiction in Washington state is on the rise. The Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission and the State of Washington Poison Control Center tracked the use of gabapentin abuse and addiction in Washington for the past three years. Based on these findings, authorities in Washington state are considering whether to include gabapentin as a “drug of concern” in the state.

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is a prescription drug that doctors use to treat certain medical conditions. The FDA approved gabapentin to treat seizures. However, doctors commonly use the medication, “off label.” This use means they prescribe gabapentin for uses that were not approved by the FDA. Off label indications for gabapentin include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Menopause symptoms
  • Migraine
  • Neuropathic pain (nerve pain)
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (the pain associated with shingles)
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Severe, persistent cough
  • Severe, persistent hiccups
  • Social anxiety disorder

Quite often, doctors choose gabapentin instead of opioids for people with chronic pain conditions. Gabapentin is sold under the brand name Neurontin. A long-acting form of the medication (Gabapentin enacarbil) is marketed as Horizant.

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

So, is gabapentin addictive? Yes, gabapentin is addictive. When the FDA first approved gabapentin in the early 1990s, it was considered a safe medication. However, reports started trickling in showing gabapentin could produce feelings of calmness, relaxation and even euphoria, especially at higher doses. Today, scientists now recognize gabapentin as a substance of abuse.

Research shows that gabapentin may cause:

  • Improved sociability
  • A marijuana-like “high”
  • Profound relaxation
  • A sense of calm

Because the risk for gabapentin misuse and addiction is high, the United Kingdom recently reclassified gabapentin as a class C controlled substance. Other class C controlled substances include Valium, Darvon, and Rohypnol (also known as a “date rape drug”). While the United State’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and state health departments track gabapentin use, the drug is not currently controlled under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Understanding Gabapentin Addiction

Gabapentin addiction often starts with a gabapentin prescription. Physicians may prescribe the drug for pain, such as fibromyalgia. Over time, however, patients may find they need higher doses of gabapentin to achieve the same effect. As physical tolerance develops, people ask their doctors for higher doses, take more or their pills at once or they find illegal ways of getting gabapentin. With higher doses comes a greater risk of becoming addicted to gabapentin.

On the other hand, police recovered narcotics “cut” with gabapentin. Individuals who use heroin or other street drugs altered in this way may become addicted to gabapentinknowingly or unknowingly. Researchers discovered that people in methadone maintenance programs combine methadone with gabapentin to get high. Regardless of the way that someone becomes addicted to gabapentin, it requires it is own detox and recovery.

Why Is Gabapentin Addictive?

The reason why gabapentin is addictive is related to its effects on the brain. The chemical structure of gabapentin is quite similar to one of the brain’s neurotransmitters known as GABA. Like GABA, gabapentin reduces the activity of nerve cells in the brain. This inhibitory effect causes a sense of relaxation and calmness.

Interestingly, the reason why gabapentin is addictive is less related to the high it creates, and more related to the feeling people get when they use it with other drugs of abuse. People who misuse opioids prefer the feeling of calmness they get when they also misuse gabapentin. Thus, as people develop an addiction to an opioid, they also crave the sensations that are caused by taking gabapentin at the same time. This craving is the major reason why gabapentin is addictive.

How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Gabapentin?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question, “How long does it take to get addicted to gabapentin”? The time it takes to get addicted to gabapentin depends on several factors. The dosage of the medication is the largest factor. At lower doses, the risk of gabapentin addiction is low. On the other hand, people tend to become addicted to gabapentin faster if they are taking higher doses.

Another factor that can speed up the rate that someone gets addicted to gabapentin is if they take the medication with other drugs. Muscle relaxants, opioids or anxiety medications (e.g., benzodiazepines) increase the risk and speed of gabapentin addiction.

Getting Help For Gabapentin Addiction

If you or someone you know is misusing gabapentin or may be addicted to gabapentin, treatment is available. Contact The Recovery Village to speak to a representative who can tell you how individualized treatment programs can address addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Begin your healthier future today.

Atkins, V. “Pregabalin and gabapentin to be controlled as class C drugs.” Gov.uk, October 15, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2019. Crane, L. “Gabapentin.” Chemistry World, October 19, 2016. Accessed April 4, 2019. Gov.uk. “Controlled drugs list.” June 1, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2019. Lowry, F. “Gabapentin New Drug of Abuse?” Medscape, December 11, 2015. Accessed April 4, 2019. Peckham, A. “Gabapentin for Off-Label Use: Evidence-Based or Cause for Concern?” Substance Abuse, September 23, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2019. Peckham, A, et al.”Gabapentin use, abuse, and the US opioid epidemic: the case for reclassification as a controlled substance and the need for pharmacovigilance” Risk Manager Health Policy, August 17, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2019. Smith, B, et al. “Substance misuse of gabapentin” British Journal of General Practice, August 2012. Accessed April 4, 2019.

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.

Every recovery begins with a call.

Contact The Recovery Village today.