Gabapentin, which is sold under the brand names, Neurontin and Gralise, is a commonly prescribed medication used to treat nerve pain and manage seizures. Although the medical community once thought gabapentin had no abuse potential, it’s come to light in recent years that many people worldwide misuse gabapentin for recreational purposes.
People who abuse gabapentin either use it alone or in combination with other substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids.1 Chronic gabapentin abuse can lead to addiction. Learn the signs and symptoms of gabapentin addiction, as well as how to find gabapentin addiction treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Gabapentin Addiction
Gabapentin addiction is a significant problem. While doctors prescribe this medication to patients with seizure disorders or nerve pain, some doctors prescribe it as an alternative to opioids. They do this because gabapentin was previously considered to have little to no abuse and addictive potential. But recent research has shown that gabapentin is highly addictive.2
Physical Signs Someone May Be Addicted to Gabapentin
If someone you know abuses or misuses gabapentin to get high or relax, it’s important to know the physical signs that may indicate a gabapentin addiction. These include:3
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Excessive drowsiness
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Memory issues
- Strange eye movements
- Red eyes
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Swelling of feet, lower legs, ankles, or hands
- Joint pain
- Flu-like symptoms
Anyone may be at risk of misusing or abusing gabapentin, but people who are more at risk for gabapentin addiction include those with a history of substance abuse, a history of polydrug misuse, and those who abuse opioids.4,5
Gabapentin addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by compulsive gabapentin use regardless of negative consequences. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists the following criteria for a gabapentin addiction. Someone must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms within one year:6
- Continuing to use gabapentin use despite relationship or occupational issues caused by use
- Continuing to use gabapentin use despite mental or physical health problems caused or worsened by use
- Experiencing intense gabapentin cravings
- Failing to control or reduce gabapentin use
- Neglecting previously enjoyed hobbies or activities in favor of gabapentin use
- Neglecting to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school
- Using gabapentin in risky situations, such as while driving or with other substances
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from gabapentin effects
- Tolerance to gabapentin effects
- Withdrawal symptoms with abrupt cessation of use
If you or someone who uses gabapentin suddenly quits using gabapentin, withdrawal symptoms are likely to emerge. Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include sleep disturbances, anxiety, profound sweating, increased pain, and nausea.3 These symptoms may be distressing enough that you or the person returns to gabapentin use to alleviate them. This cycle of quitting and relapsing contributes to the progression of gabapentin addiction.
Who is at Risk of an Addiction?
Anyone who misuses or abuses gabapentin is at risk of developing an addiction; however, certain factors, called risk factors, can increase the chance of someone becoming addicted to a drug like gabapentin. There are many risk factors that influence a person’s substance abuse, drug likeability, and addiction, including both genetic and environmental factors.
According to research, about 50% of a person’s risk of developing an addiction, whether to gabapentin or another substance, is due to their genetic make-up.7 That means some people are predisposed to addiction simply because of their DNA. But genes aren’t destiny—you won’t automatically become addicted just because of your genes.
In addition to genetics, there are also environmental factors that could increase your risk of developing a drug addiction, such as:8
- Lack of parental supervision
- Parental substance abuse or mental health disorders
- Easy access to drugs
- Academic failure
- Social problems
People who are at risk of addiction specifically to gabapentin include those who may be prescribed it, such as:
- Older adults
- People with seizure disorder
- People with nerve pain
- People with chronic pain
Additionally, people with a history of substance abuse are at a greater risk of developing a gabapentin addiction. Also, since opioids and gabapentin are often abused concurrently, opioid-addicted individuals are at an increased risk of gabapentin addiction.4,5
How to Treat Gabapentin Addiction
If you are addicted to gabapentin, you most likely are dependent on this prescription medication and require detox services to help you safely withdraw from it under 24/7 medical supervision, oversight, and care. While gabapentin detox treatment is beneficial and helps keep you safe and comfortable while the drug exits your body, it is not a replacement for gabapentin addiction treatment—rather, it is the first step on your recovery journey.
Once you’ve completed gabapentin detox, it’s time to transition into a gabapentin addiction treatment program, where you can begin to heal and learn to live a life free of gabapentin abuse. There are several levels of gabapentin addiction treatment, including:
- Inpatient rehab: The most intensive form of addiction treatment, inpatient rehab involves living at the facility (usually a hospital or medical setting) for the duration of your program. Inpatient offers a structured environment free from stressors and relapse triggers. You receive a combination of treatment methods and interventions, such as individual therapy, group counseling, family therapy, support groups, relapse prevention classes, and aftercare planning.
- Residential treatment: A step down from inpatient rehab, residential treatment involves living at the facility during treatment. The difference between inpatient and residential is that inpatient offers medical care while residential is more of a home-like environment. You may live at a residential program for much longer than you would an inpatient program.
- Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is the least intensive option for gabapentin addiction. It involves living at home and attending group and individual therapy sessions and drug education classes throughout the day. This option is best for someone with a strong and sober support system at home and someone who has reliable transportation to and from treatment.
If you are ready to start on the road to recovery, give us a call at 1-800-429-7690. We are here to help you find the best gabapentin addiction treatment program for you.
Aftercare and Ongoing Support
Once you complete your gabapentin addiction treatment program, the work isn’t done. Recovery is an ongoing process that requires a commitment to sobriety. You must continue to build upon the skills you learned in rehab. Once you near the end of your rehab program, you and your treatment team will collaborate on an aftercare plan that’s appropriate for you and your situation. It may include support options like:
- Narcotics Anonymous meetings
- SMART Recovery meetings for secular-minded individuals
- Sober living homes
- Outpatient treatment program (as step-down care after finishing inpatient)
- Individual therapy
- Group counseling
Just as everyone’s treatment plan during rehab is going to vary, everyone’s aftercare plan is going to be different. What matters is that you create a relapse prevention plan that works best for you and helps solidify all the work you did in rehab to get to this point.
Frequently Asked Questions About Gabapentin Addiction
Is Gabapentin a Narcotic?
No, gabapentin is not a narcotic medication. Narcotic medications include opioid painkillers, such as Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, tramadol, fentanyl, and codeine.9 Gabapentin is a non-narcotic anticonvulsant medication that also treats nerve pain. Doctors sometimes prescribe gabapentin as an alternative to narcotic pain medications.2
Is Gabapentin Addictive?
Yes, gabapentin is addictive. Many people abuse or misuse it recreationally in order to get high. Chronic use can lead to gabapentin addiction.
How Long Can You Stay on Gabapentin?
You can stay on gabapentin for as long as your doctor prescribes it. Some patients take gabapentin for just a few months while others may take it for several years, especially if they are taking it for chronic nerve pain. Those struggling with gabapentin addiction should discuss alternative methods for managing their condition.
Can Gabapentin Change Your Personality?
Gabapentin doesn’t necessarily change your personality, but it can cause mood swings in people who take it. This is especially true for children taking gabapentin—they may become hyperactive or hostile. Adults taking gabapentin may also experience sudden mood changes, such as angry, aggressive, or violent behavior.3
Is Gabapentin Like Xanax?
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant and nerve pain medication, while Xanax belongs to the class of benzodiazepines, which treat anxiety and panic attacks. While they are different types of medications, they may share similar side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, weight changes, fatigue, joint pain, and memory problems. Both gabapentin and Xanax are addictive and can lead to problematic use.3,10
Gabapentin Addiction Resources:
1. Smith, R.V., Havens, R.J., Walsh, S.H. (2016). Gabapentin misuse, abuse, and diversion: a systematic review. Addiction 111(7), 1160-1174.
2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2019, December). FDA In Brief: FDA requires new warnings for gabapentinoids about risk of respiratory depression.
4. Schifano, F. (2014). Misuse and abuse of pregabalin and gabapentin: cause for concern? CNS Drugs 28(6), 491-496.
5. Mattson, C.L., O’Donnell, J., Kariisa, M., Seth, P., Scholl, L., Gladden, R.M. Opportunities to Prevent Overdose Deaths Involving Prescription and Illicit Opioids, 11 States, July 2016-June 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67: 945-951.
6. Hasin, D.S., O’Brien, C.P., Auriacombe, M., Borges, G., Bucholz, K., Budney, A,…Grant, B.F. (2013). DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders: Recommendations and Rationale. The American Journal of Psychiatry 170(8), 834-851.
7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts.
8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011). Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents. (In brief): What are risk factors and protective factors?
9. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Bethesda, MD (2019). Pain medications — narcotics.
10. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Bethesda, MD (2021). Alprazolam.
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