Common Brand Names: Neurontin, Gralise, and Horizant
Street Name: “Gabbies”
Primarily used as an anti-epileptic drug (also called an anticonvulsant), Gabapentin affects chemicals and nerves in the body that are involved in the cause of seizures and some types of pain. All brands of gabapentin are used in adults to treat neuropathic pain (nerve pain) caused by herpes virus or shingles (herpes zoster), but it can also be prescribed off-label for other maladies, such as RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome). Off-label use of medications is a common practice in medicine; it is neither restricted to highly specific clinical situations nor to single countries.
Gabapentin is thought to alter the amount of GABA produced, dramatically altering the firing off of electrical impulses (GABA is a calming neurotransmitter in the brain that reduces the intensity of nerve messages). Gabapentin has also been known to slow the production of something called glutamate, which is an agent that causes nerve excitement and is a contributor to epileptic seizures.
Almost 95% of gabapentin prescriptions today are for “off-label” uses, including bipolar disorder, diabetic neuropathy, attention deficit disorder, migraines, as well as treatment for drug and alcohol withdrawal seizures. The product is available in the following dosage forms:
Gabapentin is also used as an alternative to opioid therapy, although many users already addicted to opioids have begun seeking Gabapentin out to accentuate their highs. Walking hand in hand with the current opioid epidemic in the United States, Gabapentin has gained enough notoriety to garner attention from government officials who, as of late, are struggling to create new legislature surrounding therapeutic approaches to chronic pain management in order to limit or curtail rampant opioid prescribing.
GABAPENTIN SIDE EFFECTS
Gabapentin, when taken in large quantities, usually acts as a depressant. The effects of a gabapentin overdose will be related to an overall deceleration of the body’s systems. Drowsiness, muscle weakness, lethargy and drooping eyelids are to be expected. Other gabapentin overdose symptoms include diarrhea and sedation. These symptoms arise because gabapentin is formulated to slow down misfirings in the brain that cause seizures but, while doing so, tend to have a cascade effect on a host of other autonomic functions when taken in unnaturally (unprescribed) high doses.
GABAPENTIN DEPENDENCE AND WITHDRAWAL
The potential for physical dependence exists with both Gabapentin and opioids. Dependence, however, is not the same as addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease where a user is psychologically dependent on a substance. It is characterized by symptoms like compulsive drug use and drug-seeking behaviors (where the definition of addiction is the continued use of a substance despite negative consequences). Dependence, on the other hand, refers to a scenario where a person physically, not psychologically, depends on a drug.
If someone is dependent on gabapentin and stops taking it suddenly, they may go through withdrawal. Gabapentin withdrawal can be severe or deadly because the potential exists for triggering continuous seizures. People should only stop taking gabapentin while under medical supervision. Physical withdrawal can occur with opioids as well, but the symptoms aren’t usually as severe as what can occur with gabapentin.
Gabapentin is now so common amongst overdose deaths in Kentucky that lawmakers have included it as a controlled substance. According to data from the Louisville Coroner’s Office, gabapentin was found in nearly one-fourth of all overdoses. And, across the state, the drug is now showing up in about 1 in every 3 overdose deaths. The drug has been dubbed an “emerging threat” in the opioid epidemic.
Not taking Gabapentin as prescribed or purchasing gabapentin “off the street” are sure signs of addiction or, at the very least, dependence. Both are red flags that shouldn’t be ignored. Please feel free to reach out and contact one of our recovery specialists. Our team is well-versed on the “in’s” and “outs” of prescription medication addiction, and we’re here to help in any way possible. Call 855.340.8832 for more information.