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Understanding Gabapentin Addiction

Gabapentin is a painkilling, anticonvulsant drug that is used to treat epilepsy, nerve pain, and different conditions such as nerve-related issues in diabetes patients. It can also be prescribed to people suffering from frequent migraines and headaches. It is only available on prescription and comes in both tablet and liquid form. Common side effects in those taking Gabapentin are feeling sleepy and tired. It typically takes a few weeks before the medication starts to kick in. Some people have to take Gabapentin alongside other drugs for their condition.Gabapentin decreases sensitivity to pain, and can also change calcium channels in the body to help reduce nerve pain and seizures. A common brand name for Gabapentin is ‘Neurontin’. Street names for the drug include Johnnies and Gabbies.

What are the Effects and Abuse of Gabapentin?

When ingested, Gabapentin gives a user feelings of relaxation and calm. This helps them feel relief from insomnia, anxiety and restlessness, as well as any associated pain. Some people abuse the drug because it enables them to forget about life’s worries and stresses for a short time. It is a highly addictive drug because of the positive and euphoric high it delivers. It has been suggested that snorting the powder from Gabapentin can achieve the same euphoric high as Cocaine. As a result, following the high, Gabapentin can cause extreme lows and suicidal thoughts, raised blood pressure, fluctuating temperatures, sleep deprivation, poor appetite and chest pains.

People who are addicted to Gabapentin tend to be disinterested in their personal and professional lives, and relationships with family and friends become consequently strained. They may spend more time in a doctor’s surgery trying to get more of the drug, and may behave more secretly regarding their drug taking. Gabapentin abuse is common in people who are already addicted to painkillers or opioids. Combining Gabapentin with these types of drugs often results in the user experiencing a more intense high. This is very dangerous and can be fatal.

What are the Warning Signs of Gabapentin Addiction?

Signs of Gabapentin addiction include:

If you suspect that a loved one or friend may have a Gabapentin addiction, look out for additional warning signs such as discarded pill bottles, a general disinterest in life, and changes in grooming or personal hygiene habits. It is possible to fatally overdose on Gabapentin, especially if it is taken with other drugs. Signs of an overdose include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weak muscles
  • Drooped eyelids
  • Sedation or unconsciousness
  • Diarrhoea

If you notice any of these signs, seek urgent medical advice immediately.

What are Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Frequent use of Gabapentin can lead to dependence on the drug, with both physical and psychological consequences. In some instances, a user’s brain may have built up such a tolerance to the drug, that it relies on it to function properly. Going cold turkey and suddenly quitting Gabapentin can therefore be very dangerous, and can cause the user psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms – some of which can be life-threatening. This is why any detox should be attempted in a controlled environment with trained medical professionals who can administer medications if required to ease withdrawal symptoms and ensure the user’s safety. Common withdrawal symptoms associated with Gabapentin withdrawal include:

  • Sweats
  • Aggression and agitation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Numbness and pain
  • Seizures
  • Feeling disorientated
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Tremors
  • Quickened heart rate

If a user is experiencing withdrawal, it is also common for their pre-existing symptoms (most likely the symptoms that first created the Gabapentin diagnosis), to return. People with psychosis, bi-polar disorder, depression and epilepsy are at an increased risk during withdrawal, and are much safer undergoing treatment in a professional rehabilitation facility where their condition can be carefully monitored and supported.

What Support for Gabapentin Addiction?

It can be difficult to know how to support someone who has a drug addiction. Watching their condition spiralling out of control can be very distressing. It is important that you support the addict as much as possible, but without enabling them or making excuses for their behaviour. Do not financially support them and give them money that they could potentially use on drugs. Being negative or exercising ‘tough love’ will also not force an addict into realising that they have a drug problem. Making an addict feel guilt or shame will not encourage them to seek help, and may actually cause them to retreat even further into their drug-taking behaviours.

Exercising compassion can however be a major motivator, and the addict may feel that they can trust and open up to you. Talking compassionately about addiction also enables loved ones to share their feelings and tell the addict how their behaviour is affecting people around them. Try reading up on addiction, attending family therapy sessions or doctor appointments together, and listening and acknowledging symptoms the addict is struggling with. Another option is to implement an intervention, either with family and friends or by using a trained interventionist

Treatment of Gabapentin Addiction

The withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person suddenly stops taking Gabapentin can be very severe. Detoxing alone at home should not be attempted, as repeated seizures associated with status epilepticus can be life-threatening. It is also possible for a user to overdose on Gabapentin should their withdrawal symptoms become too overwhelming and uncomfortable.

Treatment for Gabapentin addiction doesn’t involve going cold turkey from the drug. Instead, it is much safer to follow a gradual ‘tapered’ programme in which an addict is slowly weaned off of the drug, until the dosage is completely eliminated. This can prevent deadly seizures and ensures that an addict can be closely observed throughout the process to see how their body is reacting to the changes occurring within it. Other related conditions can also receive treatment in a controlled setting. Gabapentin should be slowly withdrawn over at least a one-week period. Detox programmes generally take 28 days. The exact amount of time a user needs will depend on their build, the severity of their addiction, health and mental health status.

Following a safe detox process (if required), treatment for Gabapentin addiction involves access to group therapy, family therapy, counselling, mindfulness and educational workshops, art therapy, hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These treatments are designed to help an addict change the way they think about and approach drugs, arming them with the tools they need to control their cravings and trigger points so that they can stay on track with their progress.