Gabapentin is a popular anti-seizure medication sometimes prescribed to relieve pain from shingles or other neuropathic issues. While it is not a controlled substance or narcotic in the United States, experts commonly refer to it as an opiate potentiate that can amplify the effects of heroin, morphine, and other prescription painkiller medications. Despite a low risk of abuse and dependence, it is very likely that someone chronically abusing it will develop gabapentin addiction, especially when combining it with other opioid medications. However, timely detoxification and rehabilitation can reverse these addictive behaviors to achieve lasting recovery.
Gabapentinoids refer to medications that people commonly use to treat restless leg syndrome or neuropathic pain. Experts also prescribe it for managing hot flashes in postmenopausal women and epilepsy. Marketed under different labels and names like Gralise Neurontin, gabapentin was first manufactured in 1987 as a synthetic analog of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a natural neurotransmitter that regulates the body’s nervous system. The medication induces feelings of calmness and relaxation in people to help alleviate their anxiety or nerve pain. One of its prescribed uses is as an anticonvulsant to lessen different types of seizures associated with a brain disease like Parkinson’s.
The ability of gabapentin to tackle a variety of ailments has contributed to its nationwide popularity and a consequent increase in the prevalence of abuse cases. In May 2019, surveys indicated gabapentin as America’s fifth most prescribed drug. More recently, people have started relying on gabapentin as a less addictive alternative to opioids; however, the drug has its own negative effects. Some of these long-term side effects of gabapentin include:
- Inability to communicate
- Loss of coordination
- Memory loss
- Inability to focus
- Blurry vision
- Anxiety and depression
These side effects can possibly appear even in those who use gabapentin for medical purposes and responsibly. However, the risk is much higher for those who abuse the medication or form an addiction.
Many people are under the false pretense that gabapentin is not addictive. While its addiction potential is relatively low compared to other opioids, its abrupt stoppage leads to withdrawal symptoms, an essential hallmark of physical addiction.
Gabapentin abuse is considered unlikely due to its low addictive potential. However, it produces withdrawal symptoms, an essential aspect of physical addiction. The chances of this happening are relatively low, though.
Gabapentin dependence is more common in individuals who mix it with other drugs or alcohol to enhance the effects of either. People who use this medication may experience a euphoria similar to the one that marijuana brings about. Intoxication with gabapentin also makes users feel joyous yet calm. Because of its numerous applications, widespread availability, legal classification, and the inability to show up on most drug tests, the association between gabapentin and addiction is only getting stronger. Experts are now classifying it as a more strictly controlled substance in the United States, where its abuse is rising.
Following are some of the most common gabapentin addiction symptoms:
- Lying about or exaggerating the medical symptoms to doctors to get more prescriptions for gabapentin
- Switching multiple doctors to get more doses
- Changes in social circles and habits
- Feeling uncomfortable when gabapentin is unavailable
- Changes in grooming and personal hygiene habits
- Refusal to quit despite experiencing legal, financial, and social consequences
- Repeated failed attempts to quit
If you or a loved one has been suffering from gabapentin addiction, seeking professional treatment as soon as possible is imperative. You may consider joining an accredited rehabilitation center where highly trained doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, therapists, psychologists, and other personnel will overlook as you successfully fight off gabapentin dependence.
Following are some of the services that a gabapentin rehab typically offers:
Intervention refers to a professionally supervised discussion where someone, usually a family member or a friend, sits with a person fighting addiction to communicate their concerns regarding substance abuse. A gabapentin rehab may offer the services of an interventionist who will spend weeks with the family members of an afflicted individual and help them learn how to approach their loved one compassionately and in a non-confrontational way.
As a part of an intervention, the family members and friends can discuss their worries about how gabapentin addiction is destroying their loved one’s life. Next, they may gently bring up the idea of seeking professional treatment. It is possible to repeat these sessions multiple times under professional supervision to help the afflicted individual realize their problem. Once they agree, the family members can support them in seeking treatment.
Once you agree to seek help for gabapentin addiction, you will enter detox, the first step of a standard treatment program that involves eliminating gabapentin along with other substances from your system. Sometimes, this process may lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms. Instead of trying to manage these symptoms on your own, getting medication-assisted treatment and behavioral health from an addiction specialist is better, as it is a much safer and more effective option. The medications prescribed during detox will help you manage the withdrawal symptoms while reducing cravings to minimize the risk of a relapse. During the entire program duration, a medical staff team carefully monitors every patient to maintain their safety and comfort.
Most detox programs occur in an inpatient setting where clients must stay onsite 24/7, and staff can monitor them. Once detox is complete, you may begin behavioral treatment to identify and remove all root causes of addiction.
The safest method to kick out psychological dependence on gabapentin is by joining a residential rehab after detox. As a part of this program, patients move into a rehab center and live there until the end of treatment. With round-the-clock help and professional supervision, the chances of relapsing are minimal.
As a part of residential treatment, patients have private or semi-private rooms, three meals a day, and access to various amenities that vary from one rehab to another. Some include swimming pools, gyms and spas, fitness centers, massage centers, sports grounds, and more. Each patient gets an individualized plan which includes different therapies for behavioral treatment, such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Family programs
- Individual and group counseling
- Motivational interviewing
The best thing about joining a residential rehab is that it allows patients to escape the triggers fueling their gabapentin addiction in a drug-free environment. Therapists and other staff members can always offer emotional and physical support when required.
Outpatient treatment can come in handy for someone with family or work responsibilities that do not let them join a residential rehab. These treatment programs allow them access to professional doctors and therapists who help them manage gabapentin withdrawal and behavioral therapy without having to live onsite. As such, these patients come to the rehab daily, spend a fixed number of hours in therapy and counseling, and return to their homes in the evening. More recently, some rehabs have begun offering telehealth services with virtual outpatient programs that allow clients to seek therapy, get refills, and attend support group meetings through online mediums without having to visit the rehab in person.
Once someone completes therapy, they work with an addiction specialist to devise an aftercare plan. The main purpose of this aftercare plan is to minimize relapse prevention by focusing on each patient’s specific triggers and how they alter their reaction. The relapse prevention plan will also include a list of emergency contacts the patients can get in touch with when they feel like they are about to relapse. This list may consist of your family, friends, and even support group members. Aftercare usually includes continuing sessions with a therapist in which you follow up on your progress every once in a while.
Can you get addicted to gabapentin?
To understand if gabapentin is addictive, it’s crucial to understand how this drug works. The medication typically changes how a body senses and responds to pain by interacting with GABA neurotransmitters. GABA neurotransmitters play a huge role in reducing the excitability in the brain cells, which plays a role in pain suppression. Because gabapentin does not directly interact with opioid receptors but targets GABA instead, it is less likely to cause addiction. That said, it is essential to remember that people who use it consistently for some time may eventually start abusing it and develop withdrawal symptoms as soon as they stop the medication. So even though it’s rare, people can develop dependence and addiction to gabapentin.
Does gabapentin cause depression?
Gabapentin may cause some users to feel irritability and agitation or show other abnormal behaviors, like feelings of hopelessness or sadness, restlessness, and hostility. It may even cause depression to the extent that it triggers suicidal thoughts in some. This side effect is, however, quite rare.
How long does it take to get addicted to gabapentin?
There is no fixed amount of time someone needs to develop an addiction to gabapentin. Some may develop it much earlier than others, even if they take the exact dosage. Several factors determine this addiction timeline, such as age, gender, health status, body weight, and the duration, amount, and frequency of gabapentin used.
When should I get help for gabapentin dependence?
No type of addiction comes with a rulebook. For some, it can be so subtle that you barely realize it; for others, it may be so intense that it completely destroys their family or job. If you have realized your gabapentin addiction only recently, you may not feel like doing something right away, and it’s completely understandable. You may also have concerns about what others will say about your issue. But seeking help is essential, especially when you feel like you cannot get through the day without gabapentin or cannot stop taking it because of the withdrawal symptoms that usually follow.
What can I expect from the gabapentin withdrawal process?
The withdrawal process for gabapentin addiction is highly variable from one person to another. Some may begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms within hours after their last dose, while others may develop it within one to two days. Some may not develop it at all. Some common withdrawal symptoms include feeling sweaty, feverish, and cold, with a runny nose and aching muscles. Psychological symptoms may also hit some people, including anxiety, depression, irritability, and confusion. Some may struggle to concentrate, impacting their work and personal life. A very small number of people may develop potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including psychosis which causes them to lose touch with reality. Such symptoms are tough to cope with without professional support; hence seeking help from rehab is important.
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