Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

People with chronic pain often struggle to relieve their physical discomfort. Medicines like gabapentin can help with different kinds of pain.

Gabapentin treats various conditions, including neuropathic pain, seizures, and restless legs syndrome. Some people may use gabapentin recreationally, which can lead to the potential for addiction or abuse.

This blog post discusses the various effects of using gabapentin medicinally and nonmedically. It also dives into the risks of gabapentin abuse and potential treatments for addiction. 

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

The Drug Enforcement Agency doesn’t classify it as a controlled substance. However, despite being less addictive than opioids, gabapentin misuse can still lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

Because of this, certain states already recognize it as a controlled substance. As of 2022, these states include:13

  • Michigan
  • Kentucky
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Tennessee
  • Missouri
  • North Dakota
  • Alabama

What Are Gabapentin Addiction Symptoms?

Some typical signs of gabapentin addiction are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Poor coordination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Changes in mood and behavior

Gabapentin Addiction and Its Resemblance to Opioid Dependence

Gabapentin addiction can cause symptoms similar to those of opioid addiction. These symptoms include:12

  • Compulsive use of gabapentin despite adverse consequences
  • Experiencing cravings for gabapentin and increasing the dose without a doctor's recommendation
  • Neglecting essential activities in favor of using gabapentin, such as work, school, or familial duties
  • Inability to stop using gabapentin despite a desire to do so
  • Changing social circles to those who use or approve of using gabapentin
  • Having legal issues related to possession of gabapentin without a prescription

How Do People Misuse Gabapentin?

People misuse gabapentin in different ways. Some take higher doses than their doctors prescribe, often to increase the effects of euphoria or sedation.

Others crush and snort it or mix it with other drugs like opioids to achieve a stronger effect. Some people sell gabapentin to others seeking a recreational high.

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What Are Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms?

The most prominent symptom of gabapentin addiction is physical dependence. This involves withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of drug use.

Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity

Gabapentin and Its Association with Fatal Overdoses

A 2018 study of the Appalachian region of the U.S. revealed that 22% of those who died of a fatal drug overdose had gabapentin in their system.14 In that same study, gabapentin was a “contributing factor” on 40% of death certificates in Kentucky and 57% in North Carolina.

Another study found that using gabapentin with opioid treatment significantly increases the risk of opioid-related overdose and death.10 One possible explanation for this is the length of gabapentin use.

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What are the Treatment Options for Gabapentin Addiction?

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when someone addicted to gabapentin stops taking it. These symptoms can be severe and potentially life-threatening.

It’s crucial to undergo gabapentin detox under medical supervision for safety reasons. These are the available treatment options for gabapentin addiction:

Inpatient Treatment

For a secure and effective path to quitting gabapentin, consider seeking treatment at an inpatient facility. These specialized centers provide vital medical supervision during the detoxification process.

Numerous inpatient drug abuse treatment centers are available nationwide to assist you in your journey toward recovery. They ensure your safety and well-being through these programs:

Detoxification

The first step of any inpatient treatment program is detoxification, which involves reducing the amount of gabapentin in your system. Doctors will typically prescribe medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms.

Medication Therapy

Certain medications, such as naltrexone and buprenorphine, can aid in reducing cravings or blocking the effects of gabapentin. A doctor must prescribe them under close supervision to ensure you use them safely.

Therapy and Counseling 

Inpatient treatment programs focus on helping you understand the underlying causes of your addiction. They will also equip you with the knowledge to manage cravings.

Healthcare professionals do these through cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and other therapeutic modalities that address your addiction's root causes. They also help you develop healthy coping skills to replace negative behaviors like substance abuse.

Mutual Support Groups

These peer-run organizations provide a safe space for those who have gone through similar struggles. Members share their experiences and receive emotional support from others in such groups. 

These organizations, such as 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous, offer ongoing assistance even after leaving the inpatient facility. 

Aftercare Planning

At the end of your inpatient treatment program, healthcare providers will create a detailed aftercare plan for you. Aftercare planning helps guide your recovery and lower relapse risk. It can include:

  • Attending support group meetings
  • Seeing a therapist regularly
  • Engaging in other activities that promote sobriety 

Additionally, these aftercare plans can provide access to resources like housing assistance and employment opportunities so you can get back on your feet.

Additional Support 

Job counseling and case management can teach budgeting, job hunting, and resume writing skills. Occupational therapy can help you do better at work or school.

These additional support services can help you gain a sense of purpose and allow for a healthier lifestyle in the long run.

What Is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is a prescription drug for nerve pain due to shingles or herpes and certain seizure disorders. 

It's an anticonvulsant drug, meaning it works by reducing the activity of nerves in the brain that can be overactive during seizures. It can also help decrease the transmission of pain.

Gabapentin treats the following conditions:

  • Alcohol use disorder and relapse-related symptoms
  • Chronic neuropathic pain or nerve pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hot flashes
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (pain that follows shingles)
  • Adjunctive therapy for partial seizures in some people with epilepsy
  • Moderate to severe restless leg syndrome (RLS)

Forms and Doses of Gabapentin

Gabapentin FormStrengthDosage
Pill (capsule)100 mg, 300 mg, 400 mgFor epilepsy: 900 mg to 3,600 mg daily
Tablet600 mg, 800 mgFor nerve pain: Starts at 300 mg daily, then increases
Liquid50 mg per ml

Your healthcare provider will prescribe the best dose of gabapentin for you. It may take a few weeks to work.1

Gabapentin pill

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How Does Gabapentin Work?

Gabapentin suppresses nerve impulses in the nervous system, ultimately blocking intense pain signals and affecting the brain.

It accomplishes this by interacting with ion channels on the surface of nerve cells. These channels regulate the speed and ability of the cells to transmit electrical messages, including pain signals.

Gabapentin vs. Other Anticonvulsants

Gabapentin works differently than other anticonvulsants, like carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and phenytoin.

Below are the key differences between these medications:

GabapentinCarbamazepineLamotriginePhenytoin
Mechanism of ActionModulates GABA and inhibits glutamate releaseBlocks sodium channelsBlocks sodium channelsBlocks sodium channels
IndicationsSeizures, Nerve PainSeizures, Nerve Pain, Bipolar DisorderSeizures, Bipolar DisorderSeizures, Arrhythmias
Typical Starting Dose (for Epilepsy)900-3,600 mg/day200-400 mg/day25-50 mg/day100-300 mg/day
Common Side EffectsDizziness, drowsiness, fatigueDizziness, drowsiness, nauseaDizziness, headache, rashDizziness, nausea, gum enlargement
Drug InteractionsModerateManyFewMany

What Are the Side Effects of Gabapentin?

The most common side effects of gabapentin include:

  • Drowsiness/sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Visual problems (including myopathy or diseases that affect muscles controlling voluntary movement)
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Self-harm behaviors
  • Allergic reactions
  • Respiratory depression
  • Respiratory failure
  • Addiction
  • Depression

Many side effects can lead to severe problems like diarrhea and vomiting. These conditions’ effects can potentially lead to heart failure, especially if you abruptly stop taking gabapentin.

Severe Side Effects

Some people who take gabapentin have severe side effects. If you experience any of the following severe side effects, call your doctor immediately:5

  • A severely high temperature
  • Persistent swollen glands
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Unexplained muscle pain or weakness
  • Serious exhaustion
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Addiction

A few people who have taken gabapentin have also experienced thoughts of harming or killing themselves. This can happen within only a week of treatment.5

Summary

Gabapentin is a powerful drug that carries mental and physical risks. It also poses a risk of addiction and withdrawal symptoms if you use it for an extended period.

For these reasons, it’s essential to know the potential dangers of taking gabapentin. Always consult your doctor before taking gabapentin and follow their instructions carefully.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a gabapentin addiction, immediately seek help from an inpatient treatment facility. It’s the best way to ensure you remain safe and receive optimal care during your recovery journey.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
15 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Bastiaens et al. “Abuse Of Gabapentin Is Associated With Opioid Addiction.” Springer Link, 2016.
  2. Gomes et al. “Gabapentin, opioids, and the risk of opioid-related death: a population-based nested case–control study.” PLoS Medicine, 2017.
  3. Hellwig et al. “Withdrawal symptoms after gabapentin discontinuation.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 2010.
  4. Kukkar et al. “Implications and mechanism of action of gabapentin in neuropathic pain.” Archives of Pharmacal Research, 2013.
  5. Mason et al. “Gabapentin Treatment For Alcohol Dependence: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Internal Medicine, 2014.
  6. Quintero, G.C. “Review about gabapentin misuse, interactions, contraindications and side effects.” Journal of Experimental Pharmacology, 2017.
  7. Straube et al. “Single dose oral gabapentin for established acute postoperative pain in adults.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2010.
  8. Wiffen et al. “Gabapentin for chronic neuropathic pain in adults.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2017.
  9. Slavova et al. “Prevalence of gabapentin in drug overdose postmortem toxicology testing results.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2018.
  10. Gomes et al. “Gabapentin, opioids, and the risk of opioid-related death: A population-based nested case-control study.” PLoS Medicine, 2017.
  11. Anton et al. “Efficacy of Gabapentin for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder in Patients With Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Internal Medicine, 2020.
  12. Lennox et al. “Gabapentin misuse.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2019.
  13. Lanham et al. “Gabapentin Presents High Potential for Misuse.” Pharmacy Times, 2022.
  14. Smith et al. “A Qualitative Analysis of Gabapentin Misuse and Diversion among People who Use Drugs in Appalachian Kentucky.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2019.
  15. Gabapentin.” National Health Service, 2022.

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