Gabapentin Addiction and Abuse in Ohio

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 10/25/2022

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Updated 10/25/2022

Gabapentin is a prescription medication originally approved to treat seizure and nerve pain disorders. Since its approval, gabapentin has become the drug of choice for many disorders outside of its labeled indication. 

Gabapentin is generally seen to be a helpful medication with few risks, but it’s still possible for abuse to occur. In addition, some believe that the drug can cause addiction to form.

Article Overview

  • Gabapentin is a medication used to treat seizures and certain pain disorders.
  • Gabapentin is not a scheduled medication in most states.
  • Gabapentin has many off-label uses, including anxiety, ADHD, neuropathy, cough and restless legs syndrome treatment.
  • Using gabapentin without a prescription or in a way other than prescribed is gabapentin abuse.

What Is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is a medication that is structurally related to the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA acts as a chemical signal in brain cells. It is an “inhibitory neurotransmitter,” meaning brain cells release GABA to turn off the function of other brain cells.

Gabapentin Classification

Gabapentin was originally developed to treat seizures, so it is classified as an anticonvulsant. However, the drug is prescribed for seizures less than 5% of the time and is much more frequently used for other conditions, including nerve pain.

What Is Gabapentin Used For?

Gabapentin was originally approved to treat seizures and postherpetic neuralgia, a type of nerve pain caused by shingles. Since its approval, gabapentin has found use in treating many off-label conditions, including:

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Cough
  • Diabetic neuropathy

How Long Does Gabapentin Last?

Gabapentin can last different lengths of time depending on whether you are taking a short- or long-acting form of the drug. Short-acting gabapentin is usually dosed three times a day, as its effects only last a few hours. Long-acting gabapentin is dosed once or twice a day because its effects will last much longer.

Gabapentin Half-Life

Gabapentin’s half-life is between five and seven hours in most people. However, the half-life can be much longer in those with kidney problems. Half-life describes the amount of time the body takes to completely remove half of a single dose.

How Long Does Gabapentin Stay in Your System?

Drugs take about five half-lives to completely metabolize from the body, so most people will metabolize gabapentin within 25 to 35 hours.

Does Gabapentin Show Up on a Drug Test?

Because gabapentin is a legal drug and not a federally controlled substance, doctors do not test for gabapentin in routine drug screenings. However, doctors can order special gabapentin drug tests if they are specifically looking for it. The drug can show up in the urine for about two to four days following a dose. Although it is possible to find gabapentin in saliva and hair, these tests are not usually performed commercially.

Gabapentin Dosage

Gabapentin is prescribed at a wide variety of doses. The drug is generally started at a low dose, such as 300 mg daily, then slowly increased until the desired effects are achieved. For this reason, people may take very different doses of the drug, even if they are using it to treat the same medical problem. 

Gabapentin Brand Names

Gabapentin is sold as a generic drug as well as under multiple brand names. Brand names for short-acting gabapentin are Neurontin and Gralise, while the brand-name for long-acting gabapentin is Horizant.

What Does Gabapentin Look Like?

Gabapentin is sold as tablets, capsules and liquids, but the drug’s appearance can vary widely from one manufacturer to another. If you have come across a drug you think may be gabapentin, it is best to ask your pharmacist or use an online pill identifier.

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

There is debate on whether gabapentin is an addictive drug, but it’s known that gabapentin abuse occurs in about 1% of the population. While 40% to 65% of the people who abuse it have a prescription, the rest do not. Further, about 15% to 22% of people who abuse opioids report abusing gabapentin to enhance an opioid high.

Gabapentin is not a scheduled drug according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, which schedules addictive drugs at the federal level. However, some states have classified it as a Schedule V substance because some studies show it may be linked to addiction. These states include:

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

Other states have passed laws that require gabapentin prescriptions to be reported in prescription monitoring databases. These states include:

  • Connecticut
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Indiana 
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota 
  • Nebraska 
  • New Jersey 
  • Ohio 
  • Oregon 
  • Utah 
  • Wyoming

Gabapentin Side Effects

Gabapentin has some side effects, but the drug is generally well tolerated. Some common side effects of gabapentin include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Increased appetite
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red, itchy eyes (sometimes with swelling or discharge)
  • Runny nose, sneezing, cough, sore throat or flu-like symptoms
  • Strange or unusual thoughts
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles or lower legs
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Unwanted eye movements
  • Weight gain

The most reported side effects of gabapentin are dizziness and drowsiness, which produce a feeling similar to alcohol intoxication. The effects are generally described as unpleasant because it clouds thinking and causes confusion in some people. To prevent negative side effects, gabapentin is usually started at a low dose and then slowly increased to the target dose. 

Gabapentin and Alcohol

Because both gabapentin and alcohol are central nervous system depressants, they have a drug interaction when used together. For this reason, it’s best to avoid using them at the same time. Taking them together can increase the risk of side effects like:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Problems concentrating

Gabapentin Overdose

A gabapentin overdose can be deadly, and no specific reversal agent exists to treat one. The risk of a fatal overdose is higher if the person uses several substances at the same time. Symptoms of a gabapentin overdose may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Movement problems
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure

If you suspect someone is overdosing on gabapentin, call 911 — especially if the person has taken other substances as well.

Gabapentin Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms with short-acting gabapentin are rare. However, some people may experience withdrawal if they regularly take high doses of short-acting gabapentin and suddenly stop the drug. Further, many people who have had withdrawal symptoms from short-acting gabapentin were using extremely high doses of the drug to treat withdrawal from other substances. Little information exists about withdrawal with long-acting gabapentin.

Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of withdrawal from gabapentin include:

  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion

Gabapentin Detox

Those who are concerned about gabapentin withdrawal symptoms may choose to attend a medically supervised detox program that provides around-the-clock care. Since scientists are still learning about gabapentin withdrawal, it is best to speak with a medical professional before you stop gabapentin. Your doctor may recommend a medically supervised detox program and further treatment in rehab to help keep you off gabapentin for good.

Gabapentin Addiction Treatment

If you are considering stopping gabapentin, quitting the drug cold turkey may cause uncomfortable or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Instead, consult your doctor or a treatment facility to discuss tapering the drug or undergoing a medical detox

Tapering, or slowly lowering the gabapentin dose over time, gives the body time to adjust. The tapering process can take months depending on your dose and requires regular medical follow-up. Individuals with a severe gabapentin addiction may struggle with withdrawal symptoms or cravings, leading to relapse. If this is a concern, a medically supervised detox can ensure your body rids itself of the drug without temptation.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers gabapentin detox and rehab programs, including both inpatient and outpatient options. A partial hospitalization program (PHP) and intensive outpatient program (IOP) are also available as stepping stones from inpatient to outpatient rehab.

Our facility sits on a 6.5-acre campus outside Columbus, Ohio, and offers a variety of amenities. These include:

  • Art therapy
  • Two gyms 
  • Rec room with a pool table and shuffleboard
  • Yoga therapy
  • Outdoor recreation areas

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