Gabapentin Addiction Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects
Last Updated: October 28, 2022
With the ongoing opioid epidemic, people often have questions about other prescription medications and whether they have the potential to be addictive. One medication that some people confuse with an opioid is gabapentin. Gabapentin is the generic name of a drug included in the brand-name medication Neurontin. Gabapentin is not an opioid, but even so, there is a small potential for gabapentin addiction symptoms to occur.
Gabapentin is not a controlled substance and it’s relatively easy to obtain a prescription. This accessibility has led to more reported situations involving gabapentin abuse and people having gabapentin addiction symptoms.
Side Effects of Gabapentin
Gabapentin is a prescription drug used to treat seizures and in some cases, nerve pain stemming from shingles. Classified as an anticonvulsant, there are also off-label uses for gabapentin including for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal, fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, and restless leg syndrome.
Some of the many Gabapentin side effects include:
- Trouble thinking
- Abnormal behaviors
- Feelings of sadness, nervousness or restlessness
- Uncontrolled eye movements
It’s also possible gabapentin can lead to increased feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts.
Gabapentin has a depressant effect on the central nervous system. When someone uses it with other CNS depressants, it can cause more dramatic effects. For example, using gabapentin with antihistamines, alcohol, opioids, muscle relaxants or sedatives can create more noticeable side effects.
Long-Term Side Effects of Gabapentin Use
One of the possible long-term side effects of gabapentin use is abuse or addiction. Gabapentin affects how nerve signals transmit through the body and it affects neurotransmitters in the brain. It can create calm and relaxing feelings, which is how gabapentin abuse begins. Some people describe the effects of gabapentin as similar to marijuana.
Gabapentin specifically interacts with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, and because of that interaction, the brain changes how it functions in response to the use of gabapentin. The brain then adapts to the presence of the gabapentin and its effects over time.
Possible long-term side effects of gabapentin use include:
- Changes in vision, such as double vision
- Concentration impairment
- Memory loss
- Impaired motor function
- Liver problems
- Suicidal thoughts
It’s rare but possible for someone to have kidney problems related to long-term gabapentin use, particularly if they’ve had kidney problems them in the past. For example, in people with a pre-existing kidney problem, taking gabapentin can increase the chances of developing deadly complications.
Since gabapentin can lead to physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms can be a long-term effect of using gabapentin as well. Gabapentin withdrawal can include an increased risk of seizures.
The risk of these long-term side effects is much greater when gabapentin is used outside of how it’s prescribed, or without a prescription. Also, while there is an abuse potential with gabapentin, it is lower than the addiction risk of opioids and benzodiazepines.
Signs of Gabapentin Abuse
When someone uses a prescription medication like gabapentin outside of how it’s intended to be used, including non-medically, it’s considered abuse. Some specific signs of gabapentin abuse include:
- Using the drug without a prescription
- Taking more gabapentin than prescribed
- Using gabapentin other than how it’s intended (e.g., crushing the pills and snorting the powder)
- Combining gabapentin with other substances to increase the drug’s effects
- Changes in mood and behavior, such as new or worsening periods of anxiety and depression
- Ongoing fatigue
- Balance problems
- Short-term memory loss
- “Doctor shopping” for more prescriptions
- Continuing to use gabapentin in spite of negative effects and consequences
- Cagliostro, Dina Ph.D. “Gabapentin for Depression, Mania and Anxiety.” Psycom.net. November 25, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.
- IBM Micromedex. “Gabapentin (Oral Route).” Mayo Clinic. February 1, 2019. Accessed March 14, 2019.
- Leonard, Jayne. “Gabapentin: What to Know.” Medical News Today. November 13, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.
- Schifano, F. “Misuse and abuse of pregabalin and gabap[…]: cause for concern?” CNS Drugs, June 2014. Accessed March 28, 2019.
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