Gabapentin is a prescription drug used to treat various medical conditions including epilepsy, restless legs syndrome, anxiety disorders, neuropathic pain, etc. Because of its calming effects, people often tend to consume more than the prescribed dose, which can be dangerous.
Some people misuse gabapentin to feel the euphoric effects. It has become a new craze for drug users because of its easy availability in the market. It produces a feeling of calmness, relaxation and euphoria. Some people snort powdered gabapentin, which produces euphoric effects similar to other drugs.
Gabapentin is not considered to be a substance of abuse and initially thought to be a safer alternate option to opioids. Drug users often combine gabapentin with other drugs or alcohol to enhance the euphoric effects.
Gabapentin is also used in addiction treatments to minimize cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Table of Contents
- What is a Gabapentin High?
- Is Gabapentin A Drug of Abuse?
- Is Gabapentin A Controlled Substance?
- How Long Does Gabapentin Stay In Your System?
- Is Gabapentin A Opioid?
- Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Gabapentin Abusers
What is a Gabapentin High?
Gabapentin can cause feelings of elation, relaxation and calmness. When taken in combination with other drugs, it can also increase the euphoric effects as well as the risks associated with it. Some people even snort powdered gabapentin to get euphoric effects similar to other drugs.
Gabapentin is an antiepileptic drug, mostly prescribed as an adjuvant in the treatment of epileptic seizures. It is also used off-label to treat physical conditions such as restless legs syndrome, postherpetic neuralgia pain related to shingles, hot flashes, migraines as well as psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety disorder. It is also utilized in addiction treatments to reduce symptoms of withdrawal and cravings.
The chemical structure of gabapentin is similar to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps in transmitting signals from brain to nerves. Gabapentin alters the calcium channels in the body and helps in easing nerve pain, poor sleep and anxiety. It brings on feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Gabapentin is not considered a controlled substance due to its low addictive potential. It can create a psychological dependence because of its euphoric effects and physical dependence due to its withdrawal symptoms. There are studies stating that patients who were prescribed gabapentin used more than the prescribed doses and polydrug users desired gabapentin to intensify the effects.
Is Gabapentin A Drug of Abuse?
Though gabapentin is not a controlled substance according to United States Drug Enforcement Administration, it can be misused due to its euphoric effects. It has the potential to drive a person towards physical and psychological dependence.
Gabapentin is one of the most popularly prescribed medications in the United States due to its ability to treat multiple conditions. Since it is used as an adjuvant to other drugs, it can cause addiction as well as harmful side effects.
Health care providers who prescribe gabapentin frequently monitor its use as well as for any adverse effects. Some people do take more than the prescribed dose due to its soothing effects, which can be life-threatening. Patients with a history of alcohol or drug abuse are more prone to taking more than the prescribed dose of gabapentin.
Stopping gabapentin, after a tolerance is built up in the body, will produce withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be worse and contribute towards craving, physical and mental dependence.
Gabapentin abuse is threatening because it is difficult to ascertain whether the substance is used or abused due to its prescription nature. It can lead to adverse effects as well as overdose death if not taken as prescribed. So, a person who has been prescribed gabapentin should be monitored to prevent misuse or addiction.
Gabapentin overdose is similar to opioid overdose, but there is no antidote to stop the substance from affecting the brain instantly. Though life-threatening symptoms can be treated immediately, the damage caused by the substance to the brain and body can be permanent.
Most common signs and symptoms of gabapentin overdose include:
- Feeling drowsy and dizzy
- Loss of memory
- Involuntary eye movements and involuntary twitching
- Blurred vision
- Blood pressure changes (high or low)
Gabapentin, when overdosed, has the tendency to create psychological disturbances such as hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. In such cases, individuals may be treated in the hospital under complete vigilance until they eliminate the drug out of their body and get out of the withdrawal symptom phase. Once the overdose symptoms are under control, drug addiction treatment can be considered.
When gabapentin is taken in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol, it can cause severe side effects to the brain and body. Lack of oxygen supply to the brain can result in rapid cell death and cause damage to the brain. This can further result in slowed breathing or respiratory arrest.
Is Gabapentin A Controlled Substance?
Gabapentin is not classified as a controlled substance federally, but some states such as Kentucky and Michigan have declared it as a controlled substance due to the increasing fatalities. Other states have mandated it to be included under prescription drug monitoring program.
Initially, gabapentin was not considered a controlled substance and was prescribed for anxiety, depression and other nerve-related symptoms such as nerve pain, nerve disorders and epilepsy. In the recent times, gabapentin is being used by drug users to enhance the euphoric effects of opioids. Because of easy accessibility, gabapentin has become an addictive drug among drug users.
Gabapentin is an easily available non-controlled substance, which is also being prescribed off-label for depression and anxiety. It becomes vulnerable when depressed people consume beyond the prescribed limits to suppress their emotions which is threatening. This can in turn lead to possible addiction.
Prescriptions Increasing For Gabapentin
Gabapentin is typically prescribed to control seizures and to treat nerve related pain. Its chemical structure is similar to GABA and helps in calming down the over activated brain cells. Gabapentin is also often prescribed for chronic pain. It is not intoxicating when taken at therapeutic doses and doesn’t react with other drugs hazardously.
According to studies, there has been a three-fold increase in gabapentin prescriptions over the last decade and a half. Due to this concern, research studies are underway to determine whether it is being diverted towards recreational purposes.
Though gabapentin is described to be non-intoxicating, there are reviews stating it can cause long-lasting euphoric effects when taken in larger amounts. Some people who took gabapentin long-term for legitimate medical reasons have reported it as addictive. Therefore, the rise in gabapentin prescription definitely puts forward the concern for potential abuse.
How Long Does Gabapentin Stay In Your System?
Gabapentin is a prescription medication used to treat nerve-related disorders, seizures and anxiety. It is available in two versions; Immediate Release and Extended Release. Half-life of gabapentin usually ranges from 5 to 7 hours.
Usually the liver breaks down most of the substances in the human body, but gabapentin gets metabolized by the kidneys. Hence, the drug doesn’t remain in the body for long and gets eliminated through urination. Gabapentin when broken down doesn’t produce any metabolites; therefore, gets eliminated as a whole.
Assuming the average half-life for gabapentin is 7 hours, the drug will be completely eliminated out of the system in about 48 hours. If an extended-release version of gabapentin is used, then the process will take additional time to flush out the chemicals from the body.
Some interesting facts about gabapentin testing and identification:
- Gabapentin can get detected if tested within 5 to 7 hours of consumption.
- It cannot be identified through saliva swab test.
- Urinalysis is the most common drug test to screen for the presence of gabapentin and can be detected for 1 to 3 days after consumption.
- Hair drug testing, being considered as one of the efficient drug testing methods, can detect the presence of gabapentin for a span of 90 days after consumption.
Given the fact that gabapentin is not a controlled substance, it is not specifically tested unless warranted. Considering the symptoms and side effects, gabapentin is rising as a potential drug of abuse that would deteriorate physical and mental health.
Factors That Influence How Long Gabapentin Stays in Your System
Drug elimination varies person to person. Factors that can influence the length of stay in the system include:
- Age, Body Mass or Weight: Usually, older users take longer time to eliminate the drug than young users because of the slow movement of the drug through their system. Metabolism tends to slow down even in people with more body fat.
- Kidney Function: Gabapentin gets metabolized by the kidneys. Hence, a person with impaired kidney function may take longer to eliminate the drug out of the system.
- Drug Interactions: Some drugs tend to slow down the absorption or increase the amount of gabapentin in the body. This can cause the drug to remain in the system for a longer period.
- Drug Use and Dose: Gabapentin dose and how long it has been used will also impact the elimination time. If the drug was taken for a long duration, it might linger in the system for longer period of time.
Gabapentin is usually a fast-acting drug and has a short half-life. However, taking more amounts of the drug can lengthen the elimination time. The half-life of gabapentin is about 5 to 7 hours and it can take about 46 to 48 hours for the drug to get completely eliminated out of the system.
Since gabapentin is broken down by the kidneys, drinking plenty of fluids can speed up the elimination process. The higher the intake of fluids, the higher will be the drug excretion.
Is Gabapentin A Opioid?
No, gabapentin is not an opioid. Gabapentin and opioids are different drugs. They share some common features, but function in different ways.
Gabapentin is sold under many brand names and was initially listed as an anticonvulsant drug. It is also used for off-label purposes to control anxiety, chronic pain, treatment of withdrawal symptoms, etc.
Gabapentin and opioid have certain differences in their functionalities.
- Gabapentin is created to function as a neurotransmitter. It helps the person acquire neuron functions that they had lost due to GABA deficiency. Gabapentin does not attach to the GABA receptors to perform such functions, but creates an electric pulse that leads to the inhibition or slowing response in the nerves and the brain.
- Opioids attach themselves to certain brain receptors, and help alleviate pain and stress for a certain amount of time. This is because they are designed to target the endorphins and other neurotransmitters. Opioids are generally an advanced level of painkillers that are placed under supervision by the Drug Enforcement Administration due to its addictive properties.
- The restriction and control over opioids and gabapentin are entirely different. Both medications can be obtained only through prescriptions. Opioids are considered to be controlled substances whereas gabapentin is not. To continue using opioid, physicians should provide new prescription for refills, whereas gabapentin doesn’t. Hence, the level of control is different for these drugs.
Gabapentin is emerging as a potential threat for drug addicts to get a high. According to chemical compatibility, gabapentin has a very low potential to push a person to a highly sedative state. However, when it is mixed with other illicit drugs, it could have serious adverse effects. Gabapentin is often mixed with opioids or TCA to feel elation.
Gabapentin is not an opioid due to their chemical variance and their functions. Gabapentin is a potential drug for habit-forming. There are proven cases where people get addicted to gabapentin without their knowledge. It is mainly due to the acquaintance. Stressed people get acquainted with the drug due to repeated use. They subsequently increase the dose to get relief which in turn leads to addictiveness and cravings.
There is no antidote for gabapentin overdose. Seeking immediate medical attention would be recommended in the case of overdose, addiction or withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Gabapentin Abusers
It is more common to experience withdrawal symptoms in any kind of addiction and one can similarly expect symptoms of withdrawal after stopping gabapentin. People misusing or abusing the drug may experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
Abruptly stopping gabapentin can lead to mood swings, hallucinations, headache, sweating, fever and even seizures. Gabapentin should be tapered off under the supervision of a health care professional.
Some of the symptoms related to gabapentin withdrawal include:
- Involuntary twitching and involuntary eye movement
- Back and joint pain
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Disorientation or confusion
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased appetite and weight
- Swelling in the extremities
Going through a gradual taper under the supervision of a medical professional can minimize the risks of complications as well as help manage any medical problems experienced during withdrawal.
Apart from these symptoms, people misusing gabapentin may also have strange thoughts. This can further increase when they take high drug doses. Suicidal thoughts or aggressive thoughts can happen if not treated initially. Overdose can result in severe side effects. Chances are high where internal organs such as heart, liver and kidneys can get affected.
Several factors influence the timeline for gabapentin withdrawal including:
- How long gabapentin has been taken
- Gabapentin dose taken prior to stopping
- Complications from any medical or psychological conditions
- Using alcohol or other drugs simultaneously
After stopping the gabapentin, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms within 12 to 48 hours and can last for about 10 days or more. People using gabapentin with other drugs or alcohol can experience severe withdrawal symptoms after stopping, but it can be very dangerous if stopped abruptly.
What Causes Withdrawal Symptoms?
Physical dependence can happen with many drugs, even if taken for medicinal purposes. When gabapentin is taken for a regular period of time, a new state of balance is established based on the presence of drug in the system. Certain neurotransmitters, hormones and other processes get modified in the body to adapt to the presence of drug, which can be an ongoing process.
For instance, tolerance builds up in a person who chronically uses gabapentin and brings forth changes in the system. Hence, the person will need more amounts of drug to produce similar effects that were previously achieved at lower doses. As more and more drug is taken, the body continues to adjust accordingly, leading to increased tolerance levels.
When a person suddenly stops taking gabapentin, there is a state of imbalance in the levels of hormones, neurotransmitters and other processes leading to withdrawal symptoms. People may feel sick, psychologically out of balance, develop seizures and potentially other severe symptoms or complications.
Withdrawal Timeline For Gabapentin
Since gabapentin doesn’t stay too long in the body, symptoms of withdrawal may show up quickly. In a person with normal kidney function, the elimination process can occur between 5 and 7 hours for Gabapentin Immediate Release and 5 to 6 hours for Gabapentin Extended Release.
It can take about 35 hours to completely eliminate the last dose of gabapentin. Therefore, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms within 1 to 2 days as the drug gets out of the system.
How To Safely Withdraw From Gabapentin?
Gabapentin dependency is one of the critical issues that can drive a person towards addictiveness. One can experience withdrawal effects if the drug is stopped abruptly. This is because the body gets adjusted with the comfortability of the drug and suddenly stopping would have undeniable consequences. Medical supervision and doctor’s approval is necessary when stopping gabapentin dosage.
To safely withdraw from gabapentin, it is necessary to gradually wean off rather than stopping it abruptly. Health care providers usually recommend tapering the gabapentin gradually over a period of time to avoid and/or minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Gabapentin can be tapered over a period of one week at minimum, but the tapering schedule may vary depending on:
- Medical and mental health of a person
- Adherence to tapering instructions
- Medical condition for which gabapentin is taken
- Current dose of gabapentin and regimen
If a person who has been prescribed gabapentin want to stop, it is advisable to speak to the ordering physician and undergo tapering. If anyone abusing gabapentin wants to quit, considering medical detoxification and rehabilitation programs would be the most desired approach. Such programs help taper off gabapentin as well as teach skills towards lifestyle changes and prevention of relapse.
Medication For Gabapentin Withdrawal And Relief
There is no specific FDA-approved medication to relieve the gabapentin abuse or withdrawal. The best treatment would be behavioral support and assistance along with care. While taking gabapentin, one should monitor for both physical and mental changes periodically. This can prevent from getting addicted or overdosing.
There is no antidote available for gabapentin, but there are some treatment options in case of addiction or overdose of the drug.
- Detoxification - Detoxification can help to get off the drug on a slow and mediated process under the supervision of health care professionals.
- Residential and inpatient treatment for gabapentin overdose patients.
- Outpatient program - The outpatient program will be effective for patients who are moderately affected by gabapentin. They will also need strict medical supervision.
- Support Group Programs – In support groups, people share their experiences regarding drug use and relief. They also teach coping strategies and how to overcome problems. Joining support groups can be helpful.
Gabapentin is a medication used as an adjunct to treat seizures and nerve-related disorders. If it is used in an uncontrolled manner, then it would lead to negative consequences. Gabapentin is an emerging drug that is about to join the league of illicit drugs, but can be prevented by employing proper regulations.
If gabapentin is used in combination with alcohol or other drugs, it can be life-threatening. In case of abuse or overdose, it is necessary to seek medical attention immediately. There have been overdose deaths related to gabapentin.
Gabapentin should not be discontinued abruptly. It should be tapered off slowly under the guidance of a health care professional to avoid or minimize symptoms of withdrawal. Some people may even experience suicidal ideations in drug abuse.
Gabapentin is a FDA-approved medication. It can offer great relief when prescribed responsibly and taken as prescribed.