Substance Use

What Are the Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse?

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prescription bottle of gabapentin pills

Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse

Gabapentin (Neurontin) is a drug for treating seizures, postherpetic neuralgia, restless leg syndrome, shingles, diabetic neuropathy, and neuropathic pain. 

In the early 2010s, Neurontin garnered much attention after studies revealed a troubling connection between the drug and its potential for abuse. During this time, specialists asked the FDA to recategorize the drug as a controlled substance – which they declined to do despite these studies. In 2016, individual states began creating legislative initiatives to reclassify and monitor gabapentin use in response.

The FDA-provided gabapentin leaflet highlights the potential for gabapentin abuse but states that the risk becomes apparent only when:

  • An individual takes more than the recommended dose.
  • An individual takes gabapentin to treat unapproved conditions.
  • A person is using gabapentin while abusing another drug (polysubstance abuse).

In these cases, the person is at risk of not only gabapentin abuse side effects but also withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit. 

Side effects related to gabapentin abuse are both short-term and long-term. To reduce the risk of long-term side effects and the symptoms of gabapentin withdrawal, call Zinnia Healing rehab centers at (855) 430-9439 to learn about our treatment options. In addition, we provide inpatient detox and gabapentin addiction treatment programs to help you kick your addiction.

What Are the Common Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse

Gabapentin (Neurontin) decreases over-excitement in the brain, which is useful in conditions where involuntary movement is present. Unfortunately, this anticonvulsant drug is often abused for this reason. In addition, a person who feels abnormally “high” from another substance may abuse gabapentin to “come down” or “mellow out” their high. 

Gabapentin gives them an intoxicated feeling, along with other common side effects, which include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Tremors
  • Blurred or double vision 
  • Anxiety
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unwanted thoughts
  • Swelling in the limbs
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Back and joint pain
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Loss of balance

Many of these side effects resemble those of alcohol abuse or opioid addiction. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to determine whether they are brought on by gabapentin alone or in conjunction with another substance.

What Are the Short-Term Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse?

Gabapentin abuse is reported to be 40-65% among people who use it with a prescription and 15-22% among those who use it while abusing opioids. Even with non-abusive use, gabapentin has the potential to create similar side effects to benzodiazepines, psychedelics, and opioids. As a result, people often abuse the drug for these effects.

They include feelings of:

  • Euphoria
  • Intoxication
  • Calmness and relaxation
  • Dissociation
  • Alienation
  • Lowered inhibitions

The dose of gabapentin doesn’t seem to affect whether a person will experience these common side effects. They are reported across various doses, although abuse increases the likelihood of experiencing them.

Despite the above-listed side effects, the biggest acute risk of abusing gabapentin is death caused by polysubstance overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 90% of all overdose deaths that detected gabapentin also detected the presence of an opioid like fentanyl. 

What Are the Long-Term Side Effects of Gabapentin Abuse?

The long-term side effects of gabapentin abuse are not well documented. However, using gabapentin for longer than recommended or at a dose not recommended can result in gabapentin withdrawal symptoms. 

Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation 
  • Disorientation 
  • Confusion

Gabapentin abuse can also increase opioid-fueled euphoria in those who use them. 

Since gabapentin has a half-life of 5 to 7 hours, it takes two days to be eliminated from the body. This increases the risk of gabapentin overdose if more than recommended is taken at this time.

Does Gabapentin Abuse Affect Your Personality?

Gabapentin abuse causes you to feel less energetic and less likely to participate in your daily activities. People who abuse this drug are often looking for a euphoric feeling. Instead, they may feel intoxicated and have reduced inhibition. They are also less likely to be social. Gabapentin can even change your personality when used properly.

Studies Reveal a Link Between Personality Changes and Gabapentin Use in Elders

Gabapentin received approval as a marketed drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993. Due to its long-standing use, it is widely studied. One such study in 2018 described a link between gabapentin on a 30-day basis and mental status alterations. This study, published by PLOS One, revealed a slight risk of being hospitalized for an altered mental status in participants with a mean age of 76. 

Gabapentin Use May Trigger Suicidal Thoughts

Another study published in the same year by Surgical Neurology International revealed a risk of Gabapentin-related suicide in those with undiagnosed psychiatric disorders and suicidal ideations. Other risks concluded aggressive behavior and depression. To reduce the risk of these dangerous behavioral changes, it is recommended for physicians to properly screen their patients for psychiatric disorders before gabapentin use. 

If you are struggling with a psychiatric disorder and you’re using gabapentin to cope, Zinnia Healing treatment options can help. We offer evidence-based addiction treatment and supportive care at our inpatient facilities for individuals with co-occurring conditions. We also provide counseling and outpatient services to help you manage any future cravings for gabapentin. Call our helpful team at (855) 430-9439 24/7; we’re here to help.

What Drugs, Substances, or Supplements Interact with Gabapentin?

Although gabapentin is an overall well-tolerated medication, drug contraindications do exist. Gabapentin interacts with the following drugs:

  • Losartan: Also called Losartan potassium, it is a medication used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and to prevent and treat kidney disease in individuals with diabetes. 
  • Caffeine: Gabapentin interacts with supplements containing caffeine and caffeinated food and beverages. 
  • Ethacrynic Acid: Ethacrynic acid is in a class of drugs called a diuretic. This medication treats edema (fluid retention). Mixing this drug with Gabapentin can cause disruptions in the nervous system (neurotoxicity). 
  • Phenytoin: Phenytoin (Dilantin) is a medication used to treat seizures. Taking this medication with gabapentin can increase the level of phenytoin in the blood causing troubling side effects, which include drowsiness, visual disturbances, and changes in behavior.
  • Mefloquine: Mefloquine is an anti-malaria medication. The interaction between this medication and gabapentin isn’t listed. However, you should still inform your physician if you take mefloquine (Malarone) before starting gabapentin. 
  • Magnesium Oxide: Magnesium-containing medications can lower the effectiveness of gabapentin by reducing the amount of it in the blood. According to the FDA, magnesium-containing products should be taken at least 2 hours apart from gabapentin.
  • Cimetidine: This H2 blocker treats heartburn, ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Cimetidine reduces the effectiveness of gabapentin.
  • SevelamerThis medication treats high phosphorous levels in those with kidney disease. When used with gabapentin, an interaction may occur.
  • Morphine: Morphine is a non-synthetic narcotic used to treat pain. When used with gabapentin, central nervous system (CNS) depression can occur. 
  • Hydrocodone: This opioid relieves pain and may not work effectively when using gabapentin.

The above-listed interactions are well-documented in case reports, but other prescription medications could cause a potential reaction when taken with gabapentin. Before taking gabapentin, notify your prescribing pharmacy of any prescription drug you are taking. Off-label uses of gabapentin increase the likelihood of interaction with other medications. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse fueled by chronic pain, or a mental health condition, Zinnia Healing can help. We provide detox treatment programs to help you avoid withdrawal syndrome and get you back on track. Call us at (855) 430-9439 to find out more.