Neurontin is a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, and epileptic seizures. It is also commonly prescribed off-label to treat a variety of other ailments, including insomnia, different types of pain, and bipolar disorder. Research is even ongoing to use Neurontin during alcohol or marijuana substance abuse treatment and detox procedures. Neurontin (generic name of gabapentin) is a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) analog. GABA is an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in the brain to slow, or calm, down nerve activity, and it functions as a natural tranquilizer.
Gabapentin does not seem to directly stimulate GABA production, bind to receptors, or prevent GABA from being reabsorbed. Researchers are unclear on exactly how it functions at this point. Neurontin is not a controlled substance in the United States, meaning that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not consider it to be a drug with a high potential for abuse. While Neurontin does not function in the same way as other mind-altering drugs, it does have some of the same characteristics of abused drugs, and people are diverting and abusing gabapentin.
Called “Morontin” or “gabbies” on the street, gabapentin may provide a euphoric “high” that may be similar to that produced by marijuana, bringing an increase in sociability and inducing feelings of calm to recreational users. In addition, it may be used to self-medicate withdrawal symptoms and cravings from other illicit drugs. A survey published in Medscape of inmates in a Florida correctional facility in 2004 found that gabapentin prescriptions were commonly diverted. Out of the 96 prescriptions, only 19 were actually in the hands of an inmate prescribed the drug, and five of those with a diverted prescription admitted to snorting the medication to get high. According to CNS Drugs, gabapentin is likely most commonly abused by poly-drug abusers (those who abuse more than one drug at time) and those with a previous history of drug abuse.
Side Effects of Neurontin
Gabapentin comes in tablet, capsule, or oral suspension forms of varying dosage levels. Users may crush the tablets and snort them, take more at a time than is medically necessary, or take the drug without a prescription. Anyone who takes a pharmaceutical that is not prescribed to them, alters the medications, or takes any amount other than what is dictated by a medical professional is considered to be abusing prescription medications. One of the most dangerous risk factors when abusing drugs is the potential for a life-threatening overdose. The FDA reports that drug overdose death is the number one cause of injury death in America, even overtaking car crash fatalities.
The British Journal of General Practice reports that gabapentin overdose can be fatal in a similar fashion to an opioid overdose, and may be characterized by slurred speech, overwhelming drowsiness and lethargy, diarrhea, and double vision. The risks for an overdose increase when other drugs or alcohol are taken in conjunction with gabapentin as well. All of the gabapentin abuse cases reported postmortem in Finland, between the years 2010 and 2011, involved other drugs or alcohol, and 90 percent involved opioids, as published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Additional side effects of Neurontin abuse may include:
- Weight gain
- Runny nose
- Memory loss
- Double vision
- Dry mouth
- Muscle aches
- Impaired motor functions
The FDA also warns that one in 500 people who take Neurontin may experience suicidal thoughts. People with a history of mental illness or battling a mental health disorder may experience increased symptoms, and Neurontin abuse can interfere with mental health treatment. Recreational abusers also report that not all of the side effects of using Neurontin are pleasant. Many report that it produces a “zombie-like” effect, hence the “Morontin” moniker. W
hile not considered traditionally addictive, since Neurontin does not act on the reward and motivation centers in the brain in the same way that other illicit drugs do, chronic users and abusers may develop a tolerance to the drug over time and require higher doses to continue to feel its effects. In addition, users may experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping its use. Neurontin may be psychologically addictive as well, compelling users to engage in drug-seeking behavior that is beyond their control and therefore compulsive.
Users may try to stop and be unable to, take more than they intended at once, and they may continue to take Neurontin despite knowing that doing so may cause both personal and physical problems. Social withdrawal and isolation are common indicators of addiction, as drug abuse becomes of primary importance, overtaking activities that may have been previously enjoyed. Someone who is addicted to drugs is likely to have their thoughts completely overshadowed by obsession with them, and the majority of their time is now spent using, finding a way to obtain more of the drug, and recovering from the drug’s effects. Neurontin can be especially hazardous to stop taking suddenly. If someone has been using or abusing the drug for any length of time, a medical professional may need to get involved to help safely remove the drug from the bloodstream.
Neurontin Withdrawal Syndrome
Withdrawal from a drug such as Neurontin may require a drug detoxification program that involves a slow and controlled tapering of the drug over a long period of time. Neurontin withdrawal syndrome may be similar to withdrawal from other substances like alcohol or benzodiazepine drugs. The brain may rebound with sudden stoppage of the drug, increasing anxiety levels and the potential for dangerous seizures. Flu-like symptoms may begin within one to two days of stopping gabapentin and can include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, runny nose and eyes, and trouble sleeping.
Emotional side effects of withdrawal like restlessness, irritability, depression, and high-stress levels can also be difficult. Detox in a specialized drug treatment center provides around-the-clock medical supervision and intervention if necessary as well as mental health support. The level of dependency to gabapentin may determine the length of time detox will take. The journal Bipolar Disorders suggested that the taper period may last several weeks or months to ensure that side effects are effectively reduced.
A slow and medically managed taper can keep withdrawal symptoms and potential drug cravings to a minimum. Since Neurontin abuse likely involves other drugs or alcohol, detox protocols will need to take this into consideration as well, and a drug screening may be done upon entering treatment in order to make sure that there are no adverse reactions during detox. Mental health disorders also often co-occur with substance abuse and need to be carefully monitored during detox and drug treatment programs. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies as well as anxiety and depression may be managed with behavioral therapies and adjunct medications.
Therapies are also beneficial for reversing other negative behaviors or thoughts and can help increase self-esteem and lower stress levels. High and chronic stress can be a risk factor for substance abuse and addiction, and learning how to better cope with stress can help maintain sobriety. Futures of Palm Beach strives to heal the entire person during substance abuse treatment with nutritional counseling, numerous recreational activities, and opportunities to help restore mind and body, including yoga, acupuncture, and massage. Contact Futures today for more details on the comprehensive substance abuse, mental health, and dual diagnosis treatment options offered. If you or someone you love needs help overcoming Neurontin abuse, call Futures today.