Gabapentin addiction has never been as prevalent as it is today. Historically, physicians prescribed gabapentin primarily as an anti-seizure drug, most often for epileptic patients.
The drug suppresses epileptic and other types of seizures, and that was the original use that the FDA sanctioned. However, in recent years the drug has also been more frequently prescribed in "off-label" circumstances. Doctors very commonly prescribe the drug to suppress hot flashes in women who are menopausal. Doctors have used gabapentin for the treatment of neuropathy related to diabetes or other nerve pain, with some measure of success. However, the drug has been prescribed to treat bipolar disorder, insomnia, depression, anxiety and a wide variety of conditions and symptoms.
Anti-seizure drugs can be very helpful when used in alcohol or benzo detox, where they are used only for a short period. In such cases, gabapentin addiction is not likely to occur. The problems arise when taking the drug for an extended period, such as months or years. Eventually, the person desires to come off the drug. However, a difficulty arises because of the disturbing number of withdrawal symptoms gabapentin causes when the drug is stopped.
WARNING: The FDA has issued a warning concerning coming off gabapentin abruptly as it can be life-threatening to do so. Always seek medical guidance and oversight when withdrawing from addictive prescription medicine.
How Does Gabapentin Work?
Noone claims to know how gabapentin works precisely. However, evidence points to a likely reaction that the drug evokes upon GABA, a neurotransmitter whose function is to slow down or dampen excitatory neurotransmitters. It is thought that pain, anxiety, or other stimulation messages can be dampened or slowed down in the presence of GABA. Gabapentin allows for an extended activation period so that GABA remains active in the nerve pathways, thereby dampening out and lessening the effects of excitatory messages.
The effects of gabapentin for short-term use can be helpful to a person who is detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepine-type drugs, as during the cessation period, it is necessary to avoid the possibility of heart attack, seizure or stroke due to overstimulation of the heart. For acute nerve pain, for example, after a bout of shingles, it reportedly works very well, and would typically be discontinued as the patient recovered.
Long-Term Effects of Gabapentin
For persons using gabapentin for more extended periods of time, i.e., months or years, the body may build up a tolerance to the drug, and once these slow-down effects wear off, there can ensue a reversal of effect. In such cases, the person may feel they need to request a higher dosage. Eventually, at the highest dosage levels, the drug may not function anymore as a dampener but may precipitate more excitatory messages to begin to pass along or even overload the nerve channels. The person may feel more acute anxiety, overstimulated or irregular heart rate, more severe nerve pain, more profound depression, including suicidal thoughts or other disturbed thoughts, and so on.
There is anecdotal evidence that even after a short course of gabapentin (three days, then stopped) some have experienced a complete breakdown of functionality, i.e. lost the ability to walk, to speak, to remember their spouse, to think at all clearly. Observing these types of experiences tends to demonstrate that even short term effects of gabapentin can be extreme and debilitating.
Whether taking the drug for months, years, or, more rarely, days, merely stopping the drug may not allow the body time enough to re-establish normal levels of neurotransmitter function. Even a missed dose can precipitate a seizure, and this is the trap of addiction to gabapentin.
Side Effects of Gabapentin to Watch For:
- Abnormal thinking, suicidal thoughts, jumbled thoughts
- Rash (seek immediate medical help)
- Sudden mood changes
- Erratic behaviors
- Confusion, hostility
- Unsteadiness, dizziness, vertigo, tremors
- Edema (swelling of the hands, feet, face, etc.)
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Nausea, digestive distress, vomiting, diarrhea
- Gum and dental disorders, gingivitis
You or your loved one can find help with gabapentin and other drug addiction or dependence by contacting us at the Alternative to Meds Center. We have specialized for over a decade in helping people to find alternative ways to treat their symptoms without the use of addiction causing drugs. However, one cannot simply stop taking medication abruptly, and we deliver a tapering program that is safe, gentle and will provide the correct oversight for success. Do not wait, but contact us today to get the help you are seeking for the treatment of gabapentin addiction.
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