Gabapentin (Neurontin), released in the early 1990’s, soon became one of Pfizer’s most profitable drugs until litigation for misleading claims and increased suicide risk markedly dampened such enthusiasm. Gabepentin is not FDA-approved for general pain relief. Side effects and withdrawal adverse effects carry certain risks, as with all prescription drugs.
Gabapentin (Neurontin) is a not entirely understood medication that was originally approved for treating seizures and some types of nerve pain.
We have assembled some information on these topics (see below) to help in researching the subject. We can freely offer more information on request.
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The two FDA-approved uses for gabapentin (Neurontin) are for the treatment of partial seizures in adults and children, and also to reduce pain stemming from nerve damage caused by shingles.
However, there are other uses which are not FDA-approved that came about after uncontrolled studies were sponsored by the drug manufacturer, Pfizer. In some cases, the preponderance of evidence does not strongly support such claims, and Pfizer was sued for false advertising claims. Such marketing practices are illegal; however, the prescribing for off label uses does not carry the same legal repercussions.
Nonetheless, many non-approved offshoot uses were promoted and include the following:
Hot flashes related to menopause
Pain management in some cancer patients
Alcohol withdrawal management
Restless leg syndrome
Diabetic neurology (pain related to diabetes)
Hyperhidrosis (excessive perspiration)
Fibromyalgia (a painful medical condition affecting the entire body)
As an additional note, gabapentin has been promoted as a “safe substitute” for opioid drugs due to its ability to relieve neurological sources of pain.
This may be, in part, how the drug came to be viewed and used as a street drug substitute for opiates, as it is cheap and relatively easy to divert from legal channels.
Gabapentin Alternative Names and Slang
Neurontin is a trade or brand name for the generic gabapentin. Other trade names include Gralise, an extended release version of the drug manufactured in the US, and Horizant, a version of gabapentin altered for more bioavailability, which was marketed to treat restless leg syndrome.
gabapentin has become a street drug mainly due to the euphoric effects the drug causes. Neurontin is commonly referred to as “Johnnies” and “Gabbies” on the street.
Gabapentin Side Effects
One of the most concerning side effects of Neurontin is that the drug causes an increase in suicide, suicidal thoughts and violent death as documented in drug studies,1 as reflected in the FDA’s black box warning. The drug also causes euphoric effects, which are sometimes compared to heroin or other opiates which can also leave the person in a zombie-like state.
Other side effects the drug is known to cause include:
Sudden behavior changes
Sudden mood changes
Kidney and stomach issues such as pain, infection
Strange or unusual thoughts
Allergic reactions, i.e., swelling of mouth, throat, extremities or other areas, hives, welts, itching, etc.
Red itchy eyes
Lack of coordination
Jerking motions, tics, muscle spasms, shaking in one part of the body
Unusual eye movement, i.e., rolling eye movement
Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal effects emerge within approximately 12 hours of the last dose, but can emerge in as little as 6 hours and can be severe, requiring careful monitoring, support and medical oversight. The drug should never be discontinued abruptly, as the FDA stipulates clearly.
The body can become accustomed to having gabapentin or any drug in the system, requiring it to function normally.
Some of the side effects that can emerge during withdrawal especially if cessation is attempted too abruptly include these:
Seizures, particularly that can occur one after another, resulting in fatality
Catatonia (inability to move)
Suicidal thoughts, especially in young children
Compulsive or strange thoughts
Sudden mood changes
Tachycardia (racing heartbeat)
Sensitivity to light
It is typically much easier to withdraw from than benzodiazepines or opiates. gabapentin is chemically very similar to GABA, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter. gabapentin users seeking to taper off this medication may consider using a natural form of GABA to ease the withdrawal effects. Other people use Phenitropic also known as Phenibut as a replacement. Phenibut is an active form of GABA that is available without a prescription.
Never abruptly stop taking gabapentin suddenly as the results can be life-threatening. Always seek competent medical treatment to safely taper from Neurontin.
Since Neurontin arrived to market in 1993, ongoing research and clinical trials have been done to understand more about the properties of the drug, how it works, and how it differs from other drugs such as opioids or benzodiazepines.
Below you will find some information to address some of the most common questions asked about Neurontin.
Is Gabapentin a Benzodiazepine?
No. While the exact mechanisms of how gabapentin works is not completely known, medical literature shows that benzodiazepine drugs function as anti-anxiety or sedating drugs by enhancing the neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is a natural brain chemical which sedates by inhibiting the excitatory action of other neurochemicals.
Gabapentin is typically a logical choice when used to help people withdraw from benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines may spend and potentially diminish the body’s available reserves of GABA, and gabapentin has the ability to increase GABA concentration in the brain.2
It is very uncommon for a drug to actually produce more of a naturally occurring substance. gabapentin also does not require CYP enzymes from the liver to metabolize.3
This indicates that it rarely interacts with other drugs and that it is relatively lower in toxicity to the liver than most drugs. It can cause the side effects as mentioned in the side effects section, and can pose challenges to the kidneys specifically.
Gabapentin itself resembles the structure of natural GABA, also called a GABA analogue. It is theorized that by mimicking the properties of natural GABA, that is how it can prevent seizures (anticonvulsive agent), and can reduce pain after nerve inflammation or damage related to shingles (herpes zoster).
Is Gabapentin a Painkiller?
No, gabapentin can relieve pain related to nerve damage, but is not classed as a painkiller. gabapentin does create a euphoric sensation in the user, and this effect can resemble that of some other drugs classed as painkillers.
Though it does have analgesic properties in that it can reduce pain caused by nerve damage, it is not classed as a painkiller, and has a different mechanism of action than that of other types of painkillers.
Is Gabapentin an Opioid/Opiate?
No, gabapentin is not classed as a narcotic or opioid drug such as morphine or heroin. There is a difference in mechanism of action; opiates attach to opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system whereas gabapentin raises concentrations of GABA in the central nervous system. Both of these mechanisms can result in pain reduction, though incidences of addiction to gabapentin are much less frequent than opiates.
Treatment for Gabapentin Abuse and Addiction?
Treatment for gabapentin/Neurontin abuse and addiction is available for successful recovery at the Alternative to Meds Center. Perhaps one of the most important first steps to conquering addiction is discovering that there are successful methods for treatment based on scientific, evidence-based protocols.
For example, if unwanted symptoms lead to addiction or gabapentin dependence, these can be addressed in ways that address, relieve and even eliminate their root cause. There is no need to mechanically require further addictive drugs to numb or mask these unwanted feelings, sensations or pains. Many techniques of reducing stress, anxiety and tension can be learned and can lead to personal empowerment in managing these without drugs or prescription medication.
Addiction responds to a variety of treatment methods which can include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Nutrition and supplementation
Removal of neurotoxic elements
Change in lifestyle
Counseling of a mild nature to explore and resolve addiction driving issues, and many more therapies.
Each person is a unique individual and an individualized treatment program is essential to help a person regain optimum health and restore peace of mind after addiction or dependence.
You can contact Alternative to Meds Center for more details on the many treatment protocols used in addressing and resolving addiction or dependence to substances such as gabapentin. You are invited to find out more about the various ways one can regain mental health naturally while enrolled at the facility.
This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.
Dr. Samuel Lee
Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente. He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.