Even if you’ve never used gabapentin personally, you likely know someone who has. Initially created as an anti-seizure medication, off-label use of this drug has exploded due to the versatile nature of its pharmacology. Considered to be a safer and less addictive alternative to opioid prescriptions, gabapentin has quickly become one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the country. Although gabapentin has many helpful uses, it also carries a risk that is still overlooked by pharmacists, doctors, and regulating agencies.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is both a painkiller and anticonvulsant belonging to a unique drug class of its own namesake called gabapentinoids. It features a chemical structure similar to that of the GABA neurotransmitter, a chemical that blocks certain brain signals that can disrupt communication between your brain and nervous system. This can induce a calming effect on the mind and body that can make it function somewhat similarly to the effect of benzos or barbiturates. However, this mechanism has proven to be useful for a number of seemingly unrelated ailments.
What Is Gabapentin Used For?
First discovered in Japan in the 1970s, gabapentin was originally used as an antispasmodic and muscle relaxer to help relieve cramps and other pain in the GI tract. Soon afterward, it was realized that gabapentin had the potential to be an effective anticonvulsant, a medication that suppresses that rapid neuron firing that causes seizures. As of today, this prescription drug is currently FDA-approved for three uses:
- Partial seizure therapy
- Postherpetic neuralgia
- Moderate to severe restless leg syndrome
Its number of off-label uses, however, are far more numerous. Gabapentin quickly became a popular drug that was used to treat a number of ailments and its use has been documented to treat all sorts of health issues from the mundane to the rare. In addition to treating physical conditions with neurological origins such as seizures, gabapentin has also proven useful in treating psychiatric conditions and even symptoms associated with addiction withdrawal. Here are the many off-label gabapentin uses:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Analgesic (postoperative)
- Bipolar disorder
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Essential tremors
- Generalized tonic-clonic seizures
- Interstitial cystitis
- Itching (pruritus)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Migraine prophylaxis
- Nausea and vomiting
- Neuropathic pain
- Postmenopausal hot flashes
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Refractory chronic cough
- Resistant depressant and mood disorders
- Social phobias
Why Gabapentin Is Dangerous
Unfortunately, readily availability, lax regulation, and lack of public awareness have led this seemingly innocuous drug to become a widespread problem. In addition to the rise of abuse, incidences of gabapentin-related deaths have been occurring with increasing regularity; making headlines that it could be one of the most dangerous drugs in America.
Gabapentin is not a controlled substance, and is thus, is relatively easy to come by. A 2016 study showed that the vast majority of gabapentin abusers are those with a prescription (only a nominal amount of the general popular seek to misuse it). These individuals are taking it in substantially higher doses, up to 5,000 mg which is well over the highest possible maximum of 3,600 mg per day (which varies depending on the condition being treated).
Despite all this, gabapentin itself isn’t dangerous. Overdoses can happen–so can addiction–but it’s not common and even when it does, it’s rarely deadly. Instead, gabapentin’s dangerous potential lies with its function as an adjuvant, a drug that can enhance the effects of other drugs. This discovery is one that has eluded regulation agencies but was soon discovered by gabapentin abusers. People are intentionally mixing gabapentin with illicit substances such as opioids to get more intense and longer-lasting highs. The result of which puts an even greater physical strain on the body and can increase the likelihood of addiction or overdosing on the other substances.
Getting Help for Polydrug Abuse
What gabapentin is meant to be used for and how it’s actually used are two very different realities. While it has little potential to cause harm on its own, when combined with other drugs of both the legal or illegal variety, the resulting drug interactions can quickly become dangerous. If you or someone you know takes gabapentin and frequently does it in close correlation with drinking alcohol or doing other drugs, they are at an extremely high risk of rocketing themselves towards the most drastic consequences of drug use. Contact an addiction specialist today to learn more.