Gabapentin or Neurontin is a prescription drug approved by the FDA for treatment of neuropathic pain, nerve pain, and epileptic seizures. It is often prescribed off-label to treat a variety of other problems, including insomnia, different types of pain, sleep problems, bi-polar disorder, and alcohol and drug treatment and detoxification.
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.
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 “high” that some suggest is similar to that of marijuana, bringing an increase in sociability and inducing feelings of calm with recreational abusers. In addition, it may be used to self-medicate withdrawal symptoms and cravings from other illegal or abused drugs.
A survey published in Medscape of inmates in a Florida prison found that prescriptions for gabapentin were often diverted. Out of the nearly 100 prescriptions, only 19 were actually in the hands of the inmate prescribed the drug, and five of those with a diverted prescription admitted to snorting it to get high. According to CNS Drugs, gabapentin is likely most commonly abused by individuals who abuse more than one drug at time and those with a history of drug abuse.
Gabapentin can come in a tablet, a capsule, or an oral suspension form with varying doses. Users sometimes crush the tablets and snort them, take more than the necessary dose, or take them without a prescription. Anyone who takes a prescription drug that is not prescribed to them, alters the drug, or takes any dosage other than the prescribed amount is considered to be abusing prescription medications.
One of the greatest dangers when abusing drugs is the potential for an overdose. The FDA reports that drug overdose death is the number one cause of injury death in the United States, overtaking car crash fatalities. The British Journal of General Practice reports that gabapentin overdose can be fatal in a similar manner as an opioid overdose.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also warned that 1 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, thus the “Morontin” moniker.
While 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.
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.