Neurontin is categorized as an anti-epileptic or anti-seizure prescription medication. The active ingredient, gabapentin, is used primarily for the treatment of seizures. The generic form of Neurontin is gabapentin. Neurontin is available in varying dosages in tablet form (600 mg or 800 mg of gabapentin), capsule (100 mg, 300 mg, or 400 mg of gabapentin), and liquid (250 mg of gabapentin per 5 ml).
Neurontin is an excellent example of a drug that may be safe when used under the care of a prescribing doctor, but that can be dangerous when abused by non-prescribed users. A prescribing doctor will take necessary precautions, including taking a full history of medical conditions and allergies, which is an important step to take before using Neurontin. This drug carries several warnings, and a user may face any of the following dangers (among other possibilities not listed here):
- Suicidal thoughts
- Dangerous drug interaction with certain prescription pain relievers
- Drowsiness can increase risk of accidents/personal injury while under the influence
Although Neurontin is an anticonvulsant, it has additional application to other areas of medicine including pain management and mental health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved Neurontin for use in the treatment of seizures; the other applications are “off-label” (i.e., unlicensed but accepted in general medical practice). Neurontin/gabapentin has at least a few off-label uses, including treatment of nerve pain, tremors, restless leg syndrome, hot flashes associated with menopause, alcohol withdrawal treatment, and psychiatric care for mood disorders.
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In the field of psychiatry, gabapentin is used to treat depression, anxiety, and mania. The use of Neurontin/gabapentin as a mood stabilizer developed in cases that were not controlled for this outcome (i.e., the insight occurred by happenstance). However, a few studies focused specifically on the efficacy of gabapentin in treatment of mood disorders showed that this drug is an effective method of treatment.The multi-purposing of the drug occasions an inquiry into how Neurontin works. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring chemicals in the body that are stored in cells. Their responsibilities include conveying messages between nerve cells (such as pain messages). Neurontin is thought to act on the neurotransmitter known as glutamate, which is responsible for exciting nerve activity.
Neurontin’s neurological effect is to temper glutamate’s activity, leading to less excitement of nerve activity and less seizure potential. The neurotransmitter glutamate is also involved in delivering pain messages to the brain and nervous system. As Neurontin limits the release of glutamate, there are resultantly fewer pain messages delivered and a diminished sensation of pain in the user.
Taking a prescription drug is no light matter, owing in great part to the potential side effects associated with any drug use. Although a supervising doctor should take all measures to minimize risks, taking a medication potentially exposes a user to the following:
- Common side effects
- Rare side effects
- Serious side effects
- Overdose symptoms
- Withdrawal symptoms
Overall, Neurontin is considered by the medical community to have a low side effect profile. However, the relative mildness of side effects does not make this drug safe for the non-prescribed user who abuses this drug in combination with other drugs (i.e., poly-drug abuse). The most common side effects of Neurontin, shown to affect more than one in 10 users, include:
- Drowsiness, sleepiness, and fatigue
- Shaky movements, unsteady gait
- Viral infections
Rare side effects have been known to occur in users, and the frequency at which to expect them is unknown. It is important for a user to know if they are experiencing a rare side effect, and to consult the prescribing doctor/any qualified doctor as soon as possible. Rare side effects of Neurontin use include:
The emergence of any serious side effects associated with Neurontin will require medical attention. The following list includes some serious side effects to be mindful of when using Neurontin, whether the user has a lawful prescription or otherwise:
Serious side effects may be a sign of a Neurontin overdose. To an untrained eye, it may be very difficult to differentiate between a side effect and an overdose. It is important to know that overdoses on Neurontin (after taking the medication orally) have been reported, and patients were able to make a successful recovery with medical care. Overdosed users have demonstrated the following symptoms:
- Slurred speech
- Double vision
- Drowsiness and fatigue
Neurontin, like many drugs, causes physical dependence with continued use. Tolerance to a drug is a primary sign of physical dependence. As a result of tolerance, when a user stops taking Neurontin or reduces the familiar dosage, withdrawal symptoms are likely to manifest. This medication should not be stopped without first consulting a doctor, who may decide to safely wean the user off Neurontin. Withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping or reducing use of Neurontin include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
Common side effects, which affect between one in 10 and one in 100 users, include but are not limited to the following:
Neurontin is a drug of abuse. Yet, from a pharmacological standpoint, Neurontin/gabapentin is not an obvious drug of abuse. Most often, drugs of abuse are associated with areas of the brain including benzodiazepine, opioid, and cannabinoid receptor sites. Neurontin does not appear to act on these sites. Consistently, federal authorities have not scheduled Neurontin/gabapentin as a controlled substance. However, Neurontin is similar to some drugs of abuse in that it produces withdrawal symptoms when use stops or dosage is reduced and it reportedly has psychoactive effects for some users (i.e. causes changes in perception, mood, and/or behavior which may feel pleasurable). According to some personal accounts from users, gabapentin use caused the following pleasurable and non-pleasurable feelings:
- Greater sociability
- A high similar to marijuana
- A zombie-like feeling
Drug abuse can come as a total surprise to the both the user and family members. Although the drug(s) abused seem like the opponent, the causes underlying the abuse are really causing the pain and trouble. Drug abuse is complex, and always features two main levels: the physical abuse itself and the emotional and psychological reasons it occurs in the first place.
Concerned loved ones may repeatedly find themselves asking “how” and “why” the drug abuse occurred. Substance abuse is a complex phenomenon, and an understanding of addiction science is still developing despite many advances. There is a general consensus in the medical community that while anyone can become addicted to drugs, certain persons may be predisposed to substance abuse. Factors contributing to addiction potential include:
- Family history of addiction
- Childhood trauma
- Drug use at an early age
- A co-occurring mental disorder
- Type of abuse (e.g., injecting or smoking a drug may increase addictiveness)
In view of the many dangers associated with drug abuse, the earlier it is detected and treated, the better for the user and their loved ones. However, drug abuse can be challenging to detect, especially in the earlier phases of use. Drug abuse does bring about physical, psychological, and behavioral changes in a person. Being sensitive to these changes can help a person identify drug abuse in another individual.
As discussed, Neurontin/gabapentin use is associated with side effects. Witnessing these side effects demonstrates the physical component of substance abuse. The manifestation of these side effects will serve as a good tipoff, but will also likely occur in combination with psychological and behavioral changes, such as:
The psychological and behavioral indications of drug abuse are not specific to Neurontin abuse, but they are helpful to be aware of in the case of any drug abuse. A Neurontin abuser may also be a poly-drug user, and the same cues of abuse will likely exist. For loved ones or concerned individuals living with a person suspected of abusing Neurontin, an indication of abuse would be seeing prescription bottles for this medication from different doctors.
At present in America, there is no computerized system to log a patient’s prescription medications. This means that doctor’s rely on a patient to report what medications they are taking. Due to this hole in the prescription medication distribution system, a Neurontin abuser, or any prescription drug abuser, can visit different doctors to acquire prescriptions for the same drug. Signs that a person is seeking different prescriptions from different doctors include driving out of town or long distances to visit a doctor, paying out of pocket for visits even when the person has insurance, and going to different pharmacies (including some out of town) to fill prescriptions.
The lack of a computerized database to store information on a person’s prescriptions contributes to prescription drug abuse in America. However, the prescription distribution system did not envision the problem of abuse. The key now will be for policymakers to develop such a system, even over possible objections from pharmaceutical industry lobbyists.
Treatment for Abuse and Addiction
Substance abuse is a treatable illness. As referenced earlier, there are two main components to addiction: the use of drugs and the thought processes underlying the use of drugs. In view of how substance abuse works, it should come as no surprise that treatment addresses both the physical and psychological layers. Neurontin abuse can be treated with traditional rehab approaches including detox, abstinence maintenance treatment, psychotherapy, attendance at group recovery meetings, and participation in an effective aftercare program.
A medically supervised detox provides supportive care and a defense against relapse. During detox, patients may experience uncomfortable and possibly painful withdrawal symptoms as well as drug cravings. These symptoms can compel an individual back into drug abuse. The team responsible for patient care during detox can help to ease any pain associated with the process through prescription medications (such as muscle relaxers, as available) or over-the-counter medications. With the added support of a team of caregivers, there is less incentive for a recovering substance abuser to quit the detox program, which usually lasts three to 10 days, but can be shorter or longer depending on the length and volume of abuse among other factors.
After detox, a recovering substance abuser will be ready to begin either an intensive inpatient or outpatient rehab program. Depending on the specific treatment center, different services may be provided, but any qualified center should at a minimum offer individual psychotherapy and group recovery meetings. Additional forms of treatment that have been shown to be helpful include family therapy and holistic services such as massage, yoga, and acupuncture.
Aftercare is an essential component of rehab. Even though the intensive phase of treatment at an inpatient or outpatient program ends, the recovery process continues. Aftercare programs vary and should be tailored to the specific needs of the individual in recovery. Common types of aftercare services include the option (as available) to reside in a sober living home, continue outpatient treatment, attend group recovery meetings (such as Narcotics Anonymous meetings), maintain individual psychotherapy sessions, have scheduled meetings with a drug counselor, and work with a sober sponsor. Drug testing is also an important part of recovery and provides needed information about a relapse, should one occur. Relapse is not a sign of a failure as much as an indication that treatment needs to be adjusted or a new intervention needs to happen.
At Axis, our primary goal is providing effective rehab services. Our addiction specialists combine expert care and compassionate service to treat each and every patient. We understand that prescription drug abuse is a complex illness, and we take a multidisciplinary approach to help our patients achieve recovery, and to build a new, addiction-free life.