Neurontin, also known by its generic name gabapentin, is a relatively new addition to the pharmaceutical industry. It was first introduced in 1993 as an FDA-approved treatment for epilepsy, though its scope for treatment has now expanded to include hot flashes, neuropathic pain, and restless leg syndrome.

However, Neurontin’s entry into the market has not been a smooth one. Pfizer suffered a heavy blow in 2011 when the company was fined over $140 million for illegally marketing the drug as a treatment for chronic pain. Research on Neurontin’s active ingredient, gabapentin, has also raised questions over the drug’s safety – specifically, its potential for addiction.

What is Is Neurontin and Is It Addictive?

Neurontin Use and Misuse

Neurontin Use and Misuse

According to research presented at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) 26th Annual Meeting, Neurontin abuse is on the rise. This is because the drug is increasingly available, as most physicians consider it a safer alternative to other anxiolytics, such as opioids or benzodiazepines. While this belief is essentially correct, individuals who take Neurontin have described the effect as euphoric – a term that raises concern over the drug’s appeal to recreational users.

Neurontin and its manufacturer Pfizer have seen tremendous success since the drug was first introduced. According to a report in Pharmacy Times, 57 million Americans have been prescribed Neurontin and its generic form as of 2015. However, other reports show that there are also many people using Neurontin without a prescription. In fact, European Addiction Research discovered that 38 percent of people in the six substance abuse facilities they studied admitted to misusing either gabapentin or pregabalin with methadone to experience a “high.”

Risks and Symptoms of Abuse

Neurontin’s key ingredient, gabapentin, mimics the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body. This increases the available amount of GABA to the brain, which creates a relaxing, euphoric feeling and anticonvulsive effects. Like any other drug, Neurontin can have negative side effects, such as:

  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Double vision
  • Muscle aches and tremors
  • Nausea
  • Impaired motor functions

In some cases, the side effects of Neurontin abuse can be even greater. The FDA warns that any anticonvulsant, including Neurontin, can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts, although a 2010 study in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety refutes this claim. Neurontin abuse during pregnancy can be detrimental to both mother and baby. Another study, this one from Stanford University’s School of Medicine, discovered that gabapentin prevents brain synapses from forming – a crucial part of development during a child’s early years.

In most cases (apart from those individuals for whom Neurontin helps to control seizures), the “reward” of taking Neurontin simply does not outweigh the risk.

Risks and Symptoms of Abuse

Neurontin’s key ingredient, gabapentin, mimics the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body. This increases the available amount of GABA to the brain, which creates a relaxing, euphoric feeling and anticonvulsive effects. Like any other drug, Neurontin can have negative side effects, such as:

  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Double vision
  • Muscle aches and tremors
  • Nausea
  • Impaired motor functions

In some cases, the side effects of Neurontin abuse can be even greater. The FDA warns that any anticonvulsant, including Neurontin, can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts, although a 2010 study in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety refutes this claim. Neurontin abuse during pregnancy can be detrimental to both mother and baby. Another study, this one from Stanford University’s School of Medicine, discovered that gabapentin prevents brain synapses from forming – a crucial part of development during a child’s early years.

In most cases (apart from those individuals for whom Neurontin helps to control seizures), the “reward” of taking Neurontin simply does not outweigh the risk.

Is Neurontin Addictive?

Whenever a new drug is introduced to the pharmaceutical market, there are always big questions surrounding the drug’s potential for addiction. To determine this, scientists examine how the new drug affects certain nerve receptors in the brain. If it activates these receptors (the way marijuana or opioids do) and leads to compulsive, drug-seeking behavior, the drug is deemed addictive; if it does not (like Neurontin), it is considered nonaddictive.

Although Neurontin is considered nonaddictive on a scientific level, anecdotal evidence raises cause for concern. A report in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice highlights one case of gabapentin abuse, in which the individual suffered “toxic delirium, intense cravings, and a prolonged post-withdrawal … state reminiscent of benzodiazepine withdrawal.” A painful withdrawal period can force someone to resume Neurontin use, making them dependent on the drug.

Is Neurontin Addictive?

Treatment for Neurontin Abuse

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with an addiction to Neurontin, it is important to seek out the help of a medical professional or addiction specialist. Neurontin withdrawal can be uncomfortable, with potential symptoms including nausea and fatigue. If people are taking the drug for seizure control, they can expect to experience increased seizures if they cease use. Most individuals choose to taper off the drug under the care of a professional to reduce possible withdrawal symptoms.

If a person is abusing Neurontin, it is possible that they are combining it with other substances of abuse. As a result, these other substances must be accounted for as they can induce dangerous withdrawal symptoms in their own right.

Once the physical withdrawal symptoms have subsided, an individual may still experience a “rebound” from Neurontin use. The person’s brain has become accustomed to increased GABA levels, and without them, they may experience heightened anxiety or irritability. It is important during this time that family and friends provide the individual with a supportive network, so they can continue the emotional work necessary in therapy to maintain their sobriety.

Neurontin can certainly benefit individuals suffering from epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, and other similar conditions. However, it is very important that both the person taking it, their family, and their doctor keep a watchful eye for signs of drug abuse or chemical dependence. By working together, this support team can stop a gabapentin addiction before it starts.

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