American illicit drug culture has infiltrated the “legal” market as drug pushers have found a loophole in the system that has opened the floodgates to hypocrisy in the law and addiction treatment. Again, this isn’t based on malice aforethought but the triggers that arise during the drug and alcohol withdrawal process and how medication-assisted treatment is misused by those in recovery. This article will focus on a drug meant to treat neuropathic pain and seizures but has found its way into other uses. Known by the generic name, gabapentin is addictive and making it harder for people seeking long-term sobriety to ever realize it. Here’s why.
Gabapentin Plays the System and Hurts Recovery Efforts
Medical practitioners have found merits in gabapentin in treating people with various neurological conditions, even Restless Leg Syndrome. It works as a sedative, reducing unusual brain responses to ease seizure activity and minimize pain. In recent years, there’s been an increase in the amount of prescriptions distributed for the drug (liquid, tablet and capsule form) but the numbers don’t correlate to patients with neurological issues.
Gabapentin is also prescribed as medication to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), migraines and bi-polar disorder. But the numbers of prescriptions filled still doesn’t add up.
Gabapentin in US
More than 80% of Rx sales were for unapproved use.
As of 2017, 5th most prescribed drug.
Another use for gabapentin is to help patients get through medical detox and recovery for alcohol use disorder and opioid, benzodiazepine or marijuana addictions. (Yes marijuana). Unfortunately, there’s a dangerous caveat to this.
Not Classified as a Controlled Substance, It’s Ripe for the Picking
The same benefits that make gabapentin a sought-after solution for drug addiction treatment also make it attractive for recreational use, ultimately leading to addiction. But let’s look at what the drug feels like to someone who doesn’t need it for a medical condition.
Effects of Gabapentin
- Feelings of euphoria
- Feelings of heightened calm or relaxation
- Feeling high much like marijuana use
Addiction Withdrawals Are Hard, Gabapentin Dependency Is Easy
One of the primary reasons why addiction rehab programs are welcoming the use of gabapentin as a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is that it allows patients to tier-down their chemical dependency safely over time. Using medication to help the body and the brain recalibrate internal balance and begin the healing process after drug or alcohol addiction is known as a harm reduction model of treatment. After substance abuse, the detox process involved can be difficult and patients experience painful withdrawals. In fact, the withdrawal process can be so arduous that relapsing into drug or alcohol use is often a more desired path that continuing through the process towards recovery.
Scientific studies have shown that gabapentin offers relief during the drug detox phase of treatment. And because withdrawal symptoms can appear long after detoxification is completed, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, gabapentin is a viable medication-assisted treatment to help minimize addiction relapse.
The Gaping Hole in Gabapentin MAT Is Twofold
One of the many requirements that come with addiction programs is ongoing drug screenings for patients in treatment. Unfortunately, gabapentin is not normally part of a typical drug test. Patients can continue through treatment with gabapentin misuse, undetected.
In addition, finding the right dosage per person may take time as factors in determining proper administering of gabapentin include type of substance used, amount and duration of addiction, height, weight and internal chemistry makeup of the patient. As you can imagine, medication-assisted treatment of any kind can be a guestimated process.
Transferring One Craving for Another
By blocking the cravings for alcohol or other former drug of choice per individual in treatment, gabapentin provides a mechanism towards sobriety. But are the tenets of sobriety truly met if the body remains dependent on a drug to achieve it? Are there advantages in treating drug addiction with addictive drugs?
The incidence of gabapentin misuse is high within addiction treatment. The Annals of Pharmacology published a study that revealed a 22 percent rate of misuse in addiction treatment centers. Is this a number than can claim gabapentin as an effective method or is the industry just lacking in updating procedures to help eliminate the abuse in an otherwise worthy treatment model?
Growing Need for Gabapentin Addiction Treatment
Not only are people in addiction recovery for other substances now in need of treating their dependency on gabapentin but there’s a misunderstanding about the dangers of using it as a recreational drug and in conjunction with other substances.
The Federal Drug Administration reports that overdoses related to gabapentin are climbing. The only way to remove excess amounts of the drug, due to overdose, is with kidney dialysis. The ill-effects it causes are exacerbated when combined with alcohol, Valium or Xanax and others.
Detox Without Medical Supervision Can Be Fatal
For those currently under the care of a health practitioner for addiction treatment or in the event rehab is needed to overcome gabapentin dependency, it is imperative that there is a discussion with a medical expert about formulating a specific program to safely detox from the drug. Much like the withdrawal process from other substances,
Gabapentin withdrawal can include the following symptoms:
- Profuse Sweating
- and Suicidal Thoughts.
Drug Addiction Is Temporary. With Commitment, Our Solution Is for Good.
Authored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.