Gabapentin is a prescription drug, often found under the brand name Neurontin or Horizant, which is used to treat epilepsy and sometimes prescribed off-label for other conditions.
This medication can sometimes treat restless leg syndrome as well as numbness or tingling associated with diabetes. It may also be used to prevent hot flashes from hormonal changes and relieve neuropathic pain caused by shingles. This medication was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, and the FDA approved the generic version in 2003.
While gabapentin has been a breakthrough treatment for many, it has also become a substance of abuse. Reports suggest that the drug can cause a euphoric high when taken at larger doses than prescribed, and a 2014 study found that as many as a quarter of people in substance abuse treatment had abused gabapentin. This potent drug is dangerous, as it can cause severe side effects and intense withdrawal symptoms.
Side Effects Associated with Gabapentin
Common side effects associated with gabapentin include:
- Sleepiness during the day
- Fatigue in general
- Clumsiness while walking
- Itchy eyes
- Dry mouth
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Indigestion or nausea
- Weight gain
- Shaking or tremors
- Visual changes, like double vision
- Muscle aches
- Unusual thoughts
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Swelling in the hands and feet
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While these may be disturbing, there are also some unusual side effects associated with gabapentin, especially when higher doses are taken. These include:
- Panic attacks
- Unusual mood or behavior changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Rapid increase in activity, to the point of hyperactivity
- Aggression or violence toward others
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Severe rash, indicating an allergic reaction
- Swelling lymph nodes
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
Common side effects are likely to occur at low levels for many people, especially while they are adjusting to a new prescription for gabapentin. Those who abuse gabapentin, especially in large doses, are at a much greater risk of experiencing severe side effects or inducing long-term harm.
Gabapentin can also cause intense withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly. Symptoms associated with withdrawal range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. They include:
Treating Chronic Side Effects Associated with Gabapentin
- People who have taken gabapentin, especially for conditions not involving neuropathy, report pain in their muscles, joints, or nerves. Frequent headaches, feeling mentally “foggy,” and having a tough time concentrating are also reported often. It takes a long time for many of these symptoms to clear up, even if the person took a prescription dose. It is hard to know when the side effects will wear off.
- There are some medications being tested to see if long-term health consequences of abusing gabapentin can be reversed, but there are not yet specific treatments. It is important to get medical help to detox safely from gabapentin, followed by a comprehensive rehabilitation program that can help individuals change compulsive behaviors around prescription drugs. A medical professional can help individuals to manage any chronic side effects, like pain, seizures, or induced mental illnesses.