Opioid medications are not the only prescription painkillers being abused in America today. The anticonvulsant medications gabapentin and pregabalin have become sources of addiction among many sufferers of chronic neurological pain.
Treating an addiction to gabapentin or pregabalin can be extremely challenging. Individuals who become addicted to these drugs typically begin taking them after receiving a valid prescription from a doctor, and dependence develops slowly over a period of months, or even years. And unlike opioid drugs, the symptoms of addiction to gabapentin and pregabalin are not always visible to friends and family.
In today’s post, we’ll take a close look at the dangers of both gabapentin and pregabalin addiction, as well as how you can help a loved one break the cycle of abuse.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin, sold under the brand names Neurontin, Horizant and Gralise, is an anti-seizure medication that can treat nerve pain, epilepsy and restless leg syndrome. Although gabapentin most commonly treats epilepsy, physicians are increasingly turning to this medication as a treatment for fibromyalgia pain.
Although its precise mechanism of action in the body remains unknown, gabapentin’s structural similarity to the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) may be responsible for its therapeutic effects.
What Is Pregabalin?
Pregabalin, sold under the brand name Lyrica, is a medication prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain.
Like gabapentin, pregabalin’s mechanism of action in treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia remains poorly understood. However, scientific research suggests that pregabalin may help to limit the number of signals sent by nerve cells.
Because the going theory is that fibromyalgia pain is caused by overactive nerve cells, pregabalin’s nerve-dampening effects may be the reason patients with fibromyalgia respond positively to this treatment.
What Are the Side Effects of These Medications?
While gabapentin and pregabalin are similar in that they are both used to treat nerve pain and seizures, there are a number of side effects unique to each drug.
Side effects of gabapentin use that are not common with pregabalin include:
- Viral infections
- Difficulty speaking
- Jerky movement
Side effects of pregabalin use that are not common with gabapentin include:
- Dry mouth
- Breast enlargement
- Swelling (edema)
- Weight gain
Common side effects that are shared by both gabapentin and pregabalin include:
- Impaired concentration and memory
- Muscle tremors
- Blurred or doubled vision
- Impaired balance or coordination
Anti-epileptic drugs are tend to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. Patients should monitor and report any changes in their mental well-being that occur while taking either of these medications.
What Is the Addictive Potential of Gabapentin and Pregabalin?
Gabapentin and pregabalin are unlike many other pain-management drugs. Whereas opioid drugs produce a powerful high and sense of euphoria in heavy doses, drugs like Lyrica and Neurontin produce only mild sedative effects.
While gabapentin and pregabalin in themselves are not terribly addictive, the combination of mild relaxation and fibromyalgia pain help can lead users to become physically dependent.
Addiction to gabapentin and pregabalin only tends to happen in individuals who have been taking the medications over a long period of time.
As the body develops a tolerance to the drug’s effects, patients will begin to require higher and higher doses to relieve their pain. As the minimum effective dose become larger, so does the body’s dependence on the drug.
The risk of addiction to these drugs is not limited to those suffering from fibromyalgia. Because both gabapentin and pregabalin affect the brain’s GABA receptors, many opioid users will take them in conjunction with an opioid drug to heighten the opioid’s euphoric effects.
Opioid addicts may also use gabapentin or pregabalin to relieve the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. While there are reports that these medications have some effect on minimizing the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, neither drug is commonly prescribed for this purpose.
And because these drugs can bypass the effects of medications used to treat opioid addiction, patients may take these within a drug treatment program as a way to get high while recovering. Individuals to who use gabapentin or pregabalin to treat opioid addiction also run the risk of developing a dual addiction.
What Are the Symptoms of Gabapentin and Pregabalin Addiction?
Anyone who takes a medication that they have not been prescribed, consumes larger doses than directed by their physician, or alters the medication in any way is by definition abusing a prescription medication.
The physical symptoms of gabapentin and pregabalin addiction are very similar and include:
- Heart palpitations
- Impaired memory
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of coordination
The behavioral symptoms of gabapentin and pregabalin addiction are similar to those of other prescription medications, such as:
- Changes in one’s social life or circle of friends
- Refusal to quit using despite legal, social or financial ramifications
- Hiding one’s drug use from friends and family
- Centering one’s life around acquiring and using the drug(s)
- Lying about or exaggerating medical symptoms to a doctor
The Dangers of Withdrawal from Gabapentin and Pregabalin
The withdrawal symptoms of gabapentin and pregabalin are very similar to the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol and benzodiazepines. This similarity may be due to the fact that these chemicals all augment GABA levels in the body.
Withdrawal symptoms from gabapentin and pregabalin typically include:
The most dangerous withdrawal symptoms are experienced in those taking gabapentin or pregabalin to control seizures, as abrupt cessation of use may cause their seizures to become more severe.
Seeking Help for Lyrica Addiction or Gabapentin Addiction
Getting effective help for Lyrica addiction and gabapentin addiction comes with a unique set of challenges. Very few people develop a dependence on these drugs without first having them prescribed for valid medical reasons. They began using these medications to treat their medical conditions, not to get high.
Once the cycle of addiction is broken, the challenge of treating the underlying chronic pain remains. For this reason, it is best to seek help from an addiction specialist who understands the unique needs of fibromyalgia sufferers.
At Family First Intervention, we believe that the most important factor in achieving recovery from addiction is the support of friends and family. Thus, we work with family members and close friends to figure out the best way to address a loved one’s addiction.
Those who are closest to a person suffering from addiction are often overcome by feelings of anger, resentment and sadness. However, it is extremely important for the addict to understand that their family’s only motivations are love and concern, and that they will be supported during the recovery process.
Our professional interventionists will not only help arrange and perform an intervention with your loved one, but they will also help your family choose the ideal recovery facility. This is especially important when providing help for gabapentin addiction and pregabalin addiction, as many patients will require treatment for both fibromyalgia and addiction at the same time.