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Gabapentin “Johnnies” Abuse and the Best Rehab Centers for Treatment

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

March 12, 2019

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant that has been approved in the United States to treat partial seizures and nerve pain from shingles. Due to the calming nature of the drug, there’s also a potential for abuse. The safety and structure offered at an inpatient rehab center can offer detoxification and a range of behavioral therapies to help someone recover from gabapentin abuse.

What Is Gabapentin Used For?

Gabapentin belongs to a class of medications called anticonvulsants. It comes as a tablet, capsule, extended-relief, or as an oral solution. Gabapentin is the generic name for a range of different brand name drugs that are not considered with a high likelihood of abuse. Because of this gabapentin is not scheduled as a controlled substance. On the contrary, gabapentin is called Johnnies and has been abused for a wide range of different reasons, but mostly for the calming euphoria, it elicits.

When tested by the Food and Drug Administration, gabapentin didn’t seem to alter the cellular uptake of dopamine, noradrenaline, or serotonin. These are all neurotransmitters that can have different functions, but all can play a role in mental addiction. Nonetheless, gabapentin is not considered a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, though it does share characteristics of other medicines that are misused and considered addictive.

For instance, gabapentin shares similarities with are benzodiazepine which is a central nervous system depressant known to cause mental and physical addiction. Gabapentin, like benzodiazepines, can cause withdrawal symptoms and has also been known to have psychoactive effects. Benzodiazepines can refer to Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium. Due to the similarities, it has with benzos, gabapentin has been proposed as a replacement for the drug.

Gabapentin has also been tested, promoted, prescribed, and used for a lot of non-FDA approved  treatments which include:

  • alcohol dependence
  • alcohol withdrawal
  • cocaine withdrawal
  • headache
  • hiccups
  • hot flashes
  • fibromyalgia
  • bipolar disorder
  • neuropathic pain
  • attention deficit disorder
  • migraine
  • diabetic neuropathy
  • complex regional pain syndrome
  • post-operative pain following cesarean section
  • chronic irritability
  • overactive bladder
  • substitute for epidural steroids for lumbosacral radicular pain
  • vulvar pain
  • benzodiazepine dependence
  • substitute for postoperative opioid use
  • carpal tunnel syndrome

Gabapentin works to treat seizures by decreasing the amount of unusual brain activity, and postherpetic neuralgia by changing the way the body senses pain. A person can also abuse gabapentin by mixing it with another drug like hydrocodone (opioid) in order to intensify the effects of each drug.

For those who want to stop, but can’t figure out how—there are medical professionals and specialist at a treatment center who can help a patient wean off anticonvulsants or other harmful drugs. Professionals can help a person to detoxify their body in the process.

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How Much Gabapentin Is Prescribed In The United States?

As previously discussed, gabapentin has been approved by the FDA for treatment of partial seizures and postherpetic neuralgia, but the drug is prescribed for what seems like countless off-label uses as well.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “pharmaceutical marketing practices and physician dissatisfaction with currently available pharmacological treatment options may be key factors that contribute to this prescribing trend.” The amount of gabapentin being prescribed may continue to get out of hand if something doesn’t change.

Gabapentin was first approved in 1993, so it’s a relatively new drug in comparison to other medications that have been on the market for the better part of a century. But as of May 2017, gabapentin became the fifth most prescribed medication in the United States under hydrocodone, levothyroxine, prednisone, and amoxicillin.

The dangers of drug abuse vary with each drug, but one thing that stands firm, the problem with drug abuse doesn’t stop when they’re constantly made so accessible.

How can the nation decrease the amount of gabapentin prescribed?

Joseph Insler, MD Psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, told Medscape, “increasing availability, infrequent drug testing, and potentiation of euphoria when combined with opioids have likely all contributed to gabapentin misuse. Increasing clinicians’ understanding of this dilemma and focusing on good prescribing practices will improve clinical expertise and patient care.”

Gabapentin has also been declared a safe alternative for opioids, but still the same problem across the board. People are taking larger doses than prescribed, getting high off it, and mixing it with other drugs like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines (and others).

There are over 70 brands of gabapentin on the market, but some of the most commonly prescribed are:

  • Neurontin
  • Horizant
  • FusePaq
  • Fanatrex
  • Gabarone
  • Gralise

There are a lot of warnings about gabapentin. Perhaps one of the most important is that it should never be used without medical supervision. Whether it’s considered addictive or not, gabapentin can have a serious effect on a person’s mood, and may even lead to suicidal thinking if it’s misused.

What Are The Dangers Of Abusing Gabapentin?

Abusing gabapentin can be anything from taking too much, to mixing it with other drugs, or using it to cope with everyday life. Even using a script that isn’t yours is considered abuse, and can be dangerous. The truth is gabapentin can cause side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and overdose whether it’s being abused, or used for its legitimate medical purpose.

An overdose or negative side effects of gabapentin can result in death. “During the course of premarketing development of Neurontin 8 sudden and unexplained deaths were recorded among a cohort of 2203 patients treated,” (Food and Drug Administration).

The side effects of gabapentin can refer to negative reactions of different drugs, the way a person’s body chemistry reacts to the drug, or how they react to taking too much of the drug. Of course, these side effects will vary from person to person, but the risk mostly stays the same. The side effects of gabapentin, according to the National Library of Medicine, may include:

  • drowsiness
  • tiredness or weakness
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • double or blurred vision
  • unsteadiness
  • anxiety
  • memory problems
  • strange or unusual thoughts
  • unwanted eye movements
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • heartburn
  • diarrhea
  • dry mouth
  • constipation
  • increased appetite
  • weight gain
  • swelling in hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • back or joint pain
  • uncontrollable shaking in parts of the body
  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • ear pain
  • red, itchy eyes (sometimes with swelling or discharge)

Other severe side effects may include:

  • seizures
  • rash
  • swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, or eyes
  • itching
  • hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing

Signs Of A Gabapentin Overdose

When a person uses too much gabapentin, their body may be unable to metabolize the overage, and it can result in an overdose. As with any other drug, a gabapentin overdose is a critical situation. It can be hard to tell if someone’s in trouble if you don’t know what to look for. A few of the signs of a gabapentin overdose include:

  • double vision
  • slurred speech
  • drowsiness
  • diarrhea

The consequences of gabapentin should make quitting effortless, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. As a person continues to abuse anticonvulsant medications, they may begin to develop a substance use disorder and have a hard time just stopping. Another reason people may have a hard time stopping gabapentin is the withdrawal symptoms—which may include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, pain, and sweating.

Thanks to the ever-changing world of drug rehab, much of the stigma of drug addiction is being replaced with concern, and a willingness to reach out and help those struggling with drug abuse. With an evidence-based treatment, a lot of people are able to overcome gabapentin and leave their former life of drug abuse behind them.

Treatment For Gabapentin Abuse

There are a lot of different treatment programs, but they won’t all work for every person. It works on an individual basis, and what might a perfect rehab treatment for one person, will be unsuccessful for another. No matter the case, if someone’s going to quit using gabapentin, they must taper off of the drug; stopping suddenly can be dangerous.

There are a lot of people who, once they find out it can be dangerous, want to stop using gabapentin immediately. This is ill-advised and can increase the chances of drug rebound—which is when the removal of the drug causes or intensifies the very symptoms it was meant to treat. So if someone’s taking gabapentin to treat seizures, then suddenly stops using it, their seizures may actually get worse.

Rehab is not the final step of recovery, it’s really only the beginning. Simply put, there is no cure for addiction, but there is a treatment. And many people turn to the safety of rehab treatment to help them overcome addictions. Others find freedom from addiction in other outlets.

Most drug abuse treatment for gabapentin or “Johnnies” starts with a professional evaluation to find out a little more about each person’s individual drug habits, and what kind of place they come from.

An evaluation gives therapists a chance to get to know their patients but also gives them an opportunity to determine whether a co-occurring disorder is prevalent. A co-occurring disorder is when both a mental disorder and a substance use disorder occur at the same time.

A lot of patients prefer the inpatient treatment method because it removes them from an enabling, and unsafe environment where drug abuse may have been accepted. Other’s find that outpatient treatment will suffice. Each person is different.

A few of the other rehab therapies that have helped people overcome gabapentin are:

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Mindfulness Therapy
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Art and Adventure Therapy
  • Inpatient Therapy
  • Group Therapy

Find The Best Rehab Center For You

Whether you’re reading this for yourself or for a loved one, there’s hope to overcome gabapentin abuse. Contact us today. The treatment specialists at make it a point to help you find the best rehab treatment for your needs.

Food and Drug Administration - Neurontin

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Gabapentin

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Examination of The Evidence for Off-Label Use of Gabapentin

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