Although gabapentin was originally developed as an anticonvulsant, used to treat restless leg syndrome, epilepsy, and postherpetic neuralgia, is has since gained popularity as an off-label treatment for addiction withdrawal. While it has been used to treat addictions to a number of substances, it is most commonly used in the treatment of alcoholism. During withdrawal from prolonged and excessive alcohol use, patients often experience symptoms such as tremors, agitation, and increased anxiety. Gabapentin works by reducing activity amongst GABA transmitters within the brain – these specific neurotransmitters are partially responsible for the normal functioning of the central nervous system. When the activity amongst GABA transmitters is reduced, signals for anxiety, agitation, and physical pain are also diminished.
How Does Gabapentin Work?
There is ample evidence to support the benefits of gabapentin when it comes to alcohol withdrawal. One study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, focused on 150 alcohol-dependent individuals over a 16-week time frame. The study concluded that individuals who were treated with a combination of gabapentin and naltrexone fared far better than those who were treated with naltrexone alone. Another study, this one published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, claimed that alcohol-dependent individuals who were treated with gabapentin drank significantly less and maintained longer periods of abstinence than those who were given a placebo. The calming effect of this specific drug also translates to those who are struggling with addictions to marijuana and benzodiazepines. (Despite the widespread misconception that marijuana is not an addictive substance, over 305,560 American adults checked themselves into rehab in 2012 alone, citing marijuana as their drug of choice.) A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology noted that gabapentin was beneficial for individuals withdrawing from long-term marijuana use, and that marijuana users who were treated with the drug smoked less frequently and noted improvements in cognitive functioning.
Okay, great. So what’s the problem? When gabapentin is used in the short-term as a supplement to traditional therapeutic treatment – and is used as prescribed – it can be beneficial. Unfortunately, this specific drug has a high propensity for abuse, especially amongst those with a personal history of substance dependency. And nowadays, with the recent influx of unethical and money-hungry treatment centers, over-prescribing has become a major issue. Rather than offer thorough, individualized assessments and quality, therapeutic care, many unscrupulous facilities will simply prescribe their patients copious amounts of unnecessary medication. Pharmaceutical intervention can be successful, but only when done properly – and oftentimes, it is far from essential.
Many individuals with a history of unresolved trauma or undiagnosed, co-occurring disorders will initially turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. The raw emotional pain will be too much to bear, and numbing out uncomfortable feelings with chemical substances seems (at first) to be a viable coping mechanism. Eventually, the mind and body will become accustomed to whatever chemical substance is being abused, and the body will require the substance in order to function normally. The same goes for gabapentin – which is, in itself, an addictive substance. In fact, it was recently reported that over 22 percent of all individuals who were in treatment for substance abuse were chemically dependent on this specific prescription drug. Those who abuse their gabapentin prescriptions will take more than prescribed, and often mix the anticonvulsant with other illicit drugs to enhance the calming effects.
Though it can be beneficial in some cases (and when used properly), gabapentin abuse has become a major issue in treatment centers nationwide. This is predominantly because it is being prescribed at such alarming rates, and with such a gross lack of discretion.
We at Next Chapter strongly believe in careful, long-term, and highly individualized assessment when it comes to the potential of pharmaceutical intervention. In the vast majority of cases, treating underlying trauma and co-occurring mental health disorders is more than enough to pave the way for long-term sobriety. When our patients heal emotionally, there is nothing left to self-medicate – and there is no reason for continued substance use.
For more information on our program of recovery, please feel free to give us a call today.