Is Gabapentin Abuse On the Rise?

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Recreational use and abuse of the prescription drug gabapentin is on the rise, data show, and the increase has raised concern among officials in several states.

The non-opioid medication, known as “Johnnys” on the streets, is prescribed to treat epileptic seizures and nerve damage-related pain. The anticonvulsant is available in generic form and sold under the brand names Neurotonin and Gralise, among others. The drug is also used to treat people who are in detox treatment from alcohol withdrawal and cocaine withdrawal, and can be prescribed for insomnia, bipolar disorder, and restless legs syndrome. The medication also is prescribed for off-label purposes, including anxiety. It can be taken in capsule or tablet form, or as an oral solution.

As of September 2017, the website reported that gabapentin, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, was among the most-dispensed prescriptions in the United States.


How Does Gabapentin Work?

Gabapentin affects the brain and the nervous system and works to stabilize the electrical activity in the brain. It is not fully understood how the drug works, but according to, “Gabapentin appears to affect the build-up of electrical signals in the nerve cells, as well as affecting the activity of various neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system.”

Those who abuse gabapentin may take it with other medicines, including opioids and anti-anxiety medications, to experience relaxation or a sense of calm, intense pleasure, and a high that some have described as like that of marijuana. People who use alcohol with gabapentin may feel dizzy or increased sleepiness, the FDA warns.

Data Show Illicit Gabapentin Use on the Rise

Gabapentin is currently not a controlled substance in the United States, so federal authorities do not consider it a drug with a high potential for abuse. But recent data indicate that the drug promoted as an alternative to opioids is one to watch as gabapentin-related complications and overdose deaths are increasing.

Some states have taken note of the increase in use and are pursuing stricter measures for access to the drug.

Why Gabapentin Abuse Is Dangerous

There are a few reasons why gabapentin abuse has landed on the radar. First, while gabapentin doesn’t carry the risk of a deadly overdose as opioids do, some observers say it is no less dangerous. Taking more or less of the drug, as well as taking it for longer periods than prescribed, are all risky actions that are not as widely known, some say.

There’s also concern that people who are in drug addiction recovery can easily abuse it for its euphoric effects. According to a report by, gabapentin can enhance euphoric feelings caused by an opioid and keep drug withdrawal at bay. The medication also can get past the blocking effects of medicines used in addiction treatment, which means clients can still get high.

People who have abused gabapentin and now find themselves addicted to the drug are advised to avoid going cold turkey. Instead, consider entering a professional addiction recovery treatment center that can help you detox safely from the substance and help you into a treatment program where you address your addiction and learn the tools to a healthy, drug-free life.

Some States Tracking Gabapentin Sales, Use

Gabapentin was the No. 1 drug dispensed in Ohio in December 2016, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. In that same year, the medication was dispensed at a greater rate than any other controlled substance. This information promoted the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network to issue an alert about the illicit use of gabapentin across the state.

Kentucky designated gabapentin as a Schedule 5 controlled substance in July 2017. The regulation requires authorized practitioners to be properly licensed and registered with the DEA before they can dispense the medication.

West Virginia is also tracking gabapentin abuse and may introduce legislation in January 2018 that would aim to classify it as a controlled substance in the state. Gabapentin has market value on the streets and it is being abused according to the definition of a scheduled drug, Dr. Brad Henry, president of the West Virginia State Medical Association, told the newspaper.

In December 2017, a surge of overdoses, as reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, has prompted the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy to identify gabapentin as a “drug of concern” and start tracking gabapentin sales in the state.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “In a recent month, West Virginia pharmacies filled prescriptions for 5.8 million gabapentin tablets — more than the combined number of doses of two popular painkillers, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.”

The article also goes on to say, “Gabapentin-related overdose deaths have increased from 36 in 2012 to 106 [in 2016].”

“There has been a tremendous increase in the number of gabapentin dispensings and [those] involving overdoses,” Mike Goff, the pharmacy board’s acting executive director, told state lawmakers. “We’re tracking the drug now, and we’re seeing what we thought we would see,” Goff said, according to the newspaper.

Ohio also has been monitoring gabapentin prescriptions for more than a year.

Do You or Someone You Know Abuse Gabapentin?

If you or someone you know engages in gabapentin abuse or addiction, call Ocean Breeze Recovery today at 855-960-5341 or contact us online to learn more about your options. We can help you get on the path to sobriety today call us today!




Elysia Richardson
Digital Content Editor

Elysia L. Richardson is a content writer and editor who covers addiction and substance abuse for Delphi Behavioral Health Group. Previously a writer and editor for various digital and print publications, she enjoys researching news in the recovery field and finding engaging ways to share information that helps improve people’s lives.

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  • My wife was prescribed gabapentin three years ago for shingles pain on her face. I noticed a complete change in her behavior. My perfect wife and marriage has fallen apart. She left me and my stepdaughters over two years ago. She has no contact with us or her family and old friends. Before she left her personality changed completely. I’m completely convinced that the neurotin had an effect on her mentally. I have no idea if she’s still on the medication or if she’s finding a street version of the drug. It’s hard to talk to anyone about how dangerous this drug can be. Thank you for your post. I think it’s too late for me and my sweet wife, but I hope you are able to help others that recognize that they need help.

  • I was on gabapentin for about a year for a pinched nerve bundle in my neck that led through my right arm. For about 5 months I was in excruciating pain, enough that if I had a gun, I would have ended it. It was that bad. Gabapentin was a life saver! Unfortunately, after over a year of using it I started having memory failure, false memories, and severe mood swings. I mean really severe. I then stopped taking gabapentin almost immediately (not recommended) and started drinking more alcohol. Eventually, my nerve pain subsided. It occurs from time to time but not constant. My right arm is still numb, but as long as it is manageable, I WILL NOT TAKE THAT EVIL THING GABAPENTIN!

  • I’ve taken 5,600 MG (7) and I’m starting to feel the effects. Granted I have a tolerance for the drug, usually doses of 5. I was reading the dangers and it’s so slow acting that I do not recommend such high doses at once. Start slow IF you plan to abuse the drug. I’m not advocating drug abuse, but please be safe. The effects are slow and it strongly hits when least expected. I only use Gabapentin when I can not find opiates unfortunately.

  • I found this article very instresting. I had a car crash a few years ago and broke my back and spent 5 months in hospital. I have been taking 3500mg of gabapentin for 3 years now, including zopiclone 15mg, mirtazipine 45mg and tramadol 150mg daily. I only take gabapentin before bed as I found taking it during the day increased anxiety. I’m not sure how it works and have read many different articles arguing for and against its value, yet I’m sure it helps with pain relief in relation to nerve pain. Yet I would strongly argue for only taking it before bedtime and not during the day!

    1. I was on Norco for about five years and decided to quit them went through intensive rehab in a hospital for six weeks only to be put on Gabs. From one addiction to another. I found it is addictive itself but it helped me control myself in addiction itself with alcohol and other additive behavior. I haven’t ever abused any of my prescriptions.
      Take them as prescribed by Dr.s . Been on the Gabs since July.PAIN SUCKS BUT SO DOES ADDICTION !!

  • Hello. I have been on Gabapentin for almost 16 years for nerve pain on my left side and anxiety. It has been a life saver for me. It is hard to understand how someone can abuse it and those do make us who need the medication look like drug addicts and watched and accused of selling it because I am on a high dose as I am missing half of my stomach and had stomach cancer so my stomach does not absolve the medication as well. It has been a life saver for me.

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