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Cold-Turkey Detox from Gabapentin: Dangers and What to Expect

Gabapentin is the generic name for a medication prescribed to treat epilepsy, usually found under the brand names Neurontin or Horizant. The drug was originally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, and it has since been prescribed off-label to treat other nerve-related disorders, such as restless leg syndrome (RLS), numbness and tingling related to diabetes, and to relieve pain associated with shingles, called postherpetic neuralgia.

In rare cases, gabapentin is also prescribed off-label to treat hot flashes. In even rarer cases, it is prescribed to manage severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome

In rare cases, gabapentin is also prescribed off-label to treat hot flashes. In even rarer cases, it is prescribed to manage severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The generic version of gabapentin has been available for prescription since 2003.

The drug is prescribed more often as more off-label uses are discovered for gabapentin. Doctors give gabapentin, rather than opioid pain relievers, to manage pain after surgery, and it is sometimes applied to psychiatric disorders. In 2013, it was found to ease moderate-to-high levels of anxiety in people who have chronic generalized anxiety disorder.

Abuse of Gabapentin

With more people taking the drug, it’s more likely that people will abuse this prescription substance. The substance is being diverted and abused for nonmedical reasons, as there can be an associated high or euphoria from taking large doses of it.
4014 found that a quarter of people who enter drug treatment programs report abusing gabapentin — either by itself or as one of several drugs of abuse. Reports from 2015 suggest that the general abuse rate for gabapentin was about 1 percent of the population, with 22 percent of people in treatment programs reporting gabapentin abuse at some point. With more people taking gabapentin for medical reasons and abusing the drug, more people will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking it.

If you take gabapentin as prescribed and want to stop or switch to a different medication, your doctor will work with you to taper off the substance or manage withdrawal symptoms in a different way. Withdrawing from gabapentin is notoriously uncomfortable and stressful, with several distressing associated effects. Because of these symptoms, it is important to get help from medical professionals. Otherwise, you may relapse if you abuse this drug for recreational reasons, or you could experience serious physical harm during the detox process.

 

What Happens When You Quit Gabapentin Cold Turkey

Whether you take gabapentin as prescribed or abuse the drug, there are serious side effects associated with taking this medication.

Some are:

Gabapentin Side Effects

  • Panic attacks
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • changes

These can all be disturbing and will lead you to want to quit gabapentin immediately. However, it is important not to quit gabapentin cold turkey because withdrawal symptoms can be more serious than the side effects, especially if you do not have support to help with the process.
There are common, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with gabapentin. They are:

Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Physical pain
  • Sweating

If you had a seizure disorder before taking gabapentin and you quit your use suddenly, you will have more seizures when the drug metabolizes out of your system, within about a day. This is a life-threatening effect of quitting abruptly.
Gabapentin works on the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, through similar mechanisms as alcohol and benzodiazepine sedatives. Abruptly quitting, or going cold turkey, can lead to withdrawal symptoms within one to two days after the last dose.
Withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol and benzodiazepines can be life-threatening. Hallucinations, delusion, rapid heartbeat, and seizures are all risks. Since gabapentin works on the same region of the brain and the same neurotransmitters, these risks are part of quitting gabapentin.

Several cases of gabapentin withdrawal have been reported at large doses — when people have quit cold turkey after routinely abusing doses as large as 7200 mg (milligrams), 4800 mg, 3600 mg, and 2400 mg. Most doctors prescribe 300 mg to be taken three times per day, adding up to 900 mg total. Taking more than 1800 mg can lead to serious side effects and indicates abuse of the drug. Abusing higher doses of the drug will make withdrawal more dangerous if you do not have medical oversight.
Many people who abuse gabapentin have past drug abuse histories, especially alcohol use disorder (AUD). Although the medication is not supposed to stimulate areas of the brain that release dopamine and serotonin, which activate the reward pathways, it appears that the substance creates a relaxed euphoria similar to other sedatives for many people.

Meth and Adderall

What is the Best Way to Stop Abusing Gabapentin

The greatest risk associated with quitting gabapentin all of a sudden is seizures. Since the drug is primarily prescribed to treat seizure disorders, especially epilepsy, the risk of developing a seizure disorder from abusing the substance is high. Changes to the brain’s chemistry and neural pathways may cause seizures to begin when gabapentin is no longer present to manage neurotransmitter production.

Withdrawing from gabapentin is different, depending on how muc of the drug was abused, how often, and for how long. For some who have not abused the drug often, detoxing can take up to 10 days; for others, who have abused gabapentin for a long time, consuming thousands of milligrams per day, withdrawal is dangerous and can take months. Some report that it took them a full year to recover from dependence on the substance.
The most important step to withdrawing from gabapentin safely is to speak with a doctor. If you took the medication because it was prescribed to you, your prescribing doctor would help you taper off it and switch you to another drug if needed. However, if you abuse the substance and do not have a prescribing physician, you should find a medical detox program and get an assessment from a medical professional. A diagnosis of the severity of gabapentin abuse can help you and your medical team understand how serious the withdrawal process may be and determine if you can safely detox at home.
Some individuals may be safe at home, as long as they have regular check-ins with an overseeing physician to manage withdrawal symptoms that come up. Unfortunately, this will not likely be the case for most people who abuse gabapentin.

What Is the Best Way to Stop Abusing Gabapentin?

The greatest risk associated with quitting gabapentin all of a sudden is seizures. Since the drug is primarily prescribed to treat seizure disorders, especially epilepsy, the risk of developing a seizure disorder from abusing the substance is high. Changes to the brain’s chemistry and neural pathways may cause seizures to begin when gabapentin is no longer present to manage neurotransmitter production.
Withdrawing from gabapentin is different, depending on how much of the drug was abused, how often, and for how long. For some who have not abused the drug often, detoxing can take up to 10 days; for others, who have abused gabapentin for a long time, consuming thousands of milligrams per day, withdrawal is dangerous and can take months. 

Some report that it took them a full year to recover from dependence on the substance. The most important step to withdrawing from gabapentin safely is to speak with a doctor. If you took the medication because it was prescribed to you, your prescribing doctor would help you taper off it and switch you to another drug if needed.

However, if you abuse the substance and do not have a prescribing physician, you should find a medical detox program and get an assessment from a medical professional. A diagnosis of the severity of gabapentin abuse can help you and your medical team understand how serious the withdrawal process may be and determine if you can safely detox at home.
Some individuals may be safe at home, as long as they have regular check-ins with an overseeing physician to manage withdrawal symptoms that come up. Unfortunately, this will not likely be the case for most people who abuse gabapentin.

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Detoxing at Home Involves a Lot of Support

If your doctor determines that you can safely detox in an outpatient program, allowing you to stay at home, there are some things you can do to stay safe and avoid relapse.

CONTACT YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

When you have the support of those you love, you will receive offers of help and have people you can turn to when you are uncomfortable, scared, worried, or need help in other ways. Be sure to enlist the help of your loved ones when you are detoxing, as they can assist with tasks that may seem like too much. Ask them to check on you regularly, even if it is just by text or email.

STAY HYDRATED

Sweating and vomiting associated with gabapentin use can lead to dehydration, which is dangerous and worsens the risk of seizures. Ask your doctor how many liters or quarts of water you should consume per day. This may relate to how serious the physical symptoms of withdrawal are.

EAT HEALTHY FOODS.

Meal prep is a good project to get your loved ones to help with. Vitamin and mineral supplements can also help you feel better.

MAKE AN EXERCISE PLAN

Decide on some types of low-impact exercise, such as yoga or walking, that can help you feel better overall. You can also ask your loved ones to join you for some exercise. The social interaction can cheer you up, as the exercise improves your mental and physical helth.

TAKE SMALL DOSES OF OVER-THE-COUNTER PAINKILLERS

These should only be used as needed. If you have physical pain during withdrawal, some ibuprofen or acetaminophen may ease it.

MAKE A LIST OF PEOPLE TO CALL

A close friend or family member is a good start, but you may also benefit from speaking to an addiction counselor, therapist, or social worker.

GO TO ALL DOCTORS€ APPOINTMENTS AND REPORT NEW SYMPTOMS

If your withdrawal symptoms are not going away or getting worse, working with medical professionals can help determine if you need more care than you are getting.

Quitting gabapentin by yourself, without help from loved ones and medical professionals does not work. You are putting yourself at risk. Consult with a medical professional to determine the best path forward!

ARE YOU SUFFERING FROM SUBSTANCE ABUSE ADDICTION?

If you are worried about how long you can stay in any program, speak with an addiction specialist at Delphi Behavioral Health Group at 844-208-4761. We can help you manage resources so you get the best combination of treatment approaches available.