What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a prescription medication, most commonly sold under the brand name, Neurontin. It is a primarily known for being a drug treatment for nerve pain as well as being an anticonvulsant, or epileptic drug. However, Gabapentin for anxiety is becoming increasingly popular.
While Neurontin is the most common brand name, you may have also heard it referred to as Gralise, Gralise 30-Day Starter Pack, Horizant, SmartRx Gaba-V kit, or Neuraptine.
In this article, we will often refer to Gabapentin as the most known brand name, Neurontin.
Gabapentin – Chemically Explained
Let’s get a little technical, just for the sake of science. While it’s certainly not entirely necessary information, it’s pretty interesting.
First off, structurally, Gabapentin resembles the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Neurotransmitters are also known as chemical messengers. They send signals across the chemical synapse in order to communicate with other nerves within the human body.
It should be mentioned that the mechanisms of Gabapentin are not fully understood in their entirety. Scientists do know that Gabapentin increases GABA in the brain through the process of increasing the activity of the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD).
Additionally, Gabapentin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier through an amino acid transporter.
When Gabapentin binds to the calcium ion channels in the spine and brain, it is actually able to reduce the abnormal brain activity that causes seizures, tremors, and pain, making it one of the antiepileptic drugs of choice.
Again, we know it’s a little complicated and a whole lot of information, but still pretty neat how it all works.
What is Gabapentin used for?
Gabapentin received its final approval on December 30, 1993, making it legally able to be sold in the United States. While Gabapentin is only marketed as an anticonvulsant, it has a number of other uses.
Now, let’s start with what you’ll see Neurontin Gabapentin most often treating: seizures.
Drug-Resistant Partial Epilepsy
What many people don’t realize if they do not suffer from epilepsy themselves, is just how many epileptic individuals have drug-resistant epilepsy. Unfortunately, this means that additional medication or intervention is necessary in order to manage their seizures.
Additionally, some patients suffer from a condition known as focal epilepsy. Focal epilepsy is when the seizure occurs on one side of the brain. Conversely, generalized epilepsy seizures start on both sides of the brain.
Neurontin is often the add-on medication that helps control seizures in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy as well as focal epilepsy.
Off-label Uses of Gabapentin (H2)
There are several off-label, otherwise known as non-FDA approved, uses of Neurontin including:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Cocaine withdrawal
- Restless leg syndrome
- Hot flashes
- Diabetic neuropathy
Gabapentin for Pain
The effects of Gabapentin for pain management are quite remarkable.
Gabapentin has been used and seen positive results specifically in treatment for neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is pain caused by nerve damage.
Pain-related diseases such as fibromyalgia, sciatica, and multiple sclerosis are among those that patients use Gabapentin to aid in finding relief from.
So, how does an anticonvulsant medication aid in pain maintenance of such diseases?
By binding calcium channels, Neurontin is able to decrease sensitivity in two types of stimuli:
- Already painful stimuli known as hyperalgesia
- Normally less painful stimuli known as allodynia
Binding these calcium channels has proven to be paramount in some individuals with neuropathic pain to find “worthwhile” pain reductions. Studies show that 30-40% of patients experienced substantial relief.
Specialists associate “worthwhile” pain reductions with the following:
- Sleep disruptions
- Quality of day-to-day living
- Quality of work
- The difficulty with basic functions
As you may be able to imagine, these “worthwhile” pain reductions can greatly alter one’s quality of life.
Gabapentin for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (or M.S) is a relatively common autoimmune disorder of the brain. Eighty percent of individuals with multiple sclerosis suffer from spasticity.
Spasticity is a condition involving damage to a portion of the brain or spinal cord which controls voluntary movement. The damage causes muscles to continuously contract. Therefore, causing pain that not only impairs walking but can be quite extreme in severity.
Gabapentin considerably lessens the spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.
Gabapentin for Anxiety
New studies are now showing that Gabapentin has been a successful treatment for individuals who suffer from anxiety.
While these studies have been relatively small, the results should not go unmentioned.
One study showed that taking Gabapentin before surgery greatly lessened anxiety as well as pain catastrophizing.
Another study that focused on social anxiety found that patients treated with Gabapentin for anxiety reduced symptoms in the same way that anti-anxiety drugs, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and benzodiazepines, work.
Furthermore, Neurontin has been found to help individuals who suffer from anti-anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, alcohol dependencies, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and drug dependencies, we well as individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, manage their anxiety and improve their sleep habits.
Also, sleeping better (and we all know how important sleep is) is not the only improvement found from treatment with Neurontin. Furthermore, patients with a generalized anxiety disorder may see the following benefits as well:
- Lessened irritability
- A decrease of depression symptoms
- Reduction in using alcohol as self-medication
- Improvement in phobic avoidance, i.e. going out in public more and experiencing a significant decrease in panic disorder and reduction of panic attacks
- Lessened anticipatory anxiety (anxiety caused by anticipating what the future holds)
How Neurontin Gabapentin is Different
There are two major differences between Neurontin Gabapentin and other similar mood stabilizer drugs on the market:
1. Neurontin has proven to help people who have ‘hard-to-treat’ mood disorders.
2. Neurontin has relatively minor side effects, unlike many comparable medications on the market.
The dose of Gabapentin will vary from one individual to the next and absolutely varies in terms of what it is being used to treat. Additionally, patients will always start with a lower dose of Gabapentin and gradually increase to the dosage that will become their full intake.
Neurontin Gabapentin has a short half-life, so most oral dosages are taken three times a day.
Individuals should always discuss specifics with their doctor, but we’ll give you a brief rundown so you can get an idea.
Adults (12 years and older): Effective dose is usually between 900-1800 mg/day
Gabapentin therapy begins with 300 mg once a day, usually in the evening. The dose then increases every 3 to 5 days, as advised by your doctor.
Just to give you an idea of how dosages change per person, while some individuals will see the desired effects at 900 mg a day, others may find their optimal results at 4,800 mg a day.
It is of the utmost importance to find the right regime for your individual needs with the guidance of a medical professional.
Gabapentin Side Effects
The most common side effects of Neurontin (Gabapentin) are:
- Fluid retention (edema)
- Difficulty speaking
- Unusual movements
- Jerky eye movements
- Double vision
- Weight gain
- Memory loss
Neurontin Gabapentin Overdose
Due to the short half-life and chemical makeup of the drug, it does not metabolize nearly at all. For this reason, Neurontin Gabapentin overdoses are rare but may be more common in individuals with kidney problems as the body as a harder time ridding itself of toxins.
Additionally and importantly, when used with opioids, Neurontin may increase the risk of a drug overdose.
As the opioid crisis continues to grow daily, there has additionally been an increase of Gabapentin abuse. Individuals who misuse Gabapentin have self-described the high they get as being similar to a euphoric opioid high.
Furthermore, studies have shown a potential in using Gabapentin to help with alcohol addictions to actually increase the risk of dependence on alcohol.
So far, these studies have only been conducted in rats. Researchers are still determining what the potential risks are for humans when it comes to social drinkers.
As with any medication, patients should not abruptly discontinue the use of Neurontin. Individuals who abruptly stop using Neurontin may be at high risks of anxiety, insomnia, and nausea.
Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms
In addition to anxiety, insomnia, and nausea, symptoms of Neurontin Gabapentin withdrawal can also include:
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Elevated blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Irregular sleeping habits
Expecting mothers who use Gabapentin should slowly taper off the medication as it can cause withdrawal symptoms in newborns.
Gabapentin – Not What You May Think
The vast world of medicine is always changing as science constantly evolves. A medication used today for one specific ailment may be used in a year for something entirely different. It’s remarkable.
Gabapentin for anxiety is still something that needs to be studied more extensively before individuals can safely and confidently consider switching from their current medication plan. However, with side effects significantly milder than most anti-anxiety drugs on the market, it’s no wonder why Gabapentin is beginning to receive the recognition it deserves.
As always, talk with your medical professional about whether a Neurontin treatment plan may be something really worth looking into for your condition.