Neurontin/Gabapentin for Opiate Withdrawal

If you’ve experienced a back injury that left you in excruciating pain, your doctor may have prescribed an opiate, such as Vicodin, oxycodone or hydrocodone to relieve the pain. It’s not uncommon for people to become addicted to opiates even after the source of the pain is gone. Neurontin – or its generic form, gabapentin – is currently being tested as a treatment for opiate withdrawal conditions. To date, Neurontin and gabapentin have not been FDA approved as effective treatments for opiate withdrawal as researchers are still unsure how the drugs work in this regard.

The Effects of Neurontin/Gabapentin on Withdrawal Symptoms

Anyone who has tried to stop taking an opiate drug after ongoing use knows full well how uncomfortable the withdrawal effects can be. Depending on the person, opiates can actually increase pain-sensitivity levels as they work to relieve pain symptoms. This means you may experience even more pain than the original injury caused if you try to stop taking an opiate drug.  Add to this the euphoric or “high” feelings that opiates cause and it’s no wonder why these drugs are so addictive. In some cases, the withdrawal effects alone may be enough to keep a person addicted to the drug.

Neurontin and gapabentin help to relieve pain by slowing down the pain signals that travel through the nerves. Researchers at Tuff’s New England Center attribute Neurontin’s effects on substance P – a brain neurotransmitter chemical – as the reason for its pain-relieving abilities. Substance P secretions in the brain send pain messages along the body’s nerve pathways. Neurontin or gabapentin is believed to reduce the amount of substance P released in the brain.

*Differences in Neurontin’s Treatment Effects

Since everyone’s body and brain chemistry is different, Neurontin’s GABA-like behavior tends to affect different people in different ways, according to IC Lifestyles & Exercises. In general, a person may respond to Neurontin treatment in one of four ways:

  • Some will experience immediate pain relief and an increase in energy levels.
  • Some will not experience pain relief unless higher doses of Neurontin are administered.
  • Others will see no improvement whatsoever.
  • After a certain length of time, Neurontin’s treatment effects may start to fade for those who do benefit from the higher dosages.

Neurontin’s Tapering Effects

The effects of long-term opiate use tend to build up in a person’s system, so any time you try to cut back withdrawal symptoms may come on fast and strong. For this reason, many doctors advise patients to taper their opiate usage, which involves a gradual process of decreasing dosage amounts until a person is off the drug. For some people, even small decreases can result in harsh withdrawal effects.

One of Neurontin’s benefits is its ability to mimic opiate effects in the body. This means a person can stop taking opiates without suffering harsh withdrawal effects. Part of Neurontin’s mimicking ability is due to how it affects substance P chemical releases in the brain. Neurontin’s GABA-like effects on the brain also help to reduce the intensity of withdrawals experienced.

Addiction Potential

While much regarding Neurontin’s effectiveness in treating opiate withdrawal remains unknown, the drug’s calming effects on brain neurotransmitter pathways offer some benefits for providing relief for opiate addictions. Oftentimes, treatment for one condition can lead to addiction to the cure, which is how many cases of opiate addiction take root.

In terms of its addiction potential, Neurontin and gabapentin pose little threat of becoming addictive, either physically or psychologically. While the addiction potential is low, someone coming off Neurontin or gabapentin may need to taper the dosage so brain and body chemical processes can learn to function normally without the drug’s effects. For more information on how medications can factor into addiction treatment for opiates, contact us today. We are here 24/7 to answer your questions.