With more than 40 million adults in the United States suffering from anxiety disorders, it is no wonder why drugs for the treatment of these conditions are highly in demand. Xanax, which is a brand name for alprazolam, is undeniably one of the most popular anti-anxiety drugs in the market. However, it is also known as one of the most misused drugs.
Many users often fake anxiety symptoms to get a Xanax prescription. This has made medical practitioners more vigilant in prescribing Xanax. To avoid giving the drugs to recreational users, doctors are prescribing drugs for anxiety disorders that are seen as less dangerous alternatives, one of which is gabapentin.
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Gabapentin: The catch-all drug
Gabapentin, also known as Neurontin, has been commonly prescribed as an off-label treatment for a variety of conditions. The term “off-label” means that it was not primarily intended for such uses. Gabapentin is primarily used as a treatment for epilepsy to control seizures, however, the anti-seizure drug has been widely used as a sort of a “catch-all” drug.
Some of the conditions it is prescribed for include hot flashes, nerve pain, pain after surgery, restless leg syndrome, alcohol and drug withdrawal, cannabis withdrawal, chronic pelvic or vaginal pain, headaches after a concussion, social phobia, and even itchy skin.
But what is quite interesting to note is how frequently gabapentin is being prescribed as an anti-anxiety drug even if there is very little evidence that the drug is indeed effective in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). There was a review in the American Journal of Psychiatry published in 1998 that suggests that gabapentin could potentially be used as a standalone treatment or as a supporting treatment for GAD, but until now, it has not been formally approved for treating anxiety disorders. Still, many doctors prescribe the drug as it is believed to have anxiety-reducing properties.
Some doctors believe that compared to other drugs, gabapentin has fewer side effects and fewer interactions with other drugs, making it relatively “safer”. Many experts also believe that gabapentin has a lower potential for abuse compared to benzos like Xanax or Klonopin.
So, is gabapentin really the less addictive answer for anxiety?
There are different opinions regarding this matter. Some experts believe that the effects of gabapentin to treat anxiety are mild and it is better as an additive treatment, rather than a standalone. It is said that the effectiveness of the drug varies depending on the individual users and the severity of their anxiety. Some users say that the drug is immediately effective while some say that it takes about three weeks for it to take effect.
In a drug review website, some users are not convinced that gabapentin is a better anti-anxiety alternative. According to one user Renee, who reviewed the drug in January 2020, gabapentin did knock out her anxiety, meaning that it worked. However, she believes that the drug is not worth it because she experienced so many side effects while using the drug for one month including blurred vision, double vision, memory gaps, falling, diarrhea, hunger pangs, sleep irregularities and being numb. This account seems to debunk the claim that gabapentin’s side effects are much more manageable compared to other drugs.
Regarding claims that gabapentin has a low potential for abuse or addiction, one user named Josiah said that he went through a nightmare quitting gabapentin. He even added that he quit Xanax, alcohol, cocaine and a few other drugs in the past, and quitting those drugs was easier compared to quitting gabapentin. He said that he had never felt such anxiety and hopelessness while he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When you experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit a drug, this is usually a sign that your body is already dependent or addicted to the drug.
Gabapentin Abuse: An increasing problem
A 2019 drug misuse report found that the use of non-prescribed gabapentin rose to 40% in just a year (2017 to 2018). This finding puts the drug’s misuse higher than that of benzos and opioids. Gabapentin is reportedly the most commonly used prescription drug in eleven states as well as in the top 3 drug groups in ten more states. Another research found that there was a 3,000% increase in people saying they used gabapentin to get high, from 2008 to 2012.
Why is gabapentin abuse becoming more widespread? As mentioned, gabapentin is a being used as a “catch-all” drug, meaning, you can get prescribed the drug for a variety of conditions. This makes the drug more available and easier to acquire compared to getting prescribed Xanax or opioids.
Aside from being used as an anti-anxiety medication, gabapentin is becoming increasingly popular as a pain medication. With the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, you’re more likely now to get prescribed gabapentin instead of an opioid for pain issues. There is apparently growing evidence that users who have pre-existing substance abuse issues make up a large majority of people who are abusing gabapentin. It is important to keep in mind that even if doctors say that gabapentin has a lower potential for abuse or addiction, this doesn’t mean that you are safe from using the drug. Abusing gabapentin or any drug for that matter comes with harmful consequences.
Using gabapentin, particularly at the same time as using opioids, is associated with four times the risk of respiratory depression, which could lead to a drug overdose or death.
If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse, help is available.
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