Americans are taking more prescription pills than ever before and more than people in any other country. A survey by Consumer Reports finds that around 55% of Americans are taking prescription medications. Pill habits alone can produce harmful and pervasive effects. Consumers of prescription medications face growing risks of adverse health issues, especially those who use prescription drugs in combination with alcohol. We’re taking a closer look at the problems resulting from one specific medication, Gabapentin, and alcohol.
In 2016, the tenth most prescribed medicine in the U.S. was Gabapentin, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Most doctors recommend gabapentin to patients facing various disorders, including migraines, fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, and others. More often, Gabapentin is used to treat common mental health conditions, anxiety, and certain sleep disorders.
What is Gabapentin?
As an anticonvulsant, Gabapentin is commonly used to address seizures by calming overexcitement in brain chemicals. It can also help with pain management by changing how the mind detects and responds to pain. Its three functions include:
- Controlling seizures in individuals with epilepsy
- Relieving nerve pain
- Calming restless leg syndrome
While gabapentin primarily functions to address the conditions above, it’s recently been used off-label for psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression, and mania. Although it has proven effective for mental health issues, researchers still don’t know exactly how it functions to alleviate these common symptoms.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Medications
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), mixing alcohol and medications can be harmful for several reasons. There are two primary reasons healthcare providers warn patients of the risks of consuming alcohol and medicines like Gabapentin together. Those reasons include:
- Alcohol can make some medications less effective by interfering with how they are absorbed in the body.
- Alcohol can increase the concentration of the medication in the blood to toxic levels.
Additionally, research also suggests that the side effects of a medication can worsen with alcohol. Similarly, alcohol may cause new symptoms that are difficult to predict. This is especially true if the drug consumed causes drowsiness or sedation. The mixture of opiates and alcohol, for example, can cause your breathing to stop and is frequently attributed to overdose deaths that involve both substances.
Using alcohol along with medication can cause adverse health effects ranging from loss of consciousness, blood clots, seizures, and in extreme cases, even death. Risks usually depend on the type of medication used and, to some degree, the amount of alcohol consumed. It’s important to note that any amount of alcohol can be detrimental.
Common Medications with Significant Side-Effects
Some of the most dangerous medications to use while drinking are known as benzodiazepines or “benzos.” Benzodiazepines work within the central nervous system. They block neurotransmitter receptors within the brain and throughout the nervous system. Likewise, alcohol works within the central nervous system and acts as a depressant to slow the nervous system response drastically.
Benzos are often used to mitigate pain, anxiety, and seizures. When benzodiazepines are used in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs, they can have significant and severe effects on the nervous system. When combining benzodiazepines or any other medications with alcohol, it is extremely important to know the risks. All drugs have side-effects, and alcohol may intensify them. The central nervous system can become irritated and damaged, leading to nerve damage, involuntary spasms, seizures, brain hemorrhage, dementia, and death.
Gabapentin and Alcohol
Neurontin or gabapentin is a hazardous medication to use with alcohol as it has a massive impact on the central nervous system. The power of Gabapentin on the nervous system has led many doctors and physicians to use it as one of the primary medications in treating Epilepsy and chronic strokes.
Interestingly, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), while alcohol and Gabapentin used in combination can be dangerous, using Gabapentin to treat alcohol use disorder may prove beneficial. It can also be used to treat severe alcoholism by curbing urges and minimizing the impact of withdrawal from long-term alcohol use.
The NIH asserts that Gabapentin is the only medication shown to improve sleep and mood in people quitting or reducing their drinking.
The positive impact on withdrawal symptoms has led many doctors to consider Gabapentin as a treatment for severe alcohol dependence, although risks do still occur. Many doctors are aware of the risks and benefits of Gabapentin.
Knowing the changes gabapentin makes in the nervous system is essential. Gabapentin causes stress within the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and can have a particularly dangerous effect when used with alcohol. As with all medications, combining Gabapentin and alcohol is not recommended and should be used with caution.
How Do Gabapentin and Alcohol Interact In the Body
Gabapentin and alcohol impact the mind and body simultaneously and can heavily increase the side-effects of both substances. The side-effects of alcohol and Gabapentin are dangerous without combining medications. Using them together may raise side-effects to an extremely dangerous level.
Common alcohol side-effects include:
- Memory Loss
- Heart Palpitations
- Decreased Body Temperature
Common Gabapentin side-effects include:
- Blurry vision
Both Gabapentin and alcohol are considered nervous system depressants and will slow the nervous system’s response to critical bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate. When alcohol is used with Gabapentin, it may increase the severity of these side-effects and slow the nervous system drastically, causing it to shut down. Warning labels clearly state that alcohol should be avoided when taking Gabapentin medications.
Gabapentin and Addiction
Gabapentin is generally a safe medication when monitored and controlled with proper medical supervision, rendering the possibility of addiction or dependency somewhat rare.
When used at safe and recommended dosages, it can be very beneficial. However, as with most prescription medications, there are some risks involved. For example, increasing the dosage without medical oversight and approval can result in a higher chance of ongoing misuse. With time, as tolerance levels build, Gabapentin can result in addiction.
This prescription medication functions as a mild tranquilizer, producing a euphoric high in some users similar to cannabis. It can also create feelings of calm and increase sociability. Abuse is probable among individuals who combine Gabapentin with other substances in an attempt to increase its effects.
Gabapentin does carry risks for physical dependency, particularly when misused to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Physical dependence symptoms can include withdrawal effects when ceasing the use of this drug.
Gabapentin for Severe Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
In some cases, Gabapentin can be used to help with severe alcohol use disorder. Medication Assisted Treatments (MAT) are not for everyone and should be discussed with a medical professional. Dual diagnosis recovery treatment, on the other hand, provides a more comprehensive approach to long-term recovery. But in what instances can Gabapentin be used to treat severe AUD?
Many withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening for people who have severe alcoholism. Some severe withdrawal symptoms may cause damage to the nervous system and lead to brain damage, nerve damage, lung dysfunction, fever, illness, and death. Some studies show that Gabapentin can help to slow the rates of these health issues. Efficacy of this type of treatment can be determined by healthcare providers and addiction treatment specialists. Please consult with a physicians for more information.
How Can AspenRidge Recovery Help?
AspenRidge Recovery can help address many different consequences and problems that may arise from using alcohol and Gabapentin or other drugs used together. Our certified, licensed treatment specialists can help provide or establish a clear plan for long-term recovery from alcohol. Our Colorado addiction programs support individuals at every stage of addiction recovery. Through our continuum of care, our addiction specialists can address addiction as well as underlying mental health concerns. For more information on our programs contact us at 855-281-5588.