Gabapentin (Neurontin) is an anticonvulsant medication in the GABA analog lass that was originally created to help manage epilepsy, but is also utilized to help individuals suffering from neuropathic pain. It has become a first-line treatment option for the relief of neuropathic pain from diabetic neuropathy, central neuropathic pain, as well as post-herpetic neuralgia. This medication also is popular for other, more off-label uses including: treating restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and in some cases, bipolar disorder.
Gabapentin was created with the intention of mimicking the GABA neurotransmitter (gamma-aminobutyric acid), but is not thought to act on the same brain receptors. The way the drug works isn’t well known. Some research suggests that it may interact with various voltage-dependent calcium channels in neurons. It is also thought to reduce the release of mono-amines and decrease the axon excitability in certain areas in the hippocampus.
The half life of Gabapentin is only 5 to 7 hours – meaning this medication has an extremely short time before it is cleared from the body. Half life is important to understand because medications with shorter half lives tend to yield the most severe withdrawal symptoms. This medication can be extremely difficult to withdraw from – so make sure you work with a professional when trying to stop taking it.
Factors that influence Gabapentin withdrawal include
There are various factors that influence withdrawal from any medication and/or powerful drug like Gabapentin. The factors that play the greatest role in determining how quick you recover are: time span (how long you took the drug), the dosage (how much you took), your physiology (some people recover quicker), and how you quit the drug (long taper vs. short taper vs. cold turkey).
1. Time Span
For what length of time were you taking this drug? Did you take it every day for years? Did you take it for just a few months? The shorter the duration of time that you were on this medication, the easier it should be for you to come off of it. The longer that you were taking Gabapentin, the more accustomed your brain and nervous system will become to receiving the drug to help with functioning. Therefore, it may be extremely difficult to withdraw from if you have been on this medication for an extended period of time.
2. Dosage (300 mg to 3000 mg)
Most doctors start younger people at 300 mg to take 3x per day. So the starting dose is typically around 900 mg per day. The a young adult or teenager may work their way up to 1800 mg per day if that’s what is recommended by the doctor. In some cases, the drug is prescribed in regards to bodyweight. Some doctors will prescribe 10 mg to 15 mg per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight. Anyways, if you are on a higher dosage, it is thought that withdrawal is going to be a lot more difficult compared to someone on a low dose.
This drug has a noticeable effect on nearly everyone that takes it. The majority of individuals are going to have withdrawal symptoms of some kind. However, your individual physiology will determine how severe these symptoms are. If you tend to not experience many withdrawal effects on medications, you may cope with the withdrawal process just fine. If you are someone who is ultra-sensitive to medications, you may have a very difficult time adjusting to life without Gabapentin.
4. Cold turkey vs. Tapering
It is strongly advised that you always work with your doctor and do a “gradual taper.” This involves slowly reducing your dosage over a period of weeks or months with the intention of finally quitting the drug. The higher the dose you have become accustomed to taking, the more gradual you will need to stop taking this medication. If you quit this medication “cold turkey” it may trigger very dangerous symptoms including seizures. Never quit anything this powerful without slowly tapering off of it.
Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below are some withdrawal symptoms that you may experience when withdrawing from Gabapentin. Keep in mind that you may not experience everything on the list – everyone will have a different experience. These are a list of symptoms based on what individuals have reported during their withdrawal process.
- Anxiety: Some individuals report feelings of anxiety upon withdrawal. This anxiety may be subtle or severe. It has been documented that some people actually take this medication for treating anxiety. Therefore when coming off of this medication, it is common for people to feel especially anxious.
- Appetite changes: Some people may feel like not eating and will experience a noticeable loss of appetite when quitting Gabapentin. Others may experience an increased appetite – especially if while on the drug their appetite decreased.
- Crying spells: The emotions can run wild when coming off of this medication. You may find yourself crying for no reason or you may experience crying spells as a result of the depression you are experiencing. Just know that the excessive crying will eventually stop.
- Depression: Many people experience feelings of significant depression when they stop taking this medication. Even for people with no prior emotional problems may experience severe depression when they stop taking this drug. There have been cases where individuals take this medication recreationally and experience very tough depression when they have to stop taking it.
- Dizziness: One of the most common symptoms to experience during withdrawal from this medication is dizziness. You may feel so dizzy that you are unable to properly function throughout the day. Just know that this means your brain is trying to reset itself and it will eventually go away. If it doesn’t subside, you could try to taper even more slowly.
- Fatigue: Another common withdrawal symptom that you may experience is that of fatigue, lethargy, or tiredness. You may lack energy to get things done throughout the day. It is common to feel extremely fatigued while coming off of Gabapentin – do your best to cope with it.
- Headaches: Most people don’t talk about the fact that coming off of this medication can result in headaches. There have been cases of individuals that go on this medication, and during withdrawal experience migraine headaches. As time passes, these are thought to go away.
- Insomnia: Some people experience pretty severe insomnia when they first quit this medication. This may have a profound impact on your sleep patterns, so do your best to cope with the inability to fall asleep. Try to engage in some relaxation exercises if you are too anxious or agitated to fall asleep.
- Irritability: You may notice yourself becoming especially irritable during the acute phases of withdrawal from this drug. It may be difficult to cope with, but take a step back and realize that your neurotransmitter levels and brain activity has been temporarily altered. You may not be able to control feeling this way, but you can do your best to control how you react because of it.
- Itching: You may experience itching all over your body. This isn’t a very well documented or talked about symptom, but some people may feel as if they are going crazy because their body feels so itchy during the withdrawal process. Just know that if you are experiencing extreme itchiness, you are not alone.
- Muscle pain: If you were taking this medication to help manage symptoms of pain, it is no doubt that the pain is going to return. With that said, it is common to feel pain throughout the body and in various muscles when quitting this drug.
- Nausea: Some people become very nauseated during their withdrawal. This is not an easy symptom to cope with, but do your best to fight through it.
- Restlessness: It’s common to feel restless when coming off of Gabapentin. The restlessness may interfere with your ability to stay focused throughout the day on certain tasks. Take it for what it’s worth – try to push through it and know it will subside.
- Seizures: One of the biggest dangers associated with cold turkey or sudden discontinuation of Gabapentin is that of seizures. There have even been reports of people experiencing seizures from relatively low doses. Make sure that you take the time to taper off of this drug – regardless of your dose.
- Sleep disturbances: You may experience significant difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting a restful night’s sleep. These go hand-in-hand with insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness that you may be experiencing.
- Spasms: Many people experience muscle spasms when trying to quit. If the spasms become unbearable, you may need to conduct a slower taper. In most cases people can deal with an occasional spasm or two.
- Stomach pain: Some individuals have pain in their stomach and/or abdominal area during withdrawal.
- Suicidal thinking: If you are withdrawing from Gabapentin and notice that you are becoming extremely depressed and/or experiencing suicidal thoughts, be sure to get help. These will eventually subside as time passes.
- Sweating: Many people report horrible night sweats to the point that they wake up in the middle of their sleep with beads of sweat dripping off of their body. You may experience excessive sweating throughout the day, but it may be even worse at night.
Note: It is understood that Gabapentin stays in your system for 1-2 days after discontinuation. Once the drug has been fully excreted from your body, many of the withdrawal symptoms are likely to emerge.
Suggestion: Magnesium supplements to help ease withdrawal symptoms
Many people have had success easing withdrawal symptoms by supplementing magnesium. Gabapentin attaches to the same chemical receptor in your brain as calcium and magnesium. As you begin to taper off of Gabapentin, your body will make use of magnesium supplementation that you supply it, and you’ll have a much easier time coping with withdrawal symptoms. Some people experience very minimal to no withdrawal symptoms while supplementing magnesium during withdrawal.
Gabapentin Withdrawal Duration: How long does it last?
The withdrawal process affects everyone differently, so there is no exact science to say that withdrawal will take a specific amount of time. For some people the process will take a few weeks, for others the effects will linger for months. Many individuals that have withdrawn say that it took them over a year to fully recover once they took their last dose. Give your body and mind time to heal – after all, these medications have a significant impact on your brain chemistry when taken over an extended period of time.
Recognize that the most important thing you can do during any sort of withdrawal is to take good care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and allowing your body to make a full recovery. Talk to close family members and friends about your experience for added social support. If you are feeling especially down or having a difficult time, consider working with a therapist.
If you cannot afford a therapist, various online forums should be able to provide you with some good advice and support. Realize that you are not the only person that has experienced Gabapentin withdrawal – many people have made it through this experience. It does take time, but with good habits, social support, and advice, recovery will only be a matter of time.