Dangers of Pregabalin and Gabapentin Prescription Medication

Benzodiazepine addiction such as addiction to diazepam / valium

It is not uncommon for residential addiction treatment centres to admit people for a Benzodiazepine detox and treatment when they have developed addictions to prescribed medications such as Valium or Diazepam.  These medications have often been prescribed legitimately by the person’s GP but then either the prescription has not been renewed or it has been stopped and the medications are being sourced off the internet.

drug prescription explosion

Withdrawal from the medications can be severe (worse for those experiencing withdrawal symptoms than for someone coming off heroin) and if, taken over a period of time, our body has become dependant on the drug and it is not safe to just try and stop.  In fact, a diazepam detox is one of the longest and can take up to 6 weeks (or more) to complete as the medication is slowly reduced on a daily or every other day basis and is usually only successful within the safe environment of a residential addictions unit. 

GPs have become aware of the dangers of long term use of these drugs and are now far more restrictive in giving out prescriptions for them and the length of time prescribed tends now to be of much shorter duration than may have been the case in the past. Problem use of these drugs is often from them being sourced from the internet rather than from a GP.

Anti depressants and alcohol addiction

In recent years there has been a very significant number of alcoholics who have been admitted for treatment at The Haynes Clinic for an alcohol addiction that have also seen their GP and have been prescribed anti-depressants.  Anti-depressants under normal circumstances take at least 14 days before there is a noticeable chemical change in someone’s body and the drug starts to be effective.  With alcohol in the mix it totally nullifies the effect of the anti-depressant and will send us into deeper rapid mood swings and even suicidal thoughts as we think because we are taking this prescribed medication we should be feeling better.  However, if we had been more honest or a more thorough picture of our condition assessed we would not have been prescribed the medication in the first place.

Risks of pregabalin and gabapentin addiction

Also, unbelievably it would seem that the medical fraternity have not learnt from their experience with addictive medications such as Diazepam and other benzodiazepines, as the same potential addictive situation is now arising with two other drugs:  Pregabalin and Gabapentin.  This is on no small scale – it has recently been revealed that 6.72 million prescriptions were issued for Gabapentin in 2017/2018 which was a 80% increase from the years 2013/2014 when just 3.39 million people were prescribed Gabapentin. Prescriptions for the drug Pregabalin have increased by 71% over 5 years with 5.95 million issued in the UK last year.

Pregabalin is usually sold under the brand names of  Lyrica, Alzain, Axalid. It is used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety  and is classed as an anticonvulsant, analgesic and anxiolytic amino acid. It is a non-opioid painkiller. 

  • With epilepsy it stops seizures by reducing the abnormal activity in the brain
  • With nerve pain it blocks the pain messages that travel between the brain and down the spine
  • For anxiety it will stop the brain from releasing the chemicals that will cause us to feel anxious. 

Gabapentin sold under brand name of Neurontin, can be prescribed to manage a condition termed Postherpetic Neuralgia which is the pain we suffer after we have had shingles. It is though more commonly prescribed to prevent epilepsy or seizures and is a non-opioid painkiller. As noted above there has been an 80% increase in the number of prescriptions for the powerful nerve drug, Gabapentin in the UK since the year 2013.

Both Gabapentin and Pregabalin have been found to be addictive with long term use and they were re classified as Class C drugs and therefore in the category of Controlled Drugs in 2019  due to the medical findings of  their potential misuse or recorded effects of long term use.  The misuse of Gabapentin is related to the reported ability to reduce tolerance to opioids such as heroin. In 2012, Pregabalin was found in 9 fatalities and in the last 5 years the number of related deaths had risen to  3,400.

Often described as Britain’s “new Valium,” Pregabalin has the ability to enhance the effects of other substances and is often used in conjunction with other illegal drugs to enhance a drug related “high.,” For example, alcohol will increase the sedative effects of Pregabalin . However, it is not just addicts trying to create an effect by mixing drugs and taking pregabalin / gabapentin: it is also very simply where someone has been prescribed these medications for a minor or sports injury who have now found themselves with an unexpected addiction. Side effects of Pregabalin use may include

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness, particularly if using in conjunction with alcohol
  • Blurred vision
  • Disjointed thinking
  • Clumsiness
  • Body tolerant to the medication and the need to use a higher dose

Gabapentin doesn’t produce the same effect as medications that are often misused but long term use will produce a dependence to the drug and addiction, with respiratory failure and potential build-up of fatal toxicity in the body dangerous side effects. Also if trying to stop or cut back on using the medication it can produce withdrawal effects such as

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Sweating

 The UK government is aware of the situation to such a degree that action will be taken to help patients addicted to these prescription drugs. Dangers have also been highlighted by the inquiry that has just been produced by Public Health England. The government may find that the promise to rectify the prescription drug epidemic will be an extremely challenging task.

At The Haynes Clinic we have successfully detoxed many people from these two medications though, as with Diazepam, the detox period can be lengthy and challenging.