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How Addictive Is Lyrica Really? (& Why)

Called the “new Valium” (diazepam) and “Budweiser” for its ability to induce a relaxed and happy state similar to that of other tranquilizers or alcohol, Lyrica (pregabalin) is being misused for the high it can provide.

A prescription medication used to treat nerve pain, Lyrica is classified as a Schedule V controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to its potential for abuse and addiction.

An estimated 2 million Americans were considered to be currently misusing a tranquilizer medication at the time of the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

These medications are addictive, as they interact with the motivational and reward pathways in the brain by altering brain chemistry. With regular and repeated use of Lyrica, drug dependence can form, which can lead to addiction.

How Addiction Occurs

The active ingredient in Lyrica, pregabalin, blocks the transmission of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain and increases levels of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). This is what makes a person feel mellow and relaxed, and it’s also what can increase Lyrica’s abuse potential, the American Journal of Psychiatry reports.

GABA is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters that helps to manage anxiety and the stress response. Elevated levels of GABA aid in suppressing some of the functions of the central nervous system, lowering things like heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure, which are raised by stress. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes that a high dose of pregabalin may produce effects similar to those associated with diazepam, which is a common drug of abuse. The high may be relatively mild when taken by itself, but Lyrica is commonly misused with other drugs, such as opioids.

Lyrica is abused by taking the drug in between doses, in higher doses than needed, after a prescription has run out, or for nonmedical reasons. Lyrica is misused by swallowing the tablet or capsule or by cutting and snorting it, the Emergency Medicine Journal reports.

Withdrawal and Addiction

Regular use of Lyrica can cause the brain to become tolerant to the medication, which means it will take more of it for it to keep working.

The way Lyrica interacts and manages the chemical messengers in the brain can also lead to physical drug dependence. The Medication Guide for Lyrica reports that it can induce the following withdrawal symptoms when it wears off:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Suicidal thoughts

Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and make taking more of the drug desirable. Escalating dosage and misuse can lead to addiction.

Addiction occurs when a person is unable to control how much of the drug they take at a time and how often they take it. It can be difficult to stop taking the drug without professional help. Drug use becomes compulsive.

Individuals with a personal or family history of drug abuse and/or addiction are more likely to struggle with Lyrica abuse and addiction.

Lyrica Addiction Rates

The NSDUH reports that in 2016, more than 600,000 Americans battled addiction involving a tranquilizer drug.

Gabapentinoids, including pregabalin and gabapentin, are considered to have a low addiction potential when used at therapeutic doses. This means that if you take Lyrica as directed for medical purposes under the supervision of a medical professional, you are not likely to struggle with an addiction involving Lyrica.

Gabapentin (brand names: Neurontin, Horizant, and Gralise) is another nerve pain and anticonvulsant medication that is similar to Lyrica. Pregabalin is more potent, has more bioavailability, and absorbs faster than gabapentin, however. CNS Drugs warns that individuals with a previous history of drug abuse should be closely monitored and weaned off the medication in the event of any misuse.

Misuse of Lyrica and taking it in high amounts will increase the rate of drug tolerance and physical dependence. It also raises the risk of addiction.

Assessing Risk

Lyrica may not be as addictive as other central nervous system depressant drugs like Valium and similar benzodiazepines, but it still carries a risk of addiction. The journal European Neuropsychopharmacology publishes that pregabalin is more addictive than gabapentin, for example, and addiction is most common in people with a history of drug abuse who use multiple drugs at a time.

While there is some risk of drug dependence from chronic and extended use of Lyrica, drug dependence is not the same thing as addiction. A medical professional can help to taper the dosage safely to mitigate withdrawal and minimize the potential for misuse and addiction.

Sources

(September 2017). Pregabalin, Known as 'New Valium,' to be Made Class C Drug After Deaths. The Guardian. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/21/pregabalin-new-valium-class-c-drug-deaths

(July 2005). Rules 2005. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2005/fr0728.htm

(September 2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm

(July 2010). Letters to the Editor. American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved February 2019 from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.09091269

(November 2017). Expert Peer Review for Pregabalin. World Health Organization. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/PregabalinPeerReview2.pdf?ua=1

(2013). Lyrica Nights- Recreational Pregabalin Abuse in an Urban Emergency Department. Emergency Medicine Journal. Retrieved February 2019 from https://emj.bmj.com/content/30/10/874.2

(May 2018). Lyrica- pregabalin capsule. Pfizer. Retrieved February 2019 from http://labeling.pfizer.com/showlabeling.aspx?id=561%23section-9.3

(June 2014). Misuse and Abuse of Pregabalin and Gabapentin: Cause for Concern? CNS Drugs. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24760436

(December 2017). How Addictive Are Gabapentin and Pregabalin? A Systematic Review. European Neuropsychopharmacology. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28988943

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