Nerve pain medications were recently linked to an increased risk of self-harm. Self-harm can be either intentional or unintentional. The study looked at suicidal thoughts and behavior, unintentional overdoses, head and body injuries and traffic accidents.
Stabbing, tingling, burning or prickling are a few sensations felt by people living with nerve pain. Neuropathy — another term for nerve pain — can be chronic and debilitating. It can interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, drive or eat.
For those living with nerve pain, several prescription drugs are available, but many carry side effects like drowsiness, dizziness and sedation. Opiates are ineffective for addressing nerve pain and carry a high potential for abuse and addiction, while over-the-counter (OTC) medications are not effective enough. Instead, people living with nerve pain must utilize another class of drugs: gabapentinoids.
What are Gabapentinoids?
Two gabapentinoid medications are currently available in the United States: pregabalin (Lyrica) and gabapentin. Both medications can treat seizures or nerve pain.
Gabapentinoids work by increasing the inhibitory messages sent between brain cells.
To understand how these medications work, imagine sitting in a circle with a group of friends. The first person whispers a message to the person on their left, then that person whispers the message to the person on their left and so forth. Now imagine the message reaches you, but before you have a chance to repeat the message, someone new enters the room and pulls you out of the circle.
The message never reaches the person to your left. In the body, the message being stopped is a pain signal. A nerve outside of the brain tries to send a pain message to the brain, and a gabapentinoid blocks the signal before it can reach the brain.
Results of the Study
The study linking self-harm and gabapentinoids was performed by a group of Oxford researchers using data from the Swedish healthcare system. Sweden is a popular country for medical research because they keep high-quality registers of medicine and crime for the entire population of almost 9 million people.
About 200,000 people taking gabapentinoids were tracked for this study. For comparison, high-quality medical studies usually recruit thousands or tens of thousands of people, so almost having 200,000 makes the study very reliable.
Patients taking gabapentinoids who showed self-harm behavior were compared to themselves before they took the nerve pain medication. This comparison acted as the control for the experiment.
Taking gabapentinoids was associated with an increase in:
- Head/body injuries
- Road traffic incidents and offenses
- Suicidal behavior and deaths from suicide
- Unintentional overdoses
Should Someone Stop Taking Their Nerve Pain Medication?
No one should stop taking their nerve pain medication without first consulting with their doctor since stopping gabapentinoids can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Pregabalin and gabapentin are known to make people tired, so the self-harm might be accidental and can be prevented by lowering the person’s dose.
Suicidal thoughts and behavior usually resolve on their own, and any side effects should be reported to the doctor or pharmacist if they do not go away. These symptoms are known to affect people between the ages of 15 and 24 more than any other age group.
Mixing Pain Medication and Other Drugs
Mixing gabapentinoids with alcohol or other drugs is known to worsen the risk of self-harm. Mixtures of antidepressants can stop a person from breathing and lead to coma or death.
Self-harm, whether intentional or not, can become worse if an addiction is present. Research is beginning to show the addictive potential of pregabalin and gabapentin. If addiction has already developed, call Orlando Recovery to speak with a representative about receiving professional addiction treatment.
Molero, Yasmina; et al. “Associations Between Gabapentinoids and Suicidal Behaviour, Unintentional Overdoses, Injuries, Road Traffic Incidents, and Violent Crime: Population Based Cohort Study in Sweden.” British Medical Journal, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.
Quintero, Gabriel. “Review About Gabapentin Misuse, Interactions, Contraindications and Side Effects.” Journal of Experimental Pharmacology, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2019.
Kustermann, Andreas; et al. “Depression and Attempted Suicide Under Pregabalin Therapy.” Annals of General Psychiatry, 2014. Accessed July 12, 2019.