An ethnographic decision model of the initiation of gabapentin misuse among prescription and/or illicit opioid (mis)user

Mance E. Buttram, Steven P. Kurtz, Theodore J. Cicero, Jennifer R. Havens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Aims: Gabapentin is used in the treatment of seizures and neuralgia, and it is prescribed off-label to treat substance use disorders and withdrawal symptoms. Recent research documents misuse of gabapentin, especially among prescription opioid misusers. The present study contributes to this literature by examining the initiation of gabapentin misuse. Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with prescription and/or illicit opioid (mis)users who reported a history of gabapentin misuse (N = 62) and who did not (N = 29). During semi-structured interviews, respondents provided descriptions of the first time they misused gabapentin. An ethnographic decision model was constructed to illustrate the factors that influence the initiation decision. Results: Multiple individual, social, and environmental factors influence the decision to initiate gabapentin misuse. Respondents described the initiation decision related to: a) wanting to feel a psychoactive high during times of limited access to one's preferred drug because of institutional barriers (e.g., substance abuse treatment; jail; transitional living facility; N = 18); b) the desire to use multiple drugs, including for experimentation or to potentiate another substance (N = 18); and c) the need to self-treat withdrawal symptoms during periods of opioid nonuse or when opioids were unavailable (N = 16). Respondents also initiated gabapentin misuse to self-treat physical pain (N = 10). Conclusions: Multiple approaches are needed to mitigate gabapentin misuse, including limiting availability in institutional settings and informal channels as well as addressing the needs of drug users who experience physical pain and withdrawal symptoms. Continued research is needed to examine therapeutic uses of gabapentin and behaviors related to misuse.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107554
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Gabapentin
  • Opioid
  • Qualitative


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