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What Is Gabapentin Used For And Why Is It So Dangerous?

Gabapentin is a prescription medication used to treat epilepsy as well as nerve pain caused by several conditions, such as shingles, diabetes, or after an injury. It’s also occasionally prescribed to manage migraines. Common brand names include Neurontin and Horizant and were developed by Parke-Davis in Detroit, Michigan.1,2

What is Gabapentin & What Conditions Does It Treat?

Gabapentin belongs to a class of prescription medications called anticonvulsants. This is because it helps control seizures in people with epilepsy by reducing abnormal excitement in the brain.2

Gabapentin quote

Gabapentin comes in a capsule, tablet, extended-release tablet, and oral solution that you take by mouth.1,2

Gabapentin is used to treat various conditions, such as:1,2

  • Epilepsy
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (complication from shingles resulting in burning pain that lasts long after blisters and rash disappear)
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Pain caused by diabetic neuropathy (tingling or numbness caused by nerve damage in people with diabetes)
  • Prevent and treat hot flashes in people with breast cancer or who have experienced menopause
  • Migraine headaches

It’s important to note that gabapentin may help manage your illness, but it won’t cure it. If you stop taking gabapentin, symptoms or seizures may return.2

Gabapentin for Pets

Gabapentin is also prescribed to treat anxiety in cats, and off-label gabapentin uses in pets include seizures and pain in dogs and cats. As with any other prescription medications, make sure to follow your vet’s instructions very carefully to ensure the safety of your pet.3

Who Can & Cannot Take Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is prescribed for children aged 6 years and older, as well as adults. It is suitable for most people, but some people should not take it due to potential dangers or complications. Before taking gabapentin, make sure to tell your doctor if you:1,2

  • Are on a controlled potassium or sodium diet
  • Have kidney problems
  • Are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding
  • Have ever abused or been addicted to drugs
  • Have had an allergic rection to gabapentin or other medications
  • Are taking other prescription medications, especially controlled substances like opioids or sedatives

Is Gabapentin Dangerous?

Most people tolerate gabapentin well and experience minimal to no side effects. The most common side effects include dizziness, fatigue, and drowsiness. These side effects are typically mild and resolve themselves.1

However, like most prescription medications, there is always a risk of experiencing serious side effects, such as:1,2

  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation
  • Jaundice, a liver condition causing yellowing of the whites of your eyes or skin
  • Unusual bruises or bleeding
  • Stomach pain or nausea/vomiting that won’t go away, which could indicate pancreatitis
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggressive, angry, or violent behavior
  • Seizures
Gabapentin contraindicated

Allergic Reaction to Gabapentin

A severe allergic reaction to gabapentin, known as anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Signs of a dangerous allergic reaction to gabapentin include:1

  • Red, itchy, swollen, peeling, or blistered skin
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in your throat or chest
  • Trouble talking or breathing
  • Swollen throat, tongue, lips, face, or mouth

The Dangers of Misusing Gabapentin

If you misuse or abuse gabapentin in order to get high or by mixing it with other central nervous system depressants like opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol, you are far more likely to experience dangerous and life-threatening effects, such as a drug overdose.

Signs of a gabapentin overdose include:1,2

  • Double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Profound drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Unconsciousness

Additionally, if you misuse gabapentin for an extended period of time, you may run the risk of developing a physiological dependence. This means that you need to keep taking gabapentin in order to stave off unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Gabapentin withdrawal symptoms may include:2

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pain

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

Yes, despite being a non-narcotic medication, gabapentin is an addictive drug. About 1% of the population misuses gabapentin, and long-term misuse can lead to a gabapentin addiction. Additionally, an estimated 15-22% of individuals who misuse opioids also abuse gabapentin. Other populations who may misuse gabapentin include those with a history of abusing benzodiazepines or alcohol.4,5,6

Gabapentin addiction is a serious condition characterized by compulsive gabapentin use regardless of the negative effects it has on your life. Once you’re addicted, it can be extremely challenging to quit on your own, and you may require professional substance abuse treatment, such as inpatient or outpatient rehab.

A few signs you may be addicted to gabapentin include:7

  • Failing to control use
  • Continuing to use despite interpersonal, occupational, psychological, or physical problems caused or exacerbated by use
  • Spending a great deal of time using or obtaining gabapentin
  • Mixing gabapentin with opioids, benzos, or alcohol
  • Failing to meet obligations at home, school, or work
  • Developing a tolerance and dependence on gabapentin

You don’t have to overcome your gabapentin addiction on your own—we are here to help. Call our 24/7 helpline at 1-800-429-7690 to speak to a rehab support specialist about treatment programs near you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gabapentin Uses

Is Gabapentin a Painkiller?

While gabapentin does relieve nerve pain associated with various conditions, it is not classified as a prescription painkiller, a class of drugs reserved for opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin. Gabapentin belongs to a class of medications known as anticonvulsants.2

What Type of Pain Does Gabapentin Treat?

Gabapentin treats nerve pain associated with nerve damage. It is used to relieve pain associated with shingles, diabetes, injuries, and migraine headaches.1,2

Is Gabapentin a Muscle Relaxer?

Gabapentin is not technically classified as a muscle relaxer—rather, it is an anticonvulsant, which means it helps prevent and treat seizures. However, its original use was as a muscle relaxer and it can produce muscle relaxation.8

Does Gabapentin Help You Sleep?

Yes, although gabapentin is not typically prescribed to treat insomnia, it can help improve your sleep. One study revealed that gabapentin improved patient sleep efficiency and quality.9

Is Gabapentin Used for Anxiety?

Yes, gabapentin may be prescribed off-label to manage anxiety disorders and panic attacks.10 Other off-label gabapentin uses may include bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, resistant depressive and mood disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, alcohol withdrawal, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and essential tremors.8 

Gabapentin Resources

  1. National Health Service. (2018). Gabapentin.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020). Gabapentin.
  3. Veterinary Centers for America. (n.d.). Gabapentin.
  4. Smith, R.V., Havens, J.R., & Walsh, S.L. (2017, Aug. 29). Gabapentin misuse, abuse, and diversion: A systematic reviewAddiction 111(7), 1160-1174.
  5. 2. Smith, R.V., Lofwall, M.R., & Havens, J.R. (2016, May 11). Abuse and
    Diversion of Gabapentin Among Nonmedical Prescription Opioid Users in Appalachian Kentucky
    American Journal of Psychiatry 172(5), 487-488.
  6. 3. Peckham, A.M., Fairman, K.A., & Sclar, D.A. (2017, Aug.). Prevalence of Gabapentin Abuse: Comparison with Agents with Known Abuse Potential in a Commercially Insured US PopulationClinical Drug Investigations 37(8), 763-773.
  7. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  8. Yasaei R, Katta S, Saadabadi A. Gabapentin. [Updated 2021 Aug 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. 
  9. Lo, H. S., Yang, C. M., Lo, H. G., Lee, C. Y., Ting, H., & Tzang, B. S. (2010). Treatment effects of gabapentin for primary insomniaClinical neuropharmacology33(2), 84–90. https://doi.org/10.1097/WNF.0b013e3181cda242
  10. Markota, M., & Morgan, R. J. (2017). Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder with GabapentinCase reports in psychiatry2017, 6045017.

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