What are the risks of taking gabapentin? Negative side effects of gabapentin can vary for each person, but the severe effects are rare. A doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits of gabapentin use for you.

While gabapentin is used for many therapeutic applications and can be safe to use when taken as prescribed, there are also risks linked with its use. The drug’s side effects can be severe, and there is a risk of abuse and dependence on the drug.

What Is Gabapentin Used For?

Gabapentin (Gralise, Horizant, Neurontin) is a medication originally approved for seizures that is now used for off-label conditions up to 95% of the time. These conditions include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Cough
  • Diabetic nerve pain
  • Withdrawal seizures from drugs and alcohol
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Hiccups
  • Restless Legs Syndrome

Gabapentin is the 10th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 47 million prescriptions filled in 2019.

Common Side Effects of Gabapentin

Gabapentin’s side effects can vary for each person. A doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits of gabapentin use for you. Some of the common side effects are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vision trouble
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain

Some of the severe side effects include trouble breathing and allergic reactions.

People who start to use gabapentin should pay attention to shifts in mood or emotions. For example, a person who experiences increased anxiety, anger or panic attacks should contact a doctor right away. Gabapentin can potentially cause suicidal thoughts, a risk common to all seizure medications.

It is crucial to discuss your full medical history with a doctor before using gabapentin. You should also let your doctor know of any other substances being used regularly, like alcohol, drugs, vitamins, over-the-counter pain relievers or herbal supplements. Gabapentin may interact with certain types of substances and cause negative side effects. For example, mixing alcohol and gabapentin can cause people to feel dizzy or tired.

Despite the risk of side effects of using gabapentin, it can be more dangerous to stop using it, especially if you take a high dose. Gabapentin use can cause physical dependence. So, if you stop using it suddenly, you may go through withdrawal.

What Are the Risks of Taking Gabapentin?

Although not a controlled substance at the federal level, some states have made gabapentin a Schedule V controlled substance because some studies show it may be linked to addiction. About 15% of people who use drugs without a prescription have abused gabapentin to get high. Further, taking gabapentin with other drugs increases the risk of serious side effects like overdose, which is increased fourfold when gabapentin is misused alongside an opioid.

States that have made gabapentin a controlled substance include:

  • Alabama
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • North Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Additional states have not made gabapentin a controlled substance, but they instead require gabapentin prescriptions to be reported to prescription monitoring databases. These states and districts include:

  • Connecticut
  • Washington D.C.
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

Dangers of Sudden Gabapentin Withdrawal

When you take gabapentin over the long term and suddenly stop, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Due to that risk, no one should stop taking the drug without a doctor’s approval. This occurs because your body has become used to the presence of gabapentin and is struggling to adjust to its absence. This is especially true when someone takes a high gabapentin dose and suddenly stops taking the drug.

Symptoms of gabapentin withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion

To avoid these symptoms, a doctor will usually instruct a person to taper their gabapentin dose. It is possible to overdose on gabapentin, so it’s important that people follow a doctor’s orders to stay safe.

Due to the way gabapentin is used to treat pain, people may wonder if it is addictive. When taken as prescribed, gabapentin isn’t considered addictive. However, people may abuse it to get high.

Other FAQs About Gabapentin

What is gabapentin used for?

Gabapentin is FDA-approved to control epileptic seizures. However, it is more frequently prescribed for off-label conditions like:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Cough
  • Diabetic nerve pain
  • Withdrawal seizures from drugs and alcohol
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Hiccups
  • Restless legs syndrome
How does gabapentin work?

Gabapentin use is thought to calm certain impulses in the central nervous system. The drug mimics the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that turns off the function of other brain cells.

What forms does gabapentin come in?

Gabapentin comes in capsule form, as an oral solution and as tablets. It is available in both short and long-acting forms.

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Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.