Gabapentin is an FDA-approved medication used to treat epileptic seizures and postherpetic neuralgia, a painful condition that follows a shingles attack. Gabapentin is also commonly prescribed off-label for other conditions like diabetic neuropathy.

The drug is also sometimes misused. Up to 22% of people who abuse opioids also abuse gabapentin, usually to enhance the high from opioids. Some people wonder about what will happen when they stop using gabapentin, so the following provides an overview of ending use and the side effects involved.

Gabapentin Abuse on the Rise

Gabapentin abuse rates are increasing. Gabapentin was the 11th most prescribed drug in the United States in 2017, when more than 40 million prescriptions for the drug were written. This has left some physicians and law enforcement officials worried. 

While gabapentin is considered relatively safe and non-addictive, abuse is possible. In large doses, gabapentin can increase the level of euphoria experienced by someone using opioids. Overall, experts believe around 1% of Americans misuse gabapentin, including up to 22% of people who take opioids and up to 65% of people with legitimate gabapentin prescriptions.

Unlike federally controlled drugs, gabapentin remains relatively easy to obtain by prescription, which may contribute to its abuse potential. The number of patients who receive high-dose prescriptions also adds to that concern. In some cases, people receiving legitimate gabapentin prescriptions may resell them on the streets. Despite how easy it is to obtain gabapentin, many people find that weaning off gabapentin is much harder.

Does Gabapentin have Withdrawal Symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms with gabapentin IR are generally rare, and little data exists about the withdrawal risks of gabapentin ER. Some people may have withdrawal symptoms if they are taking a high dose of gabapentin IR and suddenly stop use. 

Additionally, data shows that many people who experienced withdrawal symptoms from gabapentin IR were using high doses of it to treat withdrawal symptoms of other substances. Many had been taking extremely high doses that were well above the max recommended dose. 

Symptoms of gabapentin withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion

When do Withdrawal Symptoms Start?

Because gabapentin IR does not last too long in the body, withdrawal symptoms may come on quickly. If someone has normal kidney function, it takes between five and seven hours for a dose of gabapentin IR to start to leave the body. Therefore, a person may start withdrawal symptoms within that time. 

Since it takes approximately five half-lives for a drug to clear the body, it can take about 35 hours for the last dose of gabapentin IR to be completely out of the system. Withdrawal symptoms may begin to improve after this time period is complete, but the exact time it takes to recover will vary.

How to Avoid Withdrawal Symptoms?

Doctors generally recommend gradually tapering the gabapentin dose over a time period of at least a week to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Other FAQs about Gabapentin

  • How Does Gabapentin Work?

    Gabapentin is structurally similar to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter. Though gabapentin does slow activity in the brain like GABA, it does not bind to GABA receptors or impact the production or absorption of GABA. 

  • Is Gabapentin a controlled substance?

    Gabapentin is not currently a controlled substance at the federal level, but certain states have made gabapentin a controlled substance at the state level.

  • Does Gabapentin have any warnings when taking the drug?

    Certain warnings come with the use of gabapentin. Gabapentin has a sedative effect, meaning it can cause dizziness and drowsiness. As such, people should be cautious before driving or operating machinery while using it. Like all anticonvulsants, gabapentin carries a warning that it may increase feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts or tendencies. Patients are advised to monitor their mood carefully when using this medication.

  • How is Gabapentin taken?

    There are various dosage forms of the medication, including capsules, an oral solution and tablets. The drug comes in both immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (ER) formulations.

  • Does Gabapentin have other names?

    Gabapentin may be sold under different brand names, including Neurontin and Gralise.

If you or someone you love is struggling with gabapentin misuse or other drugs, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs, and find out the next steps to take for beginning the path toward lifelong recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.