Gabapentin Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects

Over the past ten years, gabapentin, sold under the brand names Neurontin and Gralise, became a widely used drug. Gabapentin has lots of medical uses and helps treat nerve pain, seizures, anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and more. However, unlike many drugs for pain relief, gabapentin is not classified as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

However, some states including Kentucky and Michigan have decided to make gabapentin a controlled substance in their states. The states did this because gabapentin has been involved in overdose deaths, especially when used with opioids. This revelation has led people to wonder about gabapentin side effects and if there are signs of gabapentin abuse.

Side Effects of Gabapentin

Gabapentin mainly works in the central nervous system, which has chemical receptors all through the brain. Doctors think these receptors have a domino effect in the brain. When gabapentin binds to a receptor, the brain stops sending “excitatory” signals. This process has a calming effect on the brain. Doctors think this is how gabapentin can stop things like nerve pain and seizures. Most of the side effects of gabapentin are related to this kind of calming effect. The most common side effects are:

  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling sleepy or tired
  • Balance problems

To lessen the side effects someone may experience, doctors often start a patient on a low dose of gabapentin. This dose can be as low as 100 mg, once daily. The patient may remain on this low dose for a few days or even a few weeks. The dose will then slowly increase until the problem that the patient is having is addressed.

As the dose increases, doctors often advise patients to split the doses up. The doses will then be taken anywhere from one to three times a day. The max total daily dose of gabapentin may differ, depending on why it has been prescribed. However, the max total daily dose of gabapentin is usually considered to be 3,600 mg.

Some people who struggle with drug use take gabapentin to get a more intense high. The side effects of gabapentin can increase the high they experience from other drugs. In a survey of people who took drugs without a prescription, 15 percent said they took gabapentin to get high. Gabapentin has also been found to be a “cutting agent” for heroin. This term means that drug dealers will sometimes mix gabapentin in with the heroin they sell to people on the street.

Long-Term Side Effects of Gabapentin Use

When taken as prescribed, gabapentin is often safely used long-term. People are not likely to get new side effects from gabapentin use after using it for a long time. Any side effects they had when they started gabapentin might even improve over time. This change occurs because the brain gets used to the medication and if you stop consuming gabapentin “cold turkey,” then you may have withdrawal symptoms. Even worse, if a person takes gabapentin for seizures, stopping consumption suddenly may cause them to have a seizure. People should always consult with their primary care provider before altering their prescription in any way.

Signs of Gabapentin Abuse

Although doctors think that gabapentin does not have a high potential for addiction, it can still be misused. Gabapentin is absorbed very slowly when someone takes it. It can take up to 4 hours for gabapentin to be fully in the bloodstream after someone has taken a dose. Increasing the dose of gabapentin also does not mean that much more of the drug will be in the bloodstream. Gabapentin on its own is considered to be lower risk for misuse.

Nonetheless, the signs of gabapentin misuse are similar to signs of misuse with other drugs. These signs include:

  • Skipping or not focusing on school or work
  • Risky behavior
  • Legal trouble
  • Secretive behavior
  • Downplaying concerns about drug use

If you or a loved one struggle with gabapentin addiction the trained professionals at The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village offers different addiction treatment options to help you lead a healthier life. Reach out to us today for more information.

European Neuropsychopharmacology. “How addictive are gabapentin and pregabalin? A systematic review.” December 2017. Accessed March 26, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Gabapentin (Neurontin).” October 2018. Accessed March 26, 2019.

Kentucky Board of Pharmacy. “Gabapentin Becomes a Schedule 5 Controlled Substance in Kentucky.” March 2017. Accessed March 26, 2019.

Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. “Gabapentin Scheduled as Controlled Substance to help with State’s Opioid Epidemic.” January 2019. Accessed March 26, 2019.

Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “Warning Signs of Drug Abuse.” Accessed March 26, 2019.

British Journal of General Practice. “Substance misuse of gabapentin.” August 2012. Accessed March 26, 2019.

Journal of Experimental Pharmacology. “Review about gabapentin misuse, interactions, contraindications and side effects.” February 2017. Accessed March 26, 2019.