Gabapentin is a prescription medication with a checkered history. It’s helped many people overcome unbearable symptoms associated with health disorders. On the other hand, it’s hurt people at times. It’s led medical professionals and individuals suffering from health disorders to ask questions. Is Gabapentin addictive? Is Gabapentin a controlled substance? If so, should I avoid taking it? 

The answer varies. Gabapentin and tramadol can be dangerous. Gabapentin and alcohol can be deadly. Yet, it can save lives in certain scenarios. We explore the pros and cons below. 

What Is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is a prescription medication. It’s a painkiller that it’s in its own class of drugs called gabapentinoids. The unique chemical structure reduces pain and the symptoms of other health issues

This kind of medication helps:

  • Nerve pain associated with shingles
  • People suffering from epilepsy (it’s an anticonvulsant) 
  • Symptoms of hot flashes 
  • Symptoms of restless leg syndrome 
  • Alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms 
  • Diabetes symptoms 
  • Fibromyalgia (reduces pain and tenderness) 
  • Soothe chronic nerve pain in general

Gabapentin can help those suffering from a substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder. During detox, medical professionals at an addiction recovery center may offer medication-assisted treatment. Doctors are careful when they prescribe medication. Prescription drugs are legal but can cause unpleasant side effects and complications. 

Yet, withdrawal symptoms can be more dangerous than the possible risk. In cases like this, they may prescribe Gabapentin to make detox bearable. Most painkillers are classified as opioids. Although Gabapentin is a different kind of drug, it helps people ween off opioid use. Doctors may prescribe it as medication to prevent the discomfort that comes with stopping “cold turkey.” Then, they will taper the dose over time.

Additionally, severe addictions can result in seizures and unbearable pain. Using Gabapentin under medical supervision can reduce the risk of both. Of course, it still raises the question: Is Gabapentin addictive? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Is Gabapentin Addictive? 

Yes, Gabapentin is addictive. Painkillers can be addictive, even if they’re not opioids. However, doctors may choose to prescribe it to people with a substance use disorder because it’s less addictive than opioids. That said, non-medical Gabapentin use happens and can cause just as much damage as other drugs. 

Is Gabapentin a Controlled Substance or Not?

So, is Gabapentin a controlled substance? The state of Kentucky decided it would be in 2017. A controlled substance is when a drug is tightly managed by the government because it could lead to non-medical use and substance use disorders.  Though, it’s classified as a Schedule V controlled substance, meaning it isn’t as addictive as other controlled substances. 

According to GoodRx, this state saw that Gabapentin products could be addictive. In 2015, they found that 57 million prescriptions were approved. Pharmacists understandably became worried as prescription levels rose. 

A journal within PubMed found that 9 in 10, or about 90%, of surveyed pharmacists felt that Gabapentin was a problem in their community. They specifically said that non-medical use was a problem. This included the fear behind how people were able to get a hold of it without a prescription. Over 1,600 community pharmacists responded.

What Is the Science Behind Gabapentin?  

Gabapentin mimics the neurotransmitter, GABA, also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid. Medications that mimic the structure of GABA are known as GABA analogs. GABA acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. In short, it inhibits chemical messages. In turn, it slows down the nervous systems. When GABA binds to its receptor, it makes a person feel calm. 

Though, Gabapentin doesn’t bind to receptors as GABA would. The science behind how Gabapentin works is unclear. Research shows that it increases the amount of GABA for the brain to use. Although it doesn’t bind to receptors, the chemicals in Gabapentin produce the same effect overall. It reduces pain and can increase relaxation overall. 

Why Is Gabapentin Addictive?

Gabapentin is addictive because people can develop a chemical dependency on it. In most people, the body naturally produces the amino acid, GABA. It plays a role in stress and relaxation. Also, it helps make a person feel happy. Gabapentin makes individuals feel relaxed and euphoric because it acts similarly to GABA. 

When a person uses Gabapentin consistently their brain becomes used to the chemicals it increases or inhibits. After a while, the brain becomes used to that level. This can also result in tolerance, meaning someone would need to do more of it to feel the same effect. Tolerance or not, the brain becomes used to the levels of chemicals brought about by regular use. Stopping upsets brain chemistry, which turns into both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. 

How Is Gabapentin Addictive For Some People?

This medication can be more addictive for certain groups of people more than others. For instance, individuals suffering from a substance use disorder are more likely to become addicted to Gabapentin. A 2013 study found that 15% of participants consumed Gabapentin without a prescription alongside other drugs. 

Other factors may increase the likelihood of a chemical dependency on this prescription medication: 

  • Taking more than prescribed over time
  • Using it to self-medicate health issues 
  • Self-medicating because of a lack of health insurance 
  • Stopping prescription use without medical instruction 

People who are prescribed Gabapentin can still end up with a substance use disorder. They may ignore a doctor’s instructions or misinterpret them. It’s less likely a person will end up battling an addiction if they are prescribed it. Regardless, being aware of the possibility is still important. 

What Are Other Names For Gabapentin? 

Gabapentin is the generic version of its brand-name counterparts. Gralise and Neurontin are the most popular brand-name forms of it. Gralise typically comes in tablet form. On the other hand, Neurotin comes in capsules, tablets, and a solution. Both are used to treat nerve pain from shingles and reduce seizures in people that suffer from epilepsy. 

Other brand-name forms of Gabapentin include: 

  • SmartRx Gaba-V Kit 
  • Neuraptine 
  • Horizant 
  • Gabarone 
  • FusePaq Fanatrex 

On the streets, Gabapentin has different names. Street names for this prescription drug include “johnnies” and “gabbies.” Sometimes prescription drugs, like this one, are diverted for illegal use. Using Gabapentin without a prescription can be dangerous for multiple reasons. A person doesn’t understand what dose to take nor do they realize how it may affect them in the long term. 

What Are the Side Effects of Gabapentin? 

Like any medication, Gabapentin has side effects. They can happen through legal, medical use and non-medical use. Although, it’s less likely to happen when it’s prescribed. Medicine that affects brain chemistry may have serious side effects, especially if they’re stopped abruptly. 

The risk of side effects is increased if a person takes other forms of medication. It might come as a surprise that certain herbal supplements and minerals may increase the risk as well. GoodRx notes that Calcifediol and Orlistat, in particular, should be consumed with caution if a person takes them with Gabapentin. Using both at the same time could lead to worse short-term and long-term side effects overall. 

Short-Term Effects 

  • Feeling drowsy 
  • Fainting spells 
  • Loss of motor coordination 
  • Memory loss 
  • Trouble talking 
  • Double vision 
  • Increased chance of illness 
  • Tremors 
  • Strange eye movements 
  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive Sweating

Long-Term Effects

  • Jaundice 
  • Metabolic disorders 
  • Increased risk of a muscle tissue breakdown (rhabdomyolysis) 
  • Increased hostility and agitation 
  • Depression 
  • Breast enlargement 
  • Skin tissue disorders 
  • Decreased libido 
  • Issues with ejaculation 
  • Anxiety 

The Dangers of Abusing Gabapentin and Alcohol 

Alcohol is a depressant. Drugs like these slow down brain and body functionality. Gabapentin functions in a similar way. Because both have the same effect on the body and brain, they have the same side effects. So, it’s more likely for someone to experience intense side effects if they consume both. 

This is dangerous for multiple reasons. Both drugs slow down breathing. Consuming too much of either can result in severe breathing problems, which could land a person in the hospital. Also, nausea is a common side effect of both. Too much vomiting can lead to deadly cases of dehydration. Finally, it’s possible to overdose on Gabapentin. Combining drugs and alcohol only increases the risk of overdoing. 

Why Would Someone Use Gabapentin and Alcohol?

Using Gabapentin and alcohol is a terrible idea. Some people disregard this fact to have a good time, at times. Alcohol is a depressant, but large amounts can cause a stimulant effect. The idea behind consuming both substances is to feel energized, relaxed, and euphoric at the same time. Sometimes individuals with a Gabapentin prescription are unaware that alcohol poses a serious health risk. Either situation can result in an untimely death. 

Gabapentin and Tramadol 

Tramadol is a powerful opioid typically used for short-term pain relief. Taking Gabapentin and tramadol at the same time depresses central nervous system function. Combining Gabapentin with any kind of depressant can make it hard to breathe. Plus, it makes the side effects of either both. 

Most doctors wouldn’t prescribe both at the same time. Non-medical use of both makes overdose much more likely. Almost 70% of overdose deaths are due to opioid use. It’s important to consult a medical professional when consuming both for health reasons.

Discovery Insitute Can Provide the Tools to Fight Against Gabapentin and Alcohol Addictions

Ultimately, is Gabapentin addictive? Discovery Institute feels any risky drug use can result in addiction. Although it’s less common than most, Gabapentin use disorders can make a person feel alone and like life isn’t worth living. We provide personalized plans to help our members overcome the temptation of Gabapentin and alcohol. Contact us now to learn more.  

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.