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Is Gabapentin Safe?

Gabapentin is generally considered safe when taken as directed and under the care of a physician. It is an anticonvulsant medication used to treat restless leg syndrome, epilepsy, and some kinds of nerve pain. Doctors often use gabapentin with other prescription drugs to help their patients feel calm and comfortable.

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Addiction treatment centers may use gabapentin to help people move through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The more relaxed and pain-free you feel, the less likely you may be to return to substance abuse. 

Use gabapentin for too long, and you could have a hard time kicking the habit. And you should never use gabapentin without a prescription, as the medication does come with risks. 

Gabapentin Side Effects: Common & Uncommon Symptoms

Prescription medications are well researched before they hit pharmacy shelves, and skilled professionals make each pill. Even so, gabapentin pills you get from a doctor can cause you harm. 

These are common gabapentin side effects that take hold in about 1 in 100 people who take the medication:

  • Blurry vision
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches 
  • Impotence 
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea 
  • Poor immune system 
  • Poor memory 
  • Swelling, especially in the legs and arms
  • Weight gain 

A rare but serious side effect of gabapentin concerns your mental health. About 1 in 500 people who take gabapentin experience suicidal thoughts.

Some developed these symptoms just days after they started taking the medication. If this happens to you, talk with your doctor immediately.

Is Gabapentin Withdrawal Dangerous?

Conditions like restless legs syndrome and epilepsy rarely go away over time. People with these issues often need help for the rest of their lives.

That means you could be taking gabapentin indefinitely, and your body will adjust to the drug. Stop use suddenly, and you could develop withdrawal. 

Gabapentin withdrawal lasts between 5 days and 10 days. Your symptoms could include the following:

  • Agitation 
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Pain, including chest discomfort
  • Runny nose or cold-like symptoms

A supervised taper, in which you take a smaller amount of gabapentin every day on a schedule your doctor develops, could help you move through withdrawal without feeling uncomfortable. 

4 Gabapentin Risks You Should Know 

In addition to common side effects, rare side effects, and uncomfortable withdrawal, gabapentin can also spark some very real and troublesome problems in some people. 

1. Increased Opioid Overdose Risks

Gabapentin works on pathways also used by opioid painkillers. If you’re taking a medication like Vicodin and combining it with gabapentin, you could have a reduced tolerance for opioids. A dose that once seemed safe could be too much for your body. 

An opioid overdose is a life-threatening emergency that can be treated with fast-acting opioid agonists like naloxone. If you use opioids and gabapentin together, you should keep this medication with you at all times and show your family members and loved ones how to use it in case you overdose, and they must save your life. 

2. Serious Breathing Problems

Some people who take gabapentin have underlying health issues (like COPD) that impact their lung capacity. Gabapentin also impedes your lungs, and combining the drug with your existing medical problem could lead to death. 

These are symptoms of a problem:

  • Blue-tinged skin on the lips, fingers, and toes 
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Lethargy
  • Slow or shallow breathing 

These are life-threatening symptoms, and if they appear, you should call 911 for help.

3. Hard to Stop Using

Researchers say about 20 percent of people who start using gabapentin are still using it 90 days later. Since gabapentin can make you feel so uncomfortable when you try to quit, you may be tempted to keep using it indefinitely.

If you want to quit but aren’t able to, treatment programs can help. 

4. Gabapentin Overdose Is Possible

Gabapentin works on sensitive systems in your body, and it can impair how you think, feel, and breathe. Take too much, and you could overwhelm your body and slip into an overdose.

Studies of gabapentin overdoses are rare, but they exist. People have died from taking too many of these pills. 

Why Do People Use Gabapentin in Addiction Treatment?

Enroll in a program to combat an addiction, and your doctor might give you a short-term prescription for gabapentin to use under supervision until you feel better. 

Withdrawal from drugs like Vicodin can cause serious nerve pain and twitches. Gabapentin is well suited to address those symptoms. Treating them can leave you feeling much more comfortable, and you’ll be less likely to relapse as a result. 

Taking medication in a treatment setting is wise. Staying comfortable is key to your recovery. But you will take these medications for a short time only. When your brain and body are accustomed to life without the drugs you abused, you won’t need gabapentin anymore. 

If the idea of using a drug like this in your recovery makes you uncomfortable, you can explore alternatives. Over-the-counter medications like aspirin could help ease some types of physical pain. And therapeutic massage, baths, and gentle exercise could help you address nerve pain. 

Talk with your team about what method is right for you, your history, and your future. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated June 8, 2023
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