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Gabapentin: The Facts

By Jacquelyn Buffo, MS, LPC, CAADC

May 12, 2023


Some medications can be used to treat more than one medical issue, and gabapentin is a type of medication that does just that. Gabapentin is used to treat a variety of medical problems, including restless leg syndrome, seizure disorders, and more. Learn more about gabapentin, what it is used to treat, how it works, potential side effects, and if it can be used as an effective part of your treatment plan.

What is gabapentin?

Gabapentin was first discovered in 1970, and it was initially used as an anti-spasmodic medication and as a muscle relaxer. Anti-spasmodic medications are used to treat stomach pain, including cramps and spasms, menstrual pain, and issues related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The generic form of gabapentin has been available to the general population since 2004, and gabapentin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994.

Gabapentin is taken orally and comes in many forms, including an oral solution, tablets, and capsules. Gabapentin comes in an extended-release form as well. Gabapentin is initially prescribed at a dose of 300 mg once per day and can increase to as much as 4800 mg per day. It is recommended that it is initially taken in the evening, and it usually takes effect within the first week after administration. However, it can take up to a month to achieve its full effects. After its initial dose, gabapentin is often taken three times a day. Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to medication, and the timeline of its effects can vary from person to person.

Possible side effects

As with most medications, gabapentin has possible side effects. Side effects can range in severity and can range in duration. Side effects aren’t limited to physical symptoms; cognitive and psychological side effects can also occur. If you experience severe side effects and they don’t go away over time, talk to your doctor immediately.

Possible side effects of gabapentin include:

  • Intrusive, strange, or disturbing thoughts
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Physical weakness
  • Uncontrollable shaking at various parts of your body
  • Poor coordination or unsteadiness
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting
  • An increase in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Joint and back pain
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, runny nose, and sore throat
  • Dry mouth
  • Memory problems
  • Mental health symptoms such as anxiety
  • Swelling of the legs, hands, and feet
  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Ear pain

More serious side effects can occur. If you experience any of the following symptoms, reach out to your doctor immediately:

  • Itching
  • Swelling of the hands, face, lips, throat, and tongue
  • Problems with breathing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Rash
  • Blush-tinged lips, fingernails, and/or skin
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Severe fatigue or sleepiness

What is gabapentin used for?

As previously stated, gabapentin was initially used to treat gastrointestinal issues and used as a muscle relaxer. However, over time, its use has evolved to include more health issues such as seizure disorders.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved gabapentin to treat the following:

  • Moderate to severe restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • As an adjunctive therapy in the treatment of seizure disorders in patients 12 and older with epilepsy and in 3- to 12-year-olds with partial seizure
  • Postherpetic neuralgia, also known as shingles

Although it has yet to be approved by the FDA to treat nerve pain, gabapentin is also used off-label to treat neuropathic pain.

Risks associated with gabapentin use

Generally speaking, gabapentin is safe to use on its own. However, there are risks involved when taking it with other substances or medications. For example, research shows that when taken with central nervous system depressants such as opioids, the risk of respiratory depression and even death is possible. Furthermore, research shows that gabapentin can exacerbate the effects of opioids, which may increase its risk of misuse.


Studies show an increase in gabapentin use in the last several years, and there has been an increase in prescribing practices. As of 2019, there were 69 million prescriptions for gabapentin, which resulted in gabapentin being the seventh most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. Unfortunately, recent trends indicate that gabapentin misuse and abuse have increased by 104% between 2013 and 2017. Furthermore, the percentage of opioid-related deaths that included gabapentin also increased; gabapentin was detected in 85% to 90% of opioid-involved deaths in 2019.

The risk of overdose on gabapentin alone is rare. However, symptoms of an overdose can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Double vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, talk to your medical professional immediately.

How can you get a prescription for gabapentin?

Your doctor will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and work with you to create a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs. If you experience any of the medical problems gabapentin is intended to treat, talk to your doctor to see if gabapentin may be appropriate for you. Be sure to let your doctor know all of the medications you are taking.

How to find gabapentin for less

There is no denying the rising cost of services and goods across the country. Many of us have been feeling the squeeze of inflation on our budgets. If you want to save up to 80% on your prescription medication, ScriptSave WellRx can help. We all want to save money where we can. Let the ScriptSave WellRx prescription savings card help you maximize your savings on your medication. Our discount savings card is free to use and is accepted at pharmacies across the country.

Jacquelyn B. began writing at the age of 10 when she won a county-wide essay contest explaining why her mother is worth her weight in gold. Since that time, she has written for several newspapers and a health and wellness blog. Her education and experience is in mental health and addiction. She is a licensed counselor and currently provides therapeutic services on an outpatient basis. Her counseling and substance abuse experience includes inpatient residential, in-home, and early recovery counseling. She is a certified addiction specialist and is working on obtaining her certification in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She also specializes in working with pregnant and post-partum women and has received advanced training on women's health.


  1. National Library of Medicine. (2022). Gabapentin.
  2. Annahazi, A., Roka, R., Rosztoczy, A., & Whittman, T. (2014). Role of antispasmodics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 20(20), p.6031-6043.
  3. National Library of Medicine. (2020).
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Notes from the field: Trends in gabapentin detection and involvement in drug overdose deaths-23 states and District of Columbia, 2019-2020.
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