Gabapentin is a prescription drug used for treating partial seizures, postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain caused by a shingles infection), and restless legs syndrome. It is classified as an anticonvulsant.
The drug works by regulating electrical activity in the neurons of the brain, which in turn stops seizures and relieves nerve pain. It achieves these by increasing the levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain and by blocking calcium channels in neurons. As a result, the neurons are less active and it gives you a calming effect.
This drug has a number of brand names: FusePaq Fanatrex, Gralise, Gaborone, Neurontin, and Horizant.
When used as prescribed, this drug is generally effective. But there are some negative effects, especially if misused.
What are the bad effects of gabapentin?
This drug, just like any other medication, can produce a number of side effects. These include:
- Water retention (which causes swelling of the arms, hands, legs, or feet)
- Difficulty walking
- Upset stomach
- Chest pain
- Back pain
- Blurry vision
- Mood changes
- Flu-like symptoms
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
- Memory loss
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Mouth ulcers
- Urinary problems
- Uncontrollable eye rolling
- Suicidal thoughts
The first four symptoms (dizziness, sleepiness, water retention, and difficulty walking) represent the most common side effects of taking this drug, based on one study conducted in 2017. Children and older adults are more prone to these side effects.
Also, children who take this drug may experience these additional side effects:
- Behavior problems
- Lack of concentration
- Changes in mood
- Changes in performance at school
This condition is characterized by swelling of the legs and/or feet. The swelling is caused by fluid building up in those parts of the body, which is one side effect of gabapentin.
If left untreated, this condition may lead to difficulty walking, pain, stiffness, and decreased blood circulation in the swollen areas.
Since gabapentin works to decrease activity in the brain’s neurons, the drug can make you feel sleepy. This makes driving and operating machinery dangerous.
Thus, if you’re on this medication, it’s best to avoid driving. Otherwise, tell your doctor that you need to stay awake at certain hours so he can adjust the timing of your doses.
Some studies have proven that gabapentin can trigger some people to have suicidal thoughts. This may be a consequence of mood changes, which is one of the possible side effects of this drug.
Thus, if you or someone you know who is on a gabapentin medication exhibits drastic changes in mood, seek medical help right away.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions people who have respiratory problems against using gabapentin. The drug is known to produce serious problems in breathing if you have a respiratory condition like asthma. In some cases, it can turn fatal.
Tell your doctor about any respiratory conditions you have before this drug is prescribed to you.
Is gabapentin addictive?
This drug also has some addictive potential. Though its effects are not as strong as those of opioids or other substances, you can still get addicted to it.
Often, if you develop an addiction to gabapentin, you already have a problem abusing other substances, especially opioids. Opioids are more tightly regulated than this drug, so many users of opioids use this drug as a substitute if they can no longer obtain opioids easily. This drug is not a controlled substance, making it easier to get.
Can I overdose on this drug?
If you have an addiction to this drug, it’s very possible to suffer from an overdose. If you are on a gabapentin medication and drink alcohol at the same time, you are also vulnerable to an accidental overdose.
Alcohol reduces the effects of gabapentin, making you feel that the drug is ineffective. In turn, you may be tempted to take a higher dose than what’s on your prescription. If you do this without informing your doctor, you are at a much higher risk of suffering a fatal overdose.
Since gabapentin calms down nerve activity, too much of it will make the body’s systems slow down significantly. That would lead to the following symptoms:
- Severe drowsiness
- Muscle weakness
- Drooping eyelids
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call for medical help immediately. These symptoms can turn life-threatening if not addressed promptly.
What happens if I suddenly stop taking this drug?
It is not recommended to abruptly stop your intake of gabapentin. If your doctor prescribes this drug to you for seizures, suddenly stopping it will cause a rebound, making your seizures even worse. It can make the seizures last much longer than before.
Instead, your doctor will recommend that you taper off your dose slowly. That way, your body has time to adjust to the absence of the drug.
What are the withdrawal symptoms of gabapentin?
If you take this drug over a long time, you can develop physical dependence to it. Consequently, if you try to quit, you will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Fast heartbeat
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- High blood pressure
Based on reports from medical journals, these withdrawal symptoms showed up anywhere from 12 hours to 7 days after the last dose. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms were present within 24 to 48 hours of the last dose.
Withdrawal can occur not only if you’re addicted to this drug. It can also happen when you are on medication but you take it improperly. According to the documented cases, most patients who experienced gabapentin withdrawal missed a number of doses. Either their supply ran out quickly or they left their medications at home while out of town.
That’s why it’s important to never miss a dose as much as possible. In the cases mentioned above, doctors resumed the patients’ previous dose, and the withdrawal symptoms went away within hours.