Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant. It helps prevent certain types of seizures in people who have epilepsy. It’s not a cure for epilepsy — the drug will only work to control your seizures as long as you keep taking it. Gabapentin is also used in adults to relieve nerve pain after a case of shingles.
Gabapentin is fairly safe when you use it correctly. It does come with some possible side effects, though. People who misuse this drug are at risk of additional side effects, as well.
The more common side effects of gabapentin include:
- abnormal eye movements that are continuous, uncontrolled, back-and-forth, or rolling
- clumsiness or unsteadiness
- difficulty speaking
- drowsiness or tiredness
- dry mouth
Gabapentin may also cause some serious side effects. These side effects are uncommon. However, they may be more common in people who have psychiatric disorders. They include:
- violent behavior, aggressiveness, or anger
- anxiousness or restlessness
- anxiety that is new or worse
- depression that is new or worse
- irritability that is new or worse
- panic attacks
- suicidal thoughts or behavior
- insomnia (trouble sleeping)
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms.
Gabapentin may cause serious or life-threatening allergic reactions. However, this is very rare. These symptoms may be the first signs of a serious reaction:
- skin rash
- difficulty breathing
- gland swelling that does not go away
- swelling of your face, lip, throat, or tongue
- yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
- unusual bruising or bleeding
- severe tiredness or weakness
- unexpected muscle pain
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms. If you think your symptoms are life-threatening, call 911.
Gabapentin doesn’t produce the same effects of medications that are often misused, such as benzodiazepines and opiates. Still, misuse of gabapentin has been reported. There have been rare cases of withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms include:
- rapid heart rate
These effects occurred only in people who used high doses of gabapentin for an extended period to treat illnesses for which the drug isn’t approved.
Of the people who have misused the drug, most had a history of substance misuse or used gabapentin to help with withdrawal symptoms from other substances. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of drug addiction or misuse. This information can help your doctor decide whether any risk of misuse outweighs the potential benefit of using gabapentin.
Talk with your doctor about precautions you can take for side effects from gabapentin:
- Ask your doctor for advice on diet and exercise to help manage your weight if you are concerned about possible weight gain from gabapentin.
- Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery until you know you can function normally while taking gabapentin.
- Talk to your pharmacist about over-the-counter medications that can help relieve some of the more common digestive system side effects.
Gabapentin side effects may make you want to stop taking the drug. However, don’t stop taking it without first talking to your doctor. Stopping gabapentin suddenly can cause serious problems, such as withdrawal symptoms or the return of seizures. Your doctor will help you stop taking the drug safely.