Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant drug that also goes by Neurontin, Gralise, or Gaborone. It’s initial purpose was to control certain types of seizures in people who have epilepsy, relieving nerve pain from shingles, or calming restless leg syndrome.
Gabapentin has also been used off-label as a treatment for anxiety disorders. It’s possible that your psychiatric provider may prescribe gabapentin to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with these mental health disorders. Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that gabapentin can be helpful for individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorders or alcohol dependence.
Let’s take a look at how gabapentin works and why you may be prescribed this medication for anxiety.
How Does Gabapentin Work?
Gabapentin is a synthetic version of the neurotransmitter GABA, which means it mimics the role GABA has in the body. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells.
The GABA neurotransmitter can help slow down neurons firing in the brain. Gabapentin works in a similar way; it can help quiet the brain and decrease pain transmission in your nerves.
For seizures, gabapentin works by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain. It can also change the way that the body senses pain, which can be useful for helping with the pain associated with shingles.
While studies don’t typically show effectiveness for improving symptoms of depression, there is evidence that gabapentin may have some benefit for anxiety disorders. A study with rats found that gabapentin produced behavioral changes suggestive of anxiolysis, or feelings of calmness.
Additionally, a case study of one individual found that there was a clear inverse relationship between dosage and anxiety. The individual’s anxiety levels were rated very low on days when she took gabapentin, despite the fact that the same individual did not respond well to traditional antidepressant medications such as SSRIs.
So while there is some evidence that gabapentin can be used as a novel medication to help with anxiety and depression, there is not enough research to make it clear how exactly it interacts with brain mechanisms to bring about its therapeutic effects.
How To Take Gabapentin for Anxiety
If you are prescribed gabapentin for anxiety, you should follow the exact dosing given by your provider — the dosing information provided below is for educational purposes only.
Gabapentin can come in capsule, tablet, or oral solution, but you’ll likely be prescribed capsules to help with anxiety. These are usually taken with a full glass of water, with or without food.
Antacids should not be taken within two hours before or after using gabapentin. Antacids can make it harder for your body to absorb gabapentin.
Potential Side Effects of Gabapentin
As with any medication, there is the potential for some side effects when taking gabapentin. The main side effects include:
- Changes in libido, or sex drive
- Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)
- Blurred vision
Some of these side effects may go away after continued usage, but if the side effects become severe or persist for a long period of time, reach out to your psychiatric provider immediately.
Since it’s a prescription medication, you will need to get a prescription from a doctor or psychiatric provider. You’ll need to demonstrate symptoms of anxiety and have no allergies to gabapentin. Additionally, you may not be able to take it if you also use certain other medications.
Gabapentin is typically prescribed in addition to other forms of treatment, such as SSRIs.
At Brightside, we use gabapentin alongside other medicines to treat:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Hard-to-treat depression
- Nerve pain
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety
Adding Gabapentin Into Your Anxiety Treatment Plan
Gabapentin is typically prescribed alongside other treatment options — here are the most common:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)
SSRI medications are commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety. These work by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin into your brain’s neurons, making the neurotransmitter more abundant. Serotonin is a chemical that is thought to regulate mood, happiness, and levels of anxiety
There are many different types of SSRIs, but some common examples include Zoloft, Prozac, and Lexapro. SSRIs typically cause fewer side effects than many other types of antidepressants, which is one of the reasons why they are popular.
Therapy is widely used to treat anxiety and depression, and it is highly effective. There are many different types of depression, though Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective. This type of therapy is goal-oriented and structured, focusing on addressing the source of irrational thought and changing unfavorable behaviors.
In fact, the most effective way to care for your mental health is by using a combination treatment that uses both medication and talk therapy. Medication and therapy can give you a 60% better chance of recovery as opposed to just one treatment alone.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication that is used for treating seizures and nerve pain associated with shingles. However, it also is known for producing anti-anxiolytic effects (i.e. anti-anxiety effects), which is why it is sometimes used for treating anxiety.
Gabapentin is usually prescribed at a low dose to start, but can be gradually increased as time goes on. While a psychiatric provider will likely not prescribe gabapentin as a first course of action, it may be used alongside other treatments to help improve symptoms.
To speak with a psychiatric provider about what course of treatment is right for you, Brightside is here and ready to get you started. We’re here to offer you therapy and psychiatric care right from home, with unlimited messaging access to your provider and medications delivered right to your door.
Fill out your free assessment to see how Brightside can help you find the right medication for you.