Gabapentin and Alcohol Interactions
In This Article
What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a prescription medication used to control seizures in people diagnosed with epilepsy.
It interferes with the brain's electrical activity by slowing it down, effectively controlling seizures. It also works by influencing the actions of chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters.
While classified as an anti-epileptic or anticonvulsant medication, it is also used to treat nerve pain caused by diabetes, shingles, or an injury, and restless leg syndrome.
Furthermore, it is used in substance abuse treatment and the management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Gabapentin is available in tablet, capsule, solution, and suspension forms. However, doctors advise that you use only the form and brand of gabapentin as prescribed.
Side Effects & Risks of Gabapentin
Gabapentin is a safe medication when used as prescribed (following a doctor's instructions). However, just like other medications, it can cause side effects.
Common Side Effects
In a 2017 review, 10 percent of the participants experienced the following side effects after using gabapentin for chronic neuropathic pain versus placebo:
- Problems with walking
- Water retention
Unrelated to the 2017 study, some of the common side effects of gabapentin may include:
- Blurred vision
- Body weakness
- Dry mouth
- Flu-like symptoms
- Increase in appetite
- Joint pain
- Lower back pain
- Weight gain
Another common side effect is rolling or back-and-forth eye movements. When this becomes uncontrolled and continuous, medical attention is needed.
Serious Side Effects
Although uncommon, there are serious side effects related to gabapentin use. However, these effects are commonly found in people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.
If you develop any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal behavior/suicidal thoughts
- Trouble sleeping
- Violent behavior
There are other serious side effects to look out for in non-psychiatric patients.
Watch out for these symptoms, as they can indicate an allergic reaction:
- Difficulty of breathing
- Skin rash
- Swollen glands
- Swollen lips, face, tongue, and throat
- Severe body weakness
- Unusual bruising
- Pain in the upper part of the stomach
- Yellowing of eyes or skin
Is Gabapentin Addictive?
Yes, it is addictive.
Gabapentin works by mimicking the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that inhibits chemical messages in the brain, slowing down the nervous system. This inhibitory effect makes a person feel relaxed, calm, and happy.
Medications containing gabapentin are not currently scheduled as controlled substances by the DEA. However, some states have reclassified it as a Schedule V controlled substance.
Although it is considered less addictive than opioids, gabapentin as a pain medication still has potential for misuse. Gabapentin should be prescribed with caution because of its misuse potential, especially for people with a history of substance use disorders and those taking opioids.
Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol While Taking Gabapentin?
No, it is not. Combining alcohol and gabapentin is never a good idea.
Alcohol and gabapentin both function as depressants by slowing down the body and brain. Because of this, they also have similar side effects, and the intensity doubles when gabapentin and alcohol are mixed.
Drinking alcohol while taking gabapentin is dangerous. As depressants, they also both slow down breathing, which can result in severe respiratory problems.
In addition, alcohol and gabapentin can cause nausea and vomiting (too much of which can lead to severe dehydration).
6 Dangers of Mixing Gabapentin and Alcohol
People use alcohol and gabapentin together in order to have a good time. While alcohol is a known depressant, taking large amounts has a stimulatory effect. When combined with the depressant effect of gabapentin, a person may end up feeling relaxed, euphoric, and energized all at the same time.
However, this may not last long because the dangerous combination of drinking alcohol and taking gabapentin may result in death.
Here are some of the dangers associated with mixing Gabapentin and alcohol:
1. Cognitive issues
Mixing gabapentin and alcohol is linked to changes in cognitive function. Confusion may occur, which can result in poor decision-making skills and severe mood changes.
2. Coordination problems
When taking gabapentin with alcohol, there is an increased risk for injury and fall because of coordination problems.
Gabapentin alone causes drowsiness and sleepiness, which can affect a person’s coordination and reflexes.
Mixing alcohol and gabapentin may worsen these side effects, leading to impaired day-to-day functioning. This is very dangerous, especially if it involves doing certain activities such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
Mixing alcohol and gabapentin causes extreme weakness, which can significantly impair a person’s quality of life.
Alcohol and gabapentin are both depressants, and mixing the two dramatically increases your risk of alcohol-related overdose.
6. Respiratory Depression
Gabapentin is a depressant that slows down breathing. Alcohol is a depressant, too. When combined, alcohol and gabapentin may heighten each other’s side effects and cause life-threatening respiratory depression.
Can I Overdose From Mixing Alcohol and Gabapentin?
Pfizer, Neurontin’s manufacturer, has advised not taking Neurontin with alcohol.
While gabapentin is not usually linked with a fatal drug overdose, mixing gabapentin and alcohol is dangerous.
Gabapentin and alcohol individually cause depression of the central nervous system (CNS) and respiratory function.
Combining gabapentin and alcohol can worsen CNS and respiratory depression, which increases the risk of overdose and death.
How Long After Taking Gabapentin Can I Drink Alcohol?
Taking gabapentin for pain comes in doses. It starts with the lowest dose, which gradually increases depending on the patient's pain relief needs.
Alcohol intake is not recommended, especially to those who have just started taking gabapentin and have yet to reach a stable dose.
Once a stable dose is determined, alcohol may be taken in moderation. However, doing so can lead to severe drowsiness.
The best course of action is to talk to your doctor about drinking alcohol after taking gabapentin.
Do I Have a Drug or Alcohol Problem?
Any person can have a drug or alcohol problem, and you can develop dependence without even realizing it.
Alcohol or drug dependence happens when you rely on these substances to feel normal or good or as a way to cope with your day-to-day life.
If you think you are drug or alcohol dependent, seek professional medical advice.
Symptoms of Substance Misuse & Addiction
Some signs and symptoms of substance misuse and addiction include:
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Frequent arguments with friends and family
- Frequent troubles with the law, at work, or in school
- Having mental blackouts
- Keeping secrets from family or friends
- Losing interest in things that used to bring you joy
- Missing work commitments, classes, or appointments
- Not caring about how you look/poor general hygiene
- Relying on alcohol or drugs to relax or have fun
Treatment Options for Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
Medications are an essential part of a substance use disorder (SUD) management plan, but behavioral therapy and counseling are the most commonly utilized forms of treatment.
Every treatment plan is customized according to patient needs and must be regularly checked and adjusted.
Call to find out how much your insurance will cover
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- CMAJ. “Gabapentin Misuse.” 2019, Jan 14, Canadian Medical Association Journal
- "Gabapentin and its use in pain management." National Health Service.
- Mersfelder, Tracey L, and William H Nichols. “Gabapentin: Abuse, Dependence, and Withdrawal.” The Annals of pharmacotherapy vol. 50,3 : 229-33. doi:10.1177/1060028015620800.
- NIDA. "Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 17 Jan. 2019.
- Wiffen, PJ,. et al. (2017, 9 June). Gabapentin for chronic neuropathic pain in adults.