Whether you’re already taking gabapentin for an anxiety disorder or are curious if you might benefit from it, you may be wondering how effective it is, how it works, and if there are side effects.
Here we’ll cover everything you need to know about gabapentin for anxiety.
Gabapentin is a prescription drug or medication that is FDA-approved to treat nerve pain and seizure disorders. It also has other uses—including treating anxiety disorders—though it has not been FDA-approved to be used for this purpose. This use of gabapentin for the treatment of anxiety is referred to as an off-label use, meaning there is limited data on its effectiveness to treat anxiety. Other off-label uses include treating alcohol withdrawal for alcohol use disorder and hot flashes associated with menopause.
Gabapentin is sold under the brand names Horizant®, Gralise® and Neurontin®.
Because there is limited research on how effective gabapentin is at reducing anxiety symptoms, it’s not typically the first medication a licensed physician will recommend for treating anxiety. Antidepressant medications like SSRIs and SNRIs are most likely to be prescribed first due to their effectiveness and safety. If these other treatment options aren’t succesful or appropriate, a doctor may prescribe gabapentin.
Gabapentin works by mimicking a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA. GABA has a calming effect on the brain and impaired functioning of GABA has been linked to various mental health conditions such as panic disorder and depression.
It’s important to note that the medication gabapentin isn’t a synthetic or lab-made form of GABA. It works by mimicking GABA. It slows down or stops messages from being sent between nerve cells—this results in a reduction of pain associated with nerve damage as well as the prevention of seizures.
While it's true that GABA plays a role in anxiety, anxiety is complex, and researchers are still trying to figure out how and if gabapentin might work to ease symptoms of moderate or severe anxiety. Based on some promising studies, some scientists and doctors agree that it may be helpful for treating social anxiety disorder and severe panic disorder (frequent panic attacks) in people who don’t respond to other treatments.
To learn more about the different type of anxiety disorders, check out: An Overview of the 5 Major Types of Anxiety Disorders
If you are prescribed gabapentin for anxiety —like any medication—it's important to take it exactly as directed. The dose you are prescribed will depend on your response to the medication and your specific needs. You’ll likely start on a low dose and then your provider will work with you to increase your dose based on your response and symptoms. If you aren’t responding to treatment for example, your doctor may suggest a higher dose or a different medication.
If you’re living with anxiety, you’re likely eager to manage your symptoms, especially if you’ve tried various treatment options. Keep in mind that finding the right medication can take time and while it can be difficult, it’s important to remain patient with the process. Not taking your medication as directed can lead to increased side effects and safety issues.
Your prescribing physician should walk you through the specific instructions on how to take your medication, the side effects to look out for, and set expectations for how long the medication will take to help reduce your anxiety symptoms.
Like all medications, gabapentin can come with side effects. The side effects are usually mild and go away as your body adjusts to the medication. If you experience mild side effects, be sure to continue taking your medication as directed. Stopping your medication suddenly can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Some common side effects include:
If you experience any side effects, be sure to report them to your doctor. They may suggest adjusting the dose of your medication or trying a different option.
Some rare but serious side effects can also occur. Reading about side effects can be anxiety-inducing so if you are concerned about the side effects of a medication, be sure to chat with your doctor. Your doctor is there to help you weigh the pros and cons of taking medication and you should always feel like the benefits of taking medication outweigh any risks. That said, some serious side effects include:
If you experience any of these symptoms call your healthcare provider or 911 right away.
It may take some time to find a dose of gabapentin that works for you, but generally, once you’ve settled on the right dose, you may begin to see improvements in around 3 weeks or less. Everyone will respond differently to medication and it may take more or less time to see a change in your anxiety levels. Try and remain patient with the process and always take your medication as directed by your doctor.
Gabapentin is one option for treating anxiety but it’s not the only option. Depending on your needs and medical history your doctor may recommend a different type of medication. Here are some other medications commonly used to treat anxiety:
Depending on the severity of your anxiety and if you have other mental health conditions in addition to an anxiety disorder, your doctor may recommend a type of medication that is not included on this list. Your doctor may also recommend other treatment options, like cognitive behavioral therapy, alongside taking medication.
Gabapentin is a prescription medication that is FDA-approved to treat nerve pain and seizure disorders. Although research is limited, some studies suggest gabapentin may also be effective in treating anxiety disorders. Some doctors will prescribe it for this purpose—most often for people who don’t respond to other treatment options.
Anxiety disorders are complex and treatment with either medications, therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy or both can be highly effective for managing symptoms. If you are living with an anxiety disorder or think you might be, take the first step and book and appointment with a health professional like a primary care doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. They will be able to work with you to find the best treatment option for your needs.
If you’re ready to get treated for anxiety but aren’t sure where to start, take our free 10-minute assessment. You can find out if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist that takes your insurance and can see you from the comfort of home.
If you’d like to learn more about how psychiatrists can treat anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, or social phobia, and whether or not a psychiatrist might be right for you, check out: Online Anxiety Treatment
Anxious thoughts can be a normal part of life but if unwanted thoughts are making it hard to go about your day, this is a sign you should seek professional support. Psychiatry can help. You can see if Talkiatry is right for you by taking a free 10-minute assessment.
Prescription anxiety medication is FDA-approved and safe. Your psychiatrist or prescribing doctor should help you navigate your options for medications and answer any questions you have about the benefits and side effects of each medication.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Glenn Occhiogrosso is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry. He has been practicing in New York City for over ten years and is a lifelong New Yorker.
Dr. Occhiogrosso earned his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn. He then completed his residency and an Addiction Fellowship at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan.
After completing his fellowship, Dr. Occhiogrosso returned to Brooklyn to be Unit Chief for the inpatient Detoxification Service at Kings County Hospital Center. During his ten years at Kings County, Dr. Occhiogrosso served as the Psychiatry Clerkship Director for St. George’s University School of Medicine, Associate Program Director for the SUNY Downstate Residency Program, Medical Director of the Adult Inpatient Psychiatric Service, and Clinical Director of the Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation Program (CPEP). While working in these distinctly different areas, Dr. Occhiogrosso gained valuable experience treating a wide range of clinical presentations and pathologies. As a result, he is comfortable treating patients across the entire spectrum of mental and behavioral health conditions.
Dr. Occhiogrosso’s practice focuses on medication management, but his patients will also benefit from supportive therapy and motivational interviewing techniques. In some instances, where the addition of more in-depth therapy would better optimize treatment, Dr. Occhiogrosso will recommend potential therapists and collaborate actively with them to provide comprehensive care.
Dr. Occhiogrosso has held faculty appointments at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and St. George’s University School of Medicine. In addition, Dr. Occhiogrosso spent nearly all of his professional career teaching, mentoring, and supervising psychiatric residents and medical students alongside his clinical work.