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Is Gabapentin a Narcotic?

Asking is Gabapentin a narcotic is a good question because it sure seems to act like one.

So let’s start with a definition. A narcotic is a drug that dulls the senses, relieves pain, and induces profound sleep in moderate doses. Still, excessive amounts can cause lethargy, convulsions, or even lead to a coma.

The definition of a narcotic is its association with it being an opioid. Therefore, it would include morphine and heroin and derivatives of many of these compounds found in opium.

In general, narcotics usually refer to opioid pain relievers. So it is because they are used only for severe pain, and other painkillers are ineffective.

It is an anticonvulsant medication. It is supplemental with other epilepsy medications to control partial seizures.

When the term narcotic is in a legal context, a narcotic drug is prohibited or used in violation of governmental regulation, such as heroin or cocaine. Statutory classification of a drug as a narcotic often increases the penalties for infringement of drug control statutes.

For example, federal law classifies cocaine and amphetamines as “Schedule II” drugs. The penalty for possession of cocaine is greater than the penalty for amphetamines because cocaine is a narcotic.

Approved for Neuropathic Pain

Later, Gabapentin received approval to treat neuropathic pain – intense tingling, burning, aches, and stabbing sensations – that sometimes continue after a bout of shingles. This viral infection causes a painful and sensitive rash.

Off-label use, the practice of prescribing the medication for conditions other than those it’s approved for, though not technically illegal, has come under fire where Gabapentin is concerned.

After a few uncontrolled studies in the ’90s, the drug manufacturer, Pfizer, claimed that Neurontin, the brand name for Gabapentin, might help treat bipolar disorder despite data showing otherwise. The company, as Reuters reported, paid $325 million in fines after a court ruled Neurontinwas guilty of promoting it for unapproved uses, which is technically illegal.

Though there are no studies to prove its effectiveness, Gabapentin is used off-label for;

  • Migraines
  • Hot flashes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Other conditions associated with neuropathic pain

Gabapentin is not a narcotic.

In terms of medical terminology, narcotic is more precisely defined and generally does not have negative connotations as its legal counterpart.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Gabapentin in 1993.

Unlike other pain medications, such as oxycontin, oxycodone, and Vicodin, Gabapentin is a non-opioid painkiller.

The Chicago-based American Pain Society (APS), specializing in pain-related suffering, recommends the medication in some post-surgical situations. APS suggests there is evidence that Gabapentin can reduce the amount of needed opioid painkillers after some surgeries.

Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain, so technically, it does not meet this criterion. Again, Gabapentin is not a narcotic. Here is a list of some narcotics;

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Tramadol
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine

Controlled Substance

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the federal agency responsible for maintaining Schedule I, II, and III narcotics list, does not officially classify Gabapentin as a controlled substance. While this means the drug is not considered habit-forming and poses little risk of abuse and addiction, there is controversy surrounding the off-label or non-medical use.

According to one report, 57 million Gabapentin prescriptions in 2015 were a 42 percent increase in only four years.

Critics of Gabapentin say the drug has similar characteristics to various habit-forming substances. It is especially prevalent with opioids, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety medicine. These mixtures can cause a euphoric-like high, which creates addiction. Moreover, Gabapentin in higher doses is known to generate withdrawal once treatment stops.

Side Effects

Gabapentin can come with several unpleasant side effects. Some of these may include one or more of the following:

  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Hair loss
  • Tremors
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Loss of coordination and jerky movements
  • Sexual dysfunction (including loss of libido, inability to reach orgasm, or erectile dysfunction)


Misusing Gabapentin to get high comes with risks and should be avoided. Research by the National Institutes of Health bears this out as more cases of abuse surface.

See what happens when drinking alcohol and taking Gabapentin.

In one study, the agency notes that Gabapentin increasingly posses a threat for misuse. Increasing levels of both prescriptions and related fatalities, together with an anecdotally growing black market, have been reported in other countries.