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Is gabapentin considered a painkiller?

Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D

Gabapentin is used for the treatment of nerve pain, but is it classified as a painkiller? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.

What is gabapentin?

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication that belongs to the class gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It inhibits excitatory nerve cells in the brain which play a role in seizures and transmission of pain signals. Gabapentin is a prescription-only medication; common brands include Neurontin, Gralise, and Horizant.

What are the indications of gabapentin?

Gabapentin is approved for the following indications:

  • prevention and control of partial seizures in adults and children who are at least 3 years old
  • treatment of nerve pain such as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) following shingles in adults
  • treatment of moderate-to-severe primary Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a painful movement disorder in the legs

Neurontin and Gralise are approved for partial seizures and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), while Horizant is approved for Restless Legs Syndrome and PHN.

Is gabapentin classified as a painkiller?

Despite being used to alleviate nerve pain, gabapentin is neither an opioid nor a painkiller. Abuse of gabapentin, however, can intensify the high that comes from using narcotic painkillers, muscle relaxants, and anti-anxiety drugs. This has the potential to be harmful or even fatal.

What kinds of pain does gabapentin treat?

FDA-approved uses for gabapentin include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia: A kind of nerve pain that develops after shingles. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, happen when the chicken pox virus that is deeply rooted in your nerves reactivates and results in a severe skin rash later in life. While postherpetic neuralgia does not happen in every case of shingles, it can be excruciatingly painful for those who develop it. Even after the rash and blisters have healed, it can result in burning nerve pain that can continue for months or even years.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): An intense and involuntary urge to move your legs, usually during the night, usually due to leg pain. The most common times for it to happen are when you are seated, lying down, or just before bed. It is believed that RLS is caused by a dopamine imbalance in the brain.

Aside from the above pain types, off-label uses of gabapentin include the treatment of other types of neuropathic (nerve) pain such as peripheral diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and trigeminal neuralgia.

How expensive is brand-name gabapentin?

Some brands of gabapentin are very expensive. Asking your doctor to prescribe a generic version, if possible, could save you hundreds of dollars. If you must take a brand name, you can save as much as 88% off your prescription cost by using an rxless prescription savings card. See how our free program works here.