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Gabapentin (Neurontin): How it's Used for Depression and Anxiety

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
Gabapentin (Neurontin): How it's Used for Depression and Anxiety

There are several drugs that may be prescribed for anxiety that were not developed originally for anxiety treatment. One such drug is Neurontin. Neurontin - also known as Gabapentin - is a drug that is sometimes prescribed to those who experience anxiety especially in situations where the anxiety is co-occurring with bipolar disorder.

This article explores the usage of Neurontin, as well as the benefits, weaknesses, and side effects for those looking to learn more about this medication when used for anxiety.

Neurontin Drug Usage Information

Neurontin is not your traditional anxiety treatment. It was originally created as an anticonvulsant used to treat epilepsy though for some people who anxiety, it may be an effective treatment.

Doctors that prescribe Neurontin for anxiety often only do so if the patient has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Neurontin is used as a supplementary drug for those that are being treated for bipolar but need an additional treatment to overcome some of the anxiety associated with their diagnosis.

Most anxiety sufferers are unlikely to be prescribed this medication due to it being used primarily for a small section of the overall population. 

Drug Origins

As noted above, this medication wasn't originally prescribed for anxiety at all. It was originally used to prevent seizures. It wasn't until years after it became FDA approved that doctors realized it had the potential to reduce anxiety in patients with bipolar disorder.

The drug mimics the chemical structure of GABA, but its mechanism of action isn't entirely known, and it doesn't appear to affect GABA receptors. Its use for bipolar disorder is considered "off label," meaning that it is not FDA approved for this use.

How Effective is Neurontin?

There is no such thing as an anxiety drug that “cures” anxiety. All medication can do is make it easier to live with anxiety now. It will have no effect on long term anxiety or learning to better deal with anxiety producing stimuli. For this reason, you should always pair any medication for anxiety, with therapy or other treatments that assist in learning to manage anxiety. While anxiety drugs like Neurontin have their place for helping cope with anxiety, they're not something that you should generally be solely relied on.

As for Neurontin itself, the results are fairly mixed. It is used for such a specific purpose (reducing anxiety in bipolar patients) that it can be hard to differentiate between the anxiety reduction qualities of other medication concurrently prescribed to treat bipolar and the anxiety reduction qualities of Neurontin. However, it appears that for this subsection of the population there have been some promising results. 

Side Effects of Neurontin

Neurontin has a host of side effects, several of which were powerful enough to cause lawsuits to be filed against the manufacturer. As with many powerful medications, it comes with common but fairly benign side effects, including:

These side effects appear more common in the elderly. One of the biggest problems identified is that Neurontin causes dependency. This then results in withdrawal symptoms if the medicine is stopped suddenly. These withdrawal symptoms  are likened to various types of withdrawal from recreational drugs.

Research has found an increased suicide risk in patients taking Neurontin. For this reason Neurontin should never be taken without a doctor's supervision, to ensure that patients are not experiencing any increase in suicidal ideation.

Taking Neurontin for Anxiety

Bipolar disorder is a complicated mental health problem that requires medical treatment. Those who have been prescribed Neurontin should discuss any concerns with the prescribing doctor as depending on your symptoms, the benefit may outweigh any perceived risks. 

For those who do not have a diagnosis of bipolar, it is unlikely that Neurontin will be prescribed for anxiety. If you are considering asking your doctor about Neurontin to treat anxiety without bipolar, you may want to discuss other options with your physician. Remember it is most effective to always partner medication with some type of anti-anxiety strategy, to ensure that you can stop taking the medication someday and still live free of anxiety.

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