The word narcotic is derived from a Greek term “narkō” which translates to “make numb.” Many people use the term narcotic in a broad sense to describe any psychoactive substance, particularly those that are capable of inducing sleep (i.e. hypnotics). In the United States, most individuals think of opioids and opioid-deriviatives when they hear “narcotics.”
Opioids like heroin, morphine, and synthetic formulations like hydrocodone are regarded as narcotics. Most addictive drugs associated with significant psychological and/or physical dependence and/or “controlled-substances” may be considered narcotics. Due to the fact that Gabapentin is not associated with addiction nor dependence, it is not commonly referenced as a “narcotic.”
While some would argue that the drug is addictive and dependence (especially psychological), most literature suggests otherwise; hence its non-inclusion in the list of “controlled-substances.” That said, some have suggested that the closely-related drug Pregabalin (Lyrica) is a controlled-substance and therefore Gabapentin should also be.
Legally, Gabapentin is not considered a narcotic. It is not a controlled substance, has a low potential for abuse, and is not medically associated with dependence. While the drug is capable of acting similarly to benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium) in that it affects neurotransmission of GABA, its effect is different and it is considerably less potent.
The intoxicating potential of Gabapentin pales in comparison to federally classified narcotics like heroin. Most recreational drug users aren’t seeking out Gabapentin over the legitimate narcotics like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc. At higher doses, the bioavailability of Gabapentin decreases, making it tougher to abuse and ultimately safer than federally classified narcotics.