GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid)

GABA—gamma-aminobutyric acid—is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that also plays a role in muscle tone.

What Does GABA Do?
GABA, like all neurotransmitters, helps to carry nerve signals across a synapse. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it weakens or slows down signals. Because of its inhibitory function, GABA plays an important role in anxiety. When nerve signals fire too quickly and carry anxiety-inducing signals, GABA acts to slow the signals down, reducing overwhelming feelings of anxiety. However, in people with anxiety disorders–including posttraumatic stress, generalized anxiety, and panic disorder–GABA may not work as it should, thus increasing anxiety.

GABA’s Role in Psychology
Different people produce GABA in different quantities, and there is no test that can reliably determine the amount of GABA a person is producing. However, when a person has an anxiety disorder, GABA deficiency is a common factor.

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications such as Ativan, Xanax,and Valium. These medications work on GABA receptors, and can help GABA to slow down anxiety-producing nerve signals.

GABA can also play a role in substance abuse, particularly during the detox process. Dehydration and malnutrition can decrease a person’s GABA production. People with substance abuse often suffer from nutritional deficiencies, and the detox process itself can reduce available GABA. The result can be extreme anxiety. Many doctors prescribe patients anti-anxiety medications during detox. However, substance abuse patients must be carefully monitored when using these drugs, as benzodiazepines can quickly become addictive.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. What is GABA. (n.d.). Novus Detox. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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