What Is Baclofen?
Baclofen is a prescription medicine used to treat muscle spasticity (stiffness, spasms, tightness, and pain) and neurological health issues like multiple sclerosis, neuralgia, spinal cord conditions, and cerebral palsy. It falls under the class of skeletal muscle relaxants.
Baclofen uses and intake methods follow a 3-time-a-day schedule. This generic drug comes in the form of a tablet to be taken orally, in many brand names, such as Lioresal, Lioresal Intrathecal, Kemstro, FBL Kit, Gablofen, Ozobax, and others. It is also available as a powder for suspension and an injectable liquid solution using an oral syringe.
Users taking baclofen must follow the doctor’s directions exactly or those on the prescription label. Otherwise, consuming too much of the drug can cause further illness. In case you have taken a large dose or missed one, do not take the next dose without speaking to your doctor. Also, abruptly stopping the medicine may lead to convulsions, fever, and hallucinations.
Role of Baclofen in Alcohol Addiction Treatment
People addicted to alcohol when enrolled in inpatient rehab, may be prescribed baclofen. The drug works on the concept of a threshold, where the systems involved get inactivated once the GABA B receptors reach a certain level. In short, Baclofen treatment can induce indifference towards alcohol in a progressive method.
Although the accurate way of baclofen mechanism is not known, we can say that it is the reverse process of any drug withdrawal treatment involving a tapering-kind of detox. Here, baclofen is given to the alcohol addict in increasing doses until GABA inactivation and indifference are achieved.
The dopaminergic systems that may be responsible for drug or alcohol cravings and the memory settings of the limbic system that cause an environmental stimulus may be involved in the compulsion that starts alcoholism. Baclofen can suppress these cravings and compulsions.
During this treatment, the addict will not be asked to stop drinking. Instead, they keep having drinks and at the same time, take baclofen. Some patients respond well to baclofen and automatically, they stop alcohol intake as indifference begins. However, the main point to note is that they do not go into an alcohol withdrawal mode with the rapid cessation of the substance. They also do not show severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, tremors, and sweats.
So, by this hypothesis, baclofen can be believed to have some similar effects on the brain as alcohol that prevent the withdrawal symptoms. Hence, baclofen is considered an effective substitution treatment for alcohol addiction.
Issues with Addiction Treatment Using Baclofen
As mentioned above, baclofen for addiction treatment is still under research; it is not a sole treatment plan, but instead, a supporting medication. It is indeed true that baclofen can suppress alcohol and drug cravings, but many articles may make spurious and exaggerated claims. It can also help avoid relapse if used under proper medical guidance and in combination with complementary therapy and other types of addiction treatment programs. Only then, a recovering addict can gain full control of his life.
Patients will need immediate medical help if they have difficulty breathing or seizures. Some may also have hallucinations and suicidal ideation.
Other uncomfortable side effects that are not as fatal include:
- Upset stomach
So, it is important to get yourself admitted to an inpatient rehab, where doctors can watch you nonstop and provide assistance if you start to show any side effects.
Baclofen Usage Warnings
Even short-term use of baclofen can show mild to serious complications as the drug acts within a few hours of entering your body. The blood levels peak in 2-3 hours. Mild symptoms may include headache, dizziness, low blood pressure, nausea, and constipation. They do not require medical assistance. But you may also experience serious side effects of baclofen use, such as chest pain, severe mood changes, irritation, hallucinations, blood in urine, muscle cramps, double vision, ringing in the ears, seizures, etc.
Also, drug abuse or misuse may cause extreme situations like death. So, it is advised to use the drug as prescribed, in the right amounts. Never take more than recommended doses or use someone else’s prescription. It is alright to take baclofen without having a meal.
When using oral solutions, it is important that you measure with the device supplied with the medicine, rather than making a guess. You should not stop baclofen use if you start feeling relief from your symptoms before your doctor says so. For women, pregnancy and breastfeeding are two situations where the oral intake of baclofen can pass the drug’s content to the fetus or newborn.
Baclofen mechanism of action involves producing relaxant effects on the CNS, central nervous system. Even when the drug is taken for combination therapy, along with other medicine, it can cause severe drowsiness. Hence, users who are on this medication are advised not to operate heavy machinery, drive, or participate in any dangerous activity.
Mixing baclofen and alcohol can also have severe side effects, especially if taking the drug recreationally or when you are an alcoholic. Having dangerous levels of the drug in your system may cause an overdose.
Special precautions must be taken to prevent an overdose. So, before starting the drug, tell your doctor if you have any pre-existing conditions, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not hide about which tablets you are taking currently – including prescription and nonprescription pills, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, supplements, and herbal products. If you are using other medications, look at the list of the ingredients carefully.
Baclofen overdose signs are:
- Muscle weakness
- Dilated pupils
- Vision problem
- Shallow breathing
- Weak muscle tone
If you spot these signs, immediately call 911, otherwise, when ignored, these can lead to respiratory depression, seizures, bradycardia, cardiovascular issues, hypothermia, coma, and hypotonia.
Baclofen Interactions with Alcohol
When alcohol and baclofen are used together, various neurotransmitters get activated and cause more intense pleasurable effects than when only one substance is taken. Dopamine found in the brain’s neurons travel through the reward pathways and increases its activity levels. As a result, the sensations of relaxation and happiness caused by addictive substances occur.
But dopamine is not alone in this innate reward system; there are also several neurons in the reward pathway producing GABA, which interacts with specialized proteins known as GABA receptors. The activation of these receptors further increases the dopamine release. Either alcohol or other drugs’ chronic use can induce this state, getting habituated to the presence of the drugs abused substances.
After a while, these two brain systems cannot function optimally further in the absence of drugs or alcohol. The lack of drugs and alcohol in such persons disrupts the newly achieved state of balance and causes uneasiness. This dysphoria serves as the basis for drug and alcohol cravings. So, in theory, baclofen acts similar to alcohol on the GABA receptors and helps reduce cravings in individuals with addiction.
Positive and Negative Reinforcements
Baclofen can induce both anti-craving and anti-reward effects. They are called positive and negative reinforcements, which are crucial in determining a person’s substance addiction. Positive reinforcements are rewards-related effects like a relaxed mood, happiness, or euphoria. Negative reinforcements refer to effects similar to withdrawal, such as anxiety, depression, or irritability, when the body has cravings.
How Long Do Baclofen Effects Last?
Baclofen half-life or the time taken for your body to eliminate the drug out of the system is relatively low when compared to other addictive drugs, about 2-4 hours. This is also one of the reasons for addicts taking baclofen several times in a day, with short gaps to achieve and maintain the desired high.
So, by this count, it will take around 20 hours for the drug to disappear from your body. Baclofen withdrawal symptoms are very severe. Hence, having this data helps in dealing with the withdrawal symptoms of baclofen addiction.
Besides, the drug’s effects and how long it stays in a person’s body varies with individuals. Some people can remove the drug quicker than others. Some of the factors that affect how long baclofen stays in your body are age, body mass, extended use, metabolism, drug dosage, etc.
Baclofen Addiction Symptoms
People who deliberately seek this sensation tend to abuse baclofen. Particularly when mixed with marijuana or alcohol, baclofen can produce a euphoric feeling, similar to when using opioids or amphetamines.
However, if they miss one dose, they crave for the drug, and even when they do, the body gets habituated to that dosage, and they need more. This is how they develop a tolerance for baclofen. Baclofen side effects include confusion, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and insomnia.
Abusive intake of this drug – either in excess or with other drugs and alcohol – may lead to Baclofen addiction. Unfortunately, people who already have a substance use disorder, or those who are more sensitive and susceptible, face a high risk of developing an addiction. But once you realize that you have developed a tolerance and become dependent on baclofen, you should not shut down its use suddenly. Quitting baclofen altogether, without letting the body get used to the lack of the drug, leads to withdrawal.