Baclofen Substance Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Medically Reviewed

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Baclofen is primarily prescribed to treat symptoms associated with spinal cord disease or injury, muscle spasm, and multiple sclerosis. Baclofen has also been prescribed to manage symptoms with alcohol, opioid, cocaine, and tobacco abuse. Using baclofen to treat addiction and reduce withdrawal symptoms even though the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved its use.

Baclofen is also known to alter the chemical processes for other medications and substances including alcohol, which is why baclofen is used in alcohol and drug addiction. At the same time, there is a significant lack of data confirming this medication’s effectiveness for treating addiction in alcoholics. Due to the experimental nature of this drug, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) does not recommend using baclofen in clinical patient settings.

Clinical trials have also documented with some promising success, the results of baclofen use for maintaining the treatment of opioid dependence.  Due to ongoing clinical trials, baclofen is still not approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as a medically safe and effective treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. Research is still needed to confirm and predict favorable responses to baclofen in these situations.

How Baclofen Works in the Brain

Baclofen activates GABA, a brain neurotransmitter, and relaxes brain activity which reduces an alcoholic’s cravings and dopamine levels. Baclofen works by blocking reflexes so excitatory transmitters cannot be released. It acts on spinal cord nerves and decreases severe muscle spasms that are caused by multiple sclerosis or spinal cord disease. Over time, it improves muscle coordination and movement and also acts as a muscle pain reliever.

Baclofen Side Effects

Your risk of side effects can increase with alcohol, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, or other muscle relaxants, but are usually minimal when first starting treatment with this medication. This can also impact the central nervous system.  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, baclofen side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, imbalance, confusion, upset stomach, muscle weakness, and confusion. Severe side effects include seizures and difficulty breathing.

Baclofen Drug Addiction

There is a strong chance of dependence and addiction when taking baclofen. Baclofen induces a calming effect leading people to chronically or severely abusing it and eventually to an unusual Baclofen drug addiction. Because of the impact on the brain and the central nervous system, there is potential for abuse and addiction.

If you are using baclofen recreationally, you are at high risk of overdose. Signs of abuse include upping the dosage amount, combining it with other central nervous system depressants to induce a feeling of euphoria and other emotional and mental effects or using it without a prescription.

Typically, to feel narcotic-like effects, you’ll need to consume very large dosages. It is  even more dangerous if you combine baclofen with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, that could lead to life-threatening effects including:

  • Coma
  • Hypothermia
  • Slowed breathing or respiratory arrest
  • Heart muscle conduction disturbances and slowed heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Low body temperature
  • Lightheadedness
  • Vertigo
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Signs and Symptoms of Baclofen Withdrawal

When the brain becomes dependent on the drug’s effect, that is when baclofen withdrawal can occur even if you are using it exactly as prescribed. This is why it’s essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of baclofen withdrawal and to seek out medical support and care.

When stopped abruptly, the withdrawal period can cause discomfort and dangerous effects, especially if taken at extremely high doses for more than two to three months.

Typical symptoms include anxiety, agitation, confusion, delusions, and hallucinations. More severe cases can result in delirium triggering a series of seizures. Baclofen Withdrawal Symptom (BWS) can also be mistaken for alcohol withdrawal. Usually, you will be given a dosage of benzodiazepines assuming you are suffering from alcohol withdrawal easing your withdrawal symptoms to some degree. However, you might still be confused or agitated for about seven days, after which, your BWS will usually resolve itself without an ongoing need for further treatment.

Discontinuing baclofen without any medical supervision can result in a dangerous withdrawal reaction that can result in hallucinations and seizures. During a medical detox, your doctor will taper you off the drug gradually.

Withdrawing from baclofen includes these symptoms: agitation, insomnia, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, seizures, visual changes, psychosis, dyskinesia, hyperthermia, and increase spasticity.

Warning Signs of Baclofen Withdrawal

Early warning signs for withdrawal include:

  • Increase or return of spasticity
  •  Itching
  •  Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Tingling sensation

If these withdrawal symptoms are not treated, other advanced withdrawal symptoms can occur including high fever, agitated mental status, and stiffness in the muscles. In rare cases, a withdrawal may be as life-threatening as a loss of vital organs or even death. This is why it’s important to recognize early baclofen withdrawal symptoms and act as soon as possible to prevent any life-threatening effects on your central nervous system

Warning Signs of Baclofen Overdose – What You Should Do

Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following warning signs.

  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Lower than normal body temperature

Baclofen Detox

It is highly recommended you undergo a medically supervised baclofen detox to ensure your successful recovery. You can reduce your chances significantly of experiencing any of the severe and even life-threatening baclofen withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, hallucinations and organ failure.

What typically happens during a baclofen detox:

  • Your drug dosage will be tapered under close medical supervision
  • You will be monitored for your physical and emotional safety
  • You will undergo a mental and physical diagnosis and receive simultaneous treatment

Baclofen Withdrawal Timeline

Depending on whether you’ve been on baclofen for an extended period of time, your withdrawal timeline will vary. Often these symptoms include high fever, muscle stiffness, and mood swings. Sudden baclofen withdrawal can lead to organ failure and death.

While symptoms usually start within a few hours after discontinuing the last dose, they can also take up to forty-eight hours for baclofen withdrawal symptoms to occur. Symptoms generally peak at 72 hours. Physical and mental symptoms might persist for weeks or even months until they subside completely.

While some might get rid of the drug more quickly than others, it can take longer for older patients to get rid of the drug’s presence. Factor also your body mass, dosage amounts, duration of time and your metabolism rate. Quicker metabolisms tend to get rid of drug toxins quicker.

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