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Baclofen Withdrawal Help: Timelines, Medications, & More

Baclofen can result in physical dependence after long-term use. The withdrawal process from  the drug can be uncomfortable and include symptoms like confusion, insomnia, tremors, and cognitive deficits. Medical supervision is recommended for baclofen withdrawal.

DANGERS OF BACLOFEN WITHDRAWAL

Baclofen withdrawal can be dangerous, especially for individuals who have used the drug long term or taken it repeatedly at higher doses. For this reason, users should never attempt to quit baclofen cold turkey or attempt to quit on their own.

Dangerous side effects of baclofen withdrawal, usually occurring within the first 48 hours of stopping, may include hallucinations, seizures, and respiratory problems.

For users prescribed baclofen for a spinal or spasm condition, abrupt discontinuation is advised against due to the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Mental disturbances
  • Confusion
  • Aggravation of spastic conditions

Because there is such limited research on the recreational use of baclofen, it not known whether chronic recreational users of the drug experience the same withdrawal symptoms as users who have been prescribed the drug.

A 2016 case study of an individual who had been chronically abusing baclofen did indicate serious withdrawal symptoms, including short-term effects that included the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Drug cravings
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Tremors

Even after being prescribed a lower dose of baclofen to reduce withdrawal symptoms, the user experienced severe anxiety for about six days.

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WHAT IS BACLOFEN?

Baclofen is a drug prescribed to treat painful muscle spasms.

Most commonly, baclofen is taken orally as a tablet. It can also be given as a spinal injection by a health care provider.

Baclofen has been discussed and researched as a possible treatment for substance abuse and addiction. Research in this area is ongoing. Currently, the medication is approved only by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat spasms and spinal conditions.

While there is limited research on baclofen being used recreationally, some seek out the drug for the narcotic-like high it can produce when it’s taken in larger doses. Recreational use of baclofen is dangerous because of its possible reactions with other substances as well as the risk of overdose.

HOW IT WORKS

Baclofen is categorized as an anti-spastic muscle relaxer.  It was first approved by the FDA in 1977 under the brand name Lioresal. Generic versions were approved in the 1980s. Today, only generic baclofen is available on the market.

Exactly how Baclofen works is unknown. Researchers believe the drug blocks nerve signals from muscles at the spinal cord level.

While some aspects of its mechanisms remain unknown, prescribers understand baclofen is a GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptor agonist, which may aid it in acting as a central nervous system depressant, helping it to block nerve signals related to spasms.

Generally, baclofen is used to treat only specific types of spasms, often those related to multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and spinal cord diseases.

OFF-LABEL USE AND ABUSE

While the FDA has approved baclofen only for anti-spasm use, researchers have discussed it as having the potential to treat addiction and dependency problems. Reports indicate that by quieting certain processes and affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine, baclofen may reduce drug-motivated behaviors.

Although there is little research on baclofen being used recreationally, it’s clear from online forums and reports that some individuals use the drug to get high. It’s unclear whether these are users who were previously prescribed the drug to address a spasm or spinal cord condition, or people who have been able to obtain baclofen without one of these qualifying conditions.

There is also a risk that some users who have been prescribed baclofen for off-label use — for example, to treat their alcoholism or regular marijuana use — may begin to abuse the drug or become dependent on it.

Because these individuals may have had underlying issues beforehand that led them to their dependency problem in the first place, being prescribed baclofen for off-label use — especially without medical supervision — may lead to further dependency problems.

Person in darkness resting their head on their knees

This may be especially true for individuals who have not received therapy to address the possible trauma or emotional problems at the root of their substance use disorder (SUD) but have been prescribed baclofen for off-label use to treat their addiction problems.

Those in the health field may warn that there is no “wonder drug” when it comes to addiction, and advise prescribing doctors not to consider baclofen as an addiction “cure.”

Instead, it could be viewed as a possible adjunctive therapy to treat addiction, along with a comprehensive therapy program and possibly medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Again, more research is required on this topic.

BACLOFEN ABUSE AND OVERDOSE

Recreational baclofen users likely have to take a higher dose of baclofen to get the narcotic drowsiness and high they are seeking, so there is a higher risk of overdose.

Because there is little research on baclofen being used recreationally, it is not known whether recreational baclofen users develop a tolerance to the drug.

If a tolerance does develop, it will increase the risk of overdose since the user will have to take higher and higher doses of baclofen to achieve the desired effect.

The following are signs of a baclofen overdose:

  • Unconsciousness and coma
  • Hypothermia
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypertension
  • Slower than normal reflexes (hyporeflexia)

Risk of baclofen overdose may increase if it is combined with certain drugs and substances. Additionally, some substances interact dangerously with baclofen, particularly those that further depress the central nervous system.

Drugs and substances that should never be combined with baclofen without first consulting with a doctor include the following:

  • Sleeping pills
  • Alcohol
  • Tranquilizers
  • Other muscle relaxants
  • Herbs and supplements

TREATMENT FOR WITHDRAWAL

To avoid the more dangerous and severe side effects of baclofen withdrawal, a medical professional will usually develop a gradual withdrawal plan for an individual, tapering them slowly from the drug.

Depending on the user and their level of dependence on baclofen, medications may also be used to lessen the unpleasant side effects and make the process as comfortable as possible while reducing the risk of tremors or other serious effects.

For users seeking treatment for their recreational use of baclofen, recovery will also include a comprehensive therapy program to address any underlying issues that may have led to the addiction.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help an individual to recognize triggers and bad habits, learning to manage these so they can live a life of sobriety following treatment.Group therapy can be helpful for individuals overcoming an addiction to baclofen, providing a safe space to share their experiences and reminding them that they are not alone. Group therapy and peer support groups also encourage accountability.

CHOOSING A DETOX CENTER

When choosing a baclofen detox center, look for a facility that can provide full support throughout the withdrawal and recovery process, including medical treatment and therapy.

Ideally, the staff will have experience with baclofen or muscle relaxants, so they can map out the best treatment plan to reduce withdrawal symptoms and promote long-term recovery.

CONCLUSION

Baclofen is an effective and safe treatment for spasm and spinal disorders, and early research shows promise of its possibility as an adjunct treatment for addiction.

Recreational use of baclofen can be dangerous. It can result in abuse and withdrawal symptoms that can be very serious when use is stopped. To ensure a safe and effective withdrawal process, consult with a medical professional to plan a slow and gradual withdrawal from the drug under medical supervision.

Sources

(July 2014) What is Baclofen? Chris Illiades, M.D. Everyday Health. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/baclofen

(September 2012) Gin in Your Genes. Benjamin Plackett. Science Line. Retrieved March 2019 from https://scienceline.org/2012/09/gin-in-your-genes/

(May 2014) Finally, the Addiction Cure is Here, Right? Adi Jaffe, Ph.D. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201405/finally-the-addiction-cure-is-here-right

(December 2012) Suppression of Alcohol Dependence Using Baclofen: A 2-Year Observational Study of 100 Patients. Renaud de Beaurepaire. Front Psychiatry. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3540966/

from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052965/

(January 2017) Oral Baclofen Withdrawal Resulting in Progressive Weakness and Sedation Requiring Intensive Care Admission. Bret D. Alvis M.D. The Neurohospitalist. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5167087/

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