What Is Baclofen? Can It Treat Alcohol Addiction?

Last Updated: May 28, 2021

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Baclofen medication is a treatment for a wide range of health conditions related to muscle pain and spasms. However, among different Baclofen uses, there is also the treatment of alcohol and drug dependence. On the one hand, a growing number of healthcare providers are prescribing it for treating alcohol and opiate addiction. On the other hand, health experts warn about risks associated with this drug and even recently report about Baclofen abuse cases.

What is Baclofen used for? Is it safe? Learn more about this medication, its uses, and symptoms of abuse.

What is Baclofen?

Baclofen medication belongs to the group of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) agonists, which are naturally occurring neurotransmitters in the brain. Other brand names include Lioresal and Gablofen. Based on the FDA label information, the precise Baclofen mechanism of action is not fully known. The medicine works by blocking the activity of nerves in the brain. It provides a calming, relaxing, and sedating effect. When released in higher quantities, GABA can lead to issues of coordination and confusion in reflex actions.

Baclofen tablets in hand next to a pill bottle.

The medicine comes in the form of pills, injectables, and a pump. The oral forms comprise tablets, caplets, and capsules whose sizes vary according to their strength. They are supplied as white or off-white colored tablets and capsules.

Patients who start taking the medication should be aware of Baclofen side effects and interactions. This way, they can protect themselves from unnecessary risks.

What is Baclofen Used For?

Baclofen medication is a muscle relaxant that has been approved for the treatment of muscle spasms, spasticity, and other musculoskeletal pains. It acts on the brain and central nervous system to reduce involuntary muscle contractions, thereby providing relief to pain associated with spasticity while simultaneously improving movement and range of motion. Baclofen uses include the treatment of spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders involving the central nervous system. It is also used for treating addictions related to alcohol and opioid abuse. It can be taken orally, topically applied, injected directly into the spine (intrathecally), or taken as suppositories.

Woman lying in bed feeling muscle pain.

It is also used in some drug rehabs to treat conditions of mental health caused by alcohol addiction and substance abuse. The medicine works as a supportive treatment by helping patients’ nerves relax. It also helps in preventing relapse.

Lioresal for Spasticity

Lioresal is predominantly prescribed to control muscle spasms caused by spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, and other skeletal and muscular disorders. Usually, for muscle spasms, the medicine is administered through a pump that delivers the medication directly to the spinal cord. Side effects of the pump are considered to be much less compared to when it is taken in the oral form. Therefore, the pump is prescribed to individuals who have trouble tolerating its oral forms.

Lioresal for Pain Treatment

Lioresal is used in treating pain associated with muscular stiffness, spasms, and rigidity. It provides relief and relaxation for pain caused by multiple sclerosis, spinal disorders, and cerebral disorders. Among Baclofen uses is neuralgia (nerve pain), although that is not primarily listed in the medicine’s guide as indications for use.

Taking Tramadol and Baclofen together to relieve pain can result in serious adverse effects for some individuals. These include respiratory problems, coma, or even death.

Baclofen for Anxiety or Depression Management

The medicine has been considered helpful in treating anxiety and depression in individuals suffering from alcoholism or substance abuse. Studies have shown the success of Baclofen for anxiety in lowering the anxiety level in drug addicts. This effect, in turn, reduces their cravings to indulge in addictive behavior. It helps patients feel relaxed and calm, thus providing relief from anxiety, stress, and depression. Baclofen for anxiety is an off-label use, so getting professional medical assistance from a doctor is crucial.

Lioresal For Alcoholism

Although Lioresal is primarily used as a muscle relaxant to treat spasticity and pain in muscles, it is also used for a few purposes that are not indicated in FDA-approved Baclofen uses. Lioresal comes into play as a drug that allows clients not to feel the compulsion to take alcohol. In the case of mixing Lioresal and alcohol, it can cause dangerous effects in the person who combines them due to the depressant effects of both substances.

In 2012, NCBI published research on the effects of using the drug for alcoholism, and positive results were found. The research results show that between 3 to 24 months, over 80% of patients that came in at high risk of alcoholism, reduced their risk to the low or moderate level. There were multiple studies conducted in Germany that yielded different results in treating alcoholism.

The study called BACLAD was published in 2015. Scientists got a success rate of 68.2%, but only 43 patients were tested in the study. Another study showed similar results with a success rate of 56.8% in 320 patients.

Man sitting at a table suffering from alcoholism.

The primary function of Lioresal in alcohol addiction treatment is to help curb the craving and, as such, increase the dopamine level. This calming effect is how it is used for alcohol cravings. Practitioners use such treatment for various reasons.

Although the Two Main Functions of Lioresal for Alcohol Use Disorder Include:

  • Masking Cravings
  • Minor Tranquilizer

Masking Cravings

One of the main reasons a doctor can use Lioresal for alcohol use disorder is because it helps to reduce the compulsion to drink. Medical professionals have discovered that using it for alcohol cravings helps to stop drinking. It has been found to completely switch off the thirst for alcohol in patients diagnosed with alcohol addiction. Baclofen medication for alcoholism produces an instant effect. The patient can choose to stop taking alcohol or continue to drink after completing alcohol treatment.

Minor Tranquilizer

In addition to its ability to curb cravings, Lioresal is also used as a minor tranquilizer, producing an anxiolytic effect. It is used to reduce anxiety as that is one of the main reasons patients resist alcohol addiction. Also, the dose needed when treating alcohol addiction is significantly low compared to other drugs such as diazepam or other benzodiazepines. Other medications used for anxiety treatment may require increasing amounts to continue building tolerance and might become a problem in the long run.

Baclofen For Opiate Addiction

There have been a few studies dedicated to discovering if Lioresal for opiate addiction is possible, as both alcohol and opioid addiction work through the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathways of the brain. The result didn’t show a dramatic effect but a slight improvement.

Although it works as a muscle relaxant and, as such, can be used to treat anxiety in opiate addiction patients, there is not enough adequate information or research to prove that it can help with opiate addiction withdrawals or treatment.

Is Baclofen Addictive?

Although Lioresal is not a narcotic, a handful of cases demonstrating Lioresal addiction have been documented. In a 2017 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, the researchers presented the case of a 36-year old male who demonstrated alcohol dependence and who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The patient was given the drug in the pill form and eventually abused it, a behavior which the researchers attributed to the mood-elevating properties of the medication.

In another study, researchers noted tapering off cravings for nicotine in a patient diagnosed with primary nicotine dependence who does not have any psychiatric disorder. The patient was prescribed to take Lioresal, which he eventually abused. Based on the report, the patient said he experienced an unusual sense of pleasure and well-being whenever he took Lioresal.

Although cases of Baclofen abuse are rarely reported, it is advised to start with a Baclofen 10 mg or 5 mg dose a few times a day, gradually increasing it over time when necessary.

Signs of Baclofen Abuse

When Lioresal is abused, some common adverse health effects may be experienced, especially when dosage has been abruptly increased.

Baclofen Abuse May Lead to the Following Health Risks:

  • Neuropsychiatric risks: a feeling of confusion and unusual tiredness may develop.
  • Cardiovascular risks: extreme nervousness or excitement accompanied by heart palpitations and hypertension and hypotension may become noticeable.
  • Risks to Gastrointestinal Functioning: severe nausea and vomiting may occur and likely show the first signs of an overdose.

Even though Lioresal is a prescription drug, and it is prohibited from buying without one, some patients are trying to get it from unofficial street sources. It cannot be stressed enough that Baclofen must only be taken with a doctor’s prescription and bought only via authorized sellers.

Lioresal Addiction Recovery

Lioresal is known to be prescribed for prolonged intake if used for treating addiction or for spasticity management. When the drug is used for several months, it is not surprising that a patient may become psychologically dependent. When patients try to taper off Lioresal, the development of Baclofen withdrawal syndrome can be expected. Experienced practitioners point out that withdrawal develops more severely among those who have been administered with intrathecal Gablofen.

Switching to safer alternatives also may be helpful. Comparing Baclofen vs. Flexeril, Flexeril is also categorized as a muscle relaxant, but it is not approved to be taken over a prolonged period. The drug is typically prescribed for chronic stiffness and pain on the muscles and is usually safe for use over the longer term.

In cases where users have developed an addiction to the medication, rehab centers are helpful. Various addiction treatment programs exist, making sure that each patient can successfully recover and stop drug abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Baclofen a Controlled Substance?

Although the number of cases with Baclofen abuse is growing, it is not on the list of controlled substances. However, it can be obtained only with a prescription.

Is Baclofen a Narcotic?

No, it is not a narcotic. Although it also relieves pain related to muscle stiffness, it does so differently than opioid analgesics or narcotic painkillers. Therefore, it cannot be classified as a narcotic.

Is Baclofen a Benzodiazepine?

Baclofen is thought to affect the central nervous system as it has a calming and relaxing effect when used regularly. However, it is a muscle relaxer, which is a completely different drug class.

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options. Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Page Sources

  1. HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION, Gablofen, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/022462s000lbl.pdf
  2. Müller, C. A., Geisel, O., Pelz, P., Higl, V., Krüger, J., Stickel, A., ... & Heinz, A. (2015). High-dose baclofen for the treatment of alcohol dependence (BACLAD study): a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 25(8), 1167-1177. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26048580/
  3. Assadi, S. M., Radgoodarzi, R., & Ahmadi-Abhari, S. A. (2003). Baclofen for maintenance treatment of opioid dependence: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial [ISRCTN32121581]. BMC psychiatry, 3(1), 1-10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC293465/
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedLine Plus, Pain medications - narcotics. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007489.htm
  5. Ghosh, S., & Bhuyan, D. (2017). Baclofen abuse due to its hypomanic effect in patients with alcohol dependence and comorbid major depressive disorder. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 15(2), 187. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426491/
  6. Das, S., Palappalllil, D. S., Purushothaman, S. T., & Rajan, V. (2016). An unusual case of baclofen abuse. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 38(5), 475-476. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052965/
  7. De Beaurepaire, R. (2012). Suppression of alcohol dependence using baclofen: a 2-year observational study of 100 patients. Frontiers in psychiatry, 3, 103. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3540966/
  8. Rozatkar, A. R., Kapoor, A., Sidana, A., & Chavan, B. S. (2016). Clinical experience of baclofen in alcohol dependence: A chart review. Industrial psychiatry journal, 25(1), 11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248409/
  9. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC) ( National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) ), Baclofen for Treating Anxiety and Alcoholism, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01751386
  10. D. W. Hedley, J. A. Maroun, Michael L. E. Espir, Evaluation of baclofen (Lioresal) for spasticity in multiple sclerosis, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2496199/

Published on: March 4th, 2019

Updated on: May 28th, 2021

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.