Is Baclofen Addictive or Treatment For Alcohol and Drug Addiction?

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Baclofen medication is a treatment for a wide range of conditions related to muscle pain and spasms. However, Baclofen is also used off-label for 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 Baclofen side effects and even recently report about Baclofen abuse cases.

What is Baclofen Medication?

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 is used for spinal cord injury treatment, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders involving the central nervous system. Baclofen 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.

How Does Baclofen Act in the Human Body?

Doctor showing medical records on his computer to his patientBased on the FDA label of Kemstro, the precise Baclofen mechanism of action is not fully known. Baclofen is a GABA derivative which acts as a depressant. It directly influences synapsis happening in the brain and the central nervous system. By affecting how the message is sent across, the drug inhibits signals that cause affected muscles to contract, thereby decreasing spasticity.
Baclofen half-life averages from 2 up to 5,5 hours. Under standard dosage, it takes approximately only about 10 up to 20 hours to completely flush out Baclofen from the system. It may take up to 10 days to clear Lioresal from the body in case of abuse or overdose. An estimated 70% up to 80% of the drug will be excreted from the body unchanged while only 15% are processed in the liver.

What are Baclofen Brand Names?

Three best recognized Baclofen brand names are Lioresal, Kemstro, and Gablofen.
Other than varieties of generic Baclofen, this drug is also sold on the market as BAC 10 832, TV 4097, NO29, 10 Z 4096 and MX 23, among many others.
Lioresal is available in oral as well as intrathecal preparations. This Baclofen brand name is available in 10 mg and 20 mg dosage, so is Kemstro (currently discontinued). Under the generic name, Baclofen is sold at a 5 mg dosage which is also called as the 023 tablet. Baclofen cream is also available for treatment of cases requiring a topical application.
Gablofen, on the other hand, is available only in intrathecal preparation, with the lowest dosage equivalent to  50 mcg/ml and the highest dosage available for 2000 mcg/ml. The attending physician will order tests to establish a patient’s positive response to the drug before a Baclofen pump is set up for long-term administration of the drug.

Can A Patient Become Addicted To Baclofen?

Is Baclofen a Narcotic?

Narcotics are synonymous to opioids, pain relievers that, when properly used, can help patients better manage more severe forms of pain, whether chronic or one-time episodes. However, when misused or abused, narcotics are habit-forming and can become addictive. The U.S. government generally warns against using narcotics continuously for three to four months to prevent addiction. Narcotics consists of both prescription drugs and illicit drugs.
Although Baclofen is not a narcotic, a handful of cases demonstrating Baclofen 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 an oral Baclofen (Lioresal) which the patient eventually abused, a behavior which the researchers attributed to the mood-elevating properties of Baclofen. Man is holding a bunch of Baclofen pills
In another study, researchers noted tapering off of cravings for nicotine in a patient diagnosed with primary nicotine dependence who does not have any psychiatric disorder. The patient was prescribed to take medication with Baclofen which he eventually abused. Based on the report, the patient said he experienced an unusual sense of pleasure and well-being whenever he takes 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.

Side Effects of Baclofen Abuse

When Lioresal is abused, some common side 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 either 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.

This condition is also possible when this drug is combined with alcohol or other drugs. Such interactions amplify the effects of both substances and may result in OD. Overdosing on Baclofen may lead to:

  • Blurred vision Man Having Pain In His Neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Stiffness of muscles
  • Numbness on the extremities

Despite the fact, that Baclofen is a prescription drug, and it is prohibited from buying it without one, some patients are trying to get Lioresal from unofficial street sources. Baclofen 10 mg value is estimated at a little over $1 to $10 per tablet. It cannot be stressed enough that Baclofen must only be taken with a doctor’s prescription and bought only via authorized sellers.

How Does Lioresal Help with Addictions?

Baclofen’s anxiety-reducing effect also has been found helpful in decreasing cravings for alcohol and other abused substances. A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience in 2014 suggests that Lioresal inhibits undesirable interactions in the reward-motivation response circuit. This conclusion was drawn from 11 males who undergo rehabilitation from cocaine dependency and made to take increasing doses of Gablofen. According to the researchers, other than help with treating addiction, continuing drug intake after treatment may lead to lower risks for relapse.
In 2012, a study published in The Frontiers of Psychiatry also suggested that high doses of Baclofen decrease alcohol cravings. The research, however, warned against possible drug interactions leading to adverse effects or limited improvements due to the use of other drugs and mental disease.
Two studies, one published in The Industrial Psychiatry Journal in 2016 and another published in The Journal of Addictive Behavior in 2012, had researcher conclude that Lioresal may promote safer treatment for alcohol and drug addiction among patients who have diagnosed cases of liver disease.
FDA has issued warnings on serious risks, including death, coma, and respiratory distress, when approved buprenorphine and methadone drugs used for detox and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) are combined with benzodiazepines and other depressants, including muscle relaxants such as Baclofen medication. Nevertheless, in the second warning that the FDA issued, the agency upheld that, in the case of addiction where combining MAT drugs with benzodiazepines and other depressants, the risks are more justified than the risks associated with the failure of treating addiction. The warning stresses, however, that combining these medications must strictly be administered by a qualified medical practitioner.
The same risks of Baclofen interactions may be experienced when this medication and alcohol are combined. Any sudden increase in dosage or, the abrupt withdrawal will likely manifest similar risks and side effects.

Lioresal Withdrawal and 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 on it. When patient try to taper-off Lioresal, the development of Baclofen Withdrawal Syndrome (BWS) can be expected. Experienced practitioners point out that BWS develops more severe among those who have been administered with intrathecal Gablofen.
BWS is characterized by the similar signs and symptoms associated with Baclofen side effects and overdose, that includes:

  • Insomnia man is suffering from depression and anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Anxiety
  • Poor memory
  • Marked changes in behavior
  • Tremors
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Psychosis

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. Whereas the drug is typically prescribed for chronic stiffness and pain on the muscles and is usually safe for use over the longer term.
Comparing Baclofen vs. Soma, a muscle relaxant routinely prescribed for muscle injuries like sprain, Soma and its by-products, unlike Baclofen ingredients, can last in the body for several days following the last intake. The half-life of Soma is estimated to be anywhere between six and 17 hours, potentially causing build up in the body when multiple doses are taken. The longer half-life of Soma is the reason why it is associated with severe side effects manifesting over a shorter period following ingestion versus Lioresal.

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Published on: March 4th, 2019

Updated on: December 18th, 2019

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.


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  • Mwenda Raingoni
    I have come out of rehab treatment for alcoholism is it advisible to take baclofen to avoid a relapse.