Baclofen is a prescription skeletal muscle relaxant indicated for the treatment of muscle spasms and spasticity related to conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Baclofen is commonly prescribed to treat symptoms associated with spinal cord disease or injury, but more recently has been tapped for off-label uses such as the management of alcohol, opioid, cocaine, and tobacco dependence 1,2.
Because of the calming effects experienced during a baclofen high, some people may use the drug other than prescribed, effectively abusing it. The danger increases when people use other drugs at the same time as baclofen, which can depress the central nervous system (CNS) and increase the risk of side effects from the drug 1. If baclofen is abused simultaneously with alcohol, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, or other muscle relaxants it can result in:
Chronic or severe baclofen abuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction 2,3.
Side Effects of Abuse
Abusing baclofen can lead to a range of side effects, including 2,3:
- Muscle weakness.
- Central nervous system (CNS) depression.
If the user takes other CNS depressants or alcohol in addition to baclofen, it can exacerbate the high and result in profound dizziness and drowsiness.
Is It Possible to Overdose on Baclofen?
Baclofen is a gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) derivative that works by stimulating GABA-B receptors, which decreases the frequency and severity of muscle spasms 1. Despite its therapeutic utility, a user can overdose by taking too much baclofen, the effects of which, one study discovered, were 4:
- Slowed breathing or respiratory arrest.
- Heart muscle conduction disturbances and slowed heart rate.
Other warning signs of baclofen overdose may include 5:
- Low body temperature.
- Trouble breathing.
- Loss of consciousness.
If you are near a person who is overdosing on baclofen, call 911 immediately and try to stop them from taking any more drugs until help arrives.
Try to keep the person who has overdosed calm and stay calm yourself. You can also follow these steps:
- Make sure the person is breathing: Check to see if the person is breathing. If they are not, begin CPR immediately. If the person is still breathing but is unconscious, move them into the recovery position.
- If the person is seizing: If you see that the overdosing person is having a seizure, make sure to protect them from injuring themselves by helping them lay down in a safe area with a cushion behind their head. Stay beside the seizing individual until emergency medical help comes.
Baclofen Abuse Treatment
If you or a loved one is struggling with a baclofen abuse problem, it is important that you seek formal treatment, which can help you break the cycle of compulsive baclofen abuse and start working toward a healthier, drug-free life. If you abuse baclofen with other drugs, such as opioids or alcohol, treatment can help you work through the underlying issues of your addiction with therapy, group counseling, relapse prevention, and aftercare.
Various types of treatment for a baclofen use disorder may include a combination of the following:
Detox: Detox is typically the first step in treating a substance use disorder. During this time, you slowly wean yourself off of baclofen and any other drugs you are taking so that your body can get used to no longer having drugs in its system to function normally. Once you are stabilized, a treatment professional will evaluate you so you can transition to the next step of treatment.
Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment allows you to live at the treatment facility throughout your program, during which you will receive intensive treatment including individual therapy, medication management, and group therapy. Inpatient is ideal if you need a higher level of care and supervision during your recovery, such as with co-occurring substance abuse. During inpatient treatment, medical care providers help address any other substance use disorders or mental health issues you are facing in addition to baclofen abuse.
Residential treatment: Residential programs are offered in a variety of models, including therapeutic communities or a sober living home (halfway house). Depending on the facility and your situation, treatment in a residential program could last 1 month to 1 year or more. These programs are helpful if you do not have a stable home environment or if your substance use disorder is serious. Residential treatment can help prepare you to reenter work or school by providing resources and training, as well as time and space for you to explore your options.
Outpatient: Outpatient treatment allows you to continue living at home while attending rehab on a regular basis. This is a great option if you cannot take time away from your family, pet, school, work, or other responsibilities. Outpatient treatment relies heavily on group therapy and counseling, but may also provide medication management.
Support groups: There are many support groups available to you before, during, and after treatment; 12-step groups are great supplements to any treatment program. Alternatives to the 12-step model exist too, and both approaches provide social support while you work the steps to maintain sobriety, even as you transition out of treatment.
Aftercare: Recovery lasts a lifetime, so after you finish treatment, one of the keys to long-term sobriety is figuring out what works best for you. Before you transition out of treatment it is important that you work on an aftercare plan so that you feel more prepared to handle triggers or urges to use. For some people, aftercare involves regularly seeing a therapist and staying engaged with their 12-step program either as a member or an alum. It is important to find an aftercare strategy that works best for you.
- Drug Bank. (2017). Baclofen.
- Bock, K. (2010). The Efficacy of Baclofen in Reducing Alcohol Consumption and Decreasing Alcohol Craving in Alcohol Dependent Adults.
- MedLibrary. (2014). Baclofen.
- Perry, H. E., Wright, R. O., Shannon, M. W. & Woolf, A. D. (1998). Baclofen overdose: drug experimentation in a group of adolescents. Pediatrics, 101(6), 1045–1048.
- Baclofen Pump. (n.d.). Baclofen Pump.