Baclofen is a prescription drug used for spasms and pain in muscles. Baclofen is not a scheduled medication because the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) determined that the drug does not have a potential for abuse. However, there are reports of people abusing baclofen to get high.
Baclofen is currently being studied to help treat addiction, particularly for alcohol addiction. Because it’s not classified by the DEA like heroin, cocaine or Xanax are, many people may be curious about what baclofen is and how it’s different from the controlled substances they’re likely more familiar with.
What Is Baclofen?
Baclofen is a skeletal muscle relaxant prescribed for multiple sclerosis (MS) and spinal cord injuries. Baclofen is usually taken three times daily. It helps alleviate pain from MS and spinal cord injury.
Baclofen works by targeting gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the membrane of brain cells. Activating GABA slows down the electric signals of certain brain and muscle cells. Slowing down electric signals helps reduce pain and spasticity in muscles.
What is Baclofen Used For?
Baclofen slows the electric signals in brain and muscle cells and causes muscles to relax.
Patients with MS experience symptoms of cramping, spasms, and tightness of their muscles. During MS, the immune system incorrectly attacks nerve cells that send electrical signals and allow the body to move. When the immune system attacks nerve cells, the movement begins malfunctioning causing MS symptoms.
Spinal cord injuries can cause similar damage as MS, but the damage is traumatic rather than from the immune system. Traumatic injuries may crush or tear parts of the spinal cord, like in a car accident. Spinal nerve damage may be permanent, so baclofen helps relieve the symptoms of this damage.
Use of Baclofen in Addiction Treatment
Within the last decade, baclofen found a place in addiction treatment.
A 2012 study followed 100 patients with alcohol dependence. The patients tried and failed other addiction treatment methods.
All patients in the study were “high risk” alcohol abusers. By three months into the study, at least half of them went from “high risk” to “low risk” alcohol abusers. The effects of baclofen continued to work for two years, which is how long the study lasted.
92 out of 100 of the people in the study stopped having cravings for alcohol after treatment using baclofen. Considering all of these people had tried and failed other treatments, baclofen seems to be very effective.
How Does Baclofen Work in Addiction Treatment?
Baclofen appears to work well for alcohol addiction, but researchers are not yet sure why. Baclofen and alcohol both increase the GABA in nerve cells. So, baclofen may block the ability of alcohol to increase the GABA in brain cells.
Ingredients in Baclofen
The chemical name for baclofen hydrochloride is 4-Amino-3-(4-chlorophenyl)butyric acid. Baclofen tablets contain baclofen hydrochloride and inert ingredients that help form the drug into tablets.
Other Names for Baclofen
Baclofen does not have any known street names even though the drug has been around as a prescription medication since 1977 in the United States. The following are some common brand and generic names.
How Addictive Is Baclofen?
Baclofen does not have addictive potential according to the DEA. However, there is a risk of people becoming addicted. So the abuse potential exists, but it is likely low.
Baclofen Addiction Statistics
Baclofen is abused so rarely that there are no clear statistics to track. Only a handful of cases are reported in medical literature each year. Baclofen is probably more useful as a drug to treat addiction than as an abusable substance.
Key Points: Baclofen
When considering baclofen, keep the following key points in mind:
- Baclofen is a muscle relaxant prescribed for people with MS and spinal cord injuries
- Baclofen helps treat pain and spasms in damaged muscle cells
- Alcohol addiction and cravings might be treatable with baclofen
- Baclofen seems to modify how alcohol interacts with GABA in the body
- Baclofen can be abused, but rarely occurs.
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Canadian Institutes of Health Research. “Baclofen – DrugBank.” 2010. Accessed May 29, 2019. De Beaurepaire, R. “Suppression of Alcohol Dependence Using Baclofen: A 2-Year Observational Study of 100 Patients.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2019. National Institute of Health. “DailyMed – BACLOFEN- Baclofen Tablet.” 2019. Accessed May 29, 2019. Praharaj, Samir K. “Abuse Liability of Baclofen.” Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Canadian Institutes of Health Research. “Baclofen – DrugBank.” 2010. Accessed May 29, 2019.
De Beaurepaire, R. “Suppression of Alcohol Dependence Using Baclofen: A 2-Year Observational Study of 100 Patients.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2019.
National Institute of Health. “DailyMed – BACLOFEN- Baclofen Tablet.” 2019. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Praharaj, Samir K. “Abuse Liability of Baclofen.” Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.