What Is Baclofen?

As millions of people struggle with opioid and opiate abuse, many have questions about different medications and treatments that can help with addiction. There are specific medications aimed at assisting with addiction and dependence to opioids. Notably, the use of baclofen for opiate withdrawal has gained attention in recent years.

Baclofen is a medication classified as a muscle relaxant. It’s often prescribed to patients with conditions like multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries. It can alleviate spasms, tight muscles and cramping caused by these medical conditions. While Baclofen isn’t a cure for conditions like MS, it does treat the symptoms of those conditions. Many patients take physical therapy along with baclofen. Baclofen is believed to affect the central nervous system. Most of its side effects, such as drowsiness, are related to its effects on the CNS.

People using baclofen are advised against combining it with other CNS depressants. Opioids like codeine and oxycodone are classified as CNS depressants, as are benzodiazepines like Xanax. Alcohol is also a CNS depressant. The FDA does not approve the use of baclofen for opiate withdrawal, which is an off-label use of the drug. While it is still considered off-label, the use of baclofen to treat certain withdrawal symptoms has become more common. There have also been promising clinical trials on the use of baclofen for opiate withdrawal and withdrawal from other drugs and alcohol.

What Is Opiate Withdrawal?

Opiates are drugs derived from the poppy plant that are used to treat pain. The term opiate is often used interchangeably with opioid. Opioids are opiate-like drugs that are synthesized to have the same effects. While most opiates and opioids are prescription pain relievers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, heroin is also in this drug class. Opioids do have therapeutic, pain-relieving benefits, but they are incredibly addictive. The extensive prescription of these medicines over the past decade has resulted in the tremendous growth of opioid abuse as well as the societal, financial and health concerns of drug addiction and dependence.

Opioid dependence is often confused with addiction, but they are two distinct conditions. Addiction is a psychological, chronic disease. When someone becomes addicted to opioids, their brain chemistry changes. They lose control of their use of opioids. Drug use and drug-seeking behaviors are compulsive. Treating opioid addiction often requires professional therapy and various supportive therapies.

Physical opioid dependence can occur even when people aren’t addicted. A person may use an opioid exactly as prescribed and still become dependent after only a few weeks. Dependence refers to the physical reliance a person experiences when his or her body becomes adjusted to the presence of the opioid. As a result, an attempt to stop using that drug sends the body into a type of shock as it tries to normalize. This produces what are called withdrawal symptoms. Opiate and opioid withdrawal symptoms can be mild or severe. Early opiate withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, teary eyes, yawning and fatigue. After a few days, symptoms can become more severe and include aches and pains, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Why Baclofen for Opiate Withdrawal?

So why is baclofen a potential option to treat the symptoms of opiate withdrawal? Some research shows baclofen may replicate GABA, which is a calming neurotransmitter. This action can increase depleted dopamine levels and reduce drug cravings. Baclofen also tends to have a relatively low risk profile. Despite the potential uses of baclofen for opiate withdrawal, however, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration doesn’t recommend it at this time. According to SAMHSA, there is, at present, a lack of data showing baclofen is effective for addiction treatment. The use of baclofen for opiate withdrawal is still considered experimental. Further research will need to be done before it is known definitively how useful baclofen could be for opiate withdrawal.

For people detoxing from opioids or opiates, it is important to avoid trying to detox on your own. Some options can help you feel more comfortable and also increase your chances of detoxing successfully. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about our detox and treatment programs.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.