Baclofen (e.g., Lioresal) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant commonly employed as a muscle relaxant to treat certain conditions such as spasticity. Baclofen can treat muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and spinal cord injuries and diseases. Of note, this medication has sometimes been used as a treatment for alcohol withdrawal, but there are dangers of mixing the two substances of which individuals should be aware.
While baclofen does have proven therapeutic benefits, there are also some risks. One of the most significant risks of baclofen is that it can cause withdrawal symptoms if an individual abruptly stops using it. Baclofen withdrawal can be severe and include elevated blood pressure and heart rate or seizures, hallucinations, and psychosis. Common baclofen side effects include impaired motor coordination and drowsiness, and the medication has the potential for abuse, especially when used in excessive amounts.
While baclofen abuse on its own is relatively rare, combining it with other CNS depressants is more common. It takes excessive amounts of baclofen to achieve a high, placing persons who abuse at an increased risk of overdose.
For example, in one case from 2017, a middle-aged woman overdosed on baclofen presented with anoxic (oxygen-deprived) encephalopathy after a family member found her unresponsive and having severe respiratory issues.
Why Do People Mix Baclofen and Alcohol?
Both baclofen and alcohol reduce the brain’s level of certain neurotransmitters and produce relaxed or mellow feelings. Some individuals seek both the depressant effects that alcohol provides and the muscle relaxation that can be induced by using baclofen. Therefore, they might consider using the two in conjunction.
Another reason a person might combine baclofen and alcohol is the effect baclofen has on alcohol withdrawal. A 2009 study found that baclofen, when used independently, had “minimal abuse liability in heavy social drinkers.” This research could imply an individual going out for a drink with friends to consume their alcohol and the drug, hoping that they will be able to mitigate or prevent a hangover the next day.
Today, the scientific community is still researching in an attempt to determine baclofen’s safety and efficacy for those struggling with alcohol addiction and withdrawal. And, there are many other medicinal treatments for this problem that have been shown effective for decades.
What Happens if the Two Are Combined?
Despite some promising research on the effects of baclofen regarding alcohol withdrawal, it is essential to remember that combining any drug with alcohol can produce potentially harmful effects. Regarding baclofen and alcohol, both substances’ depressant qualities should concern the individual who uses them in conjunction. For example, alcohol use can heighten the side effects of baclofen.
When the substances are combined, it is referred to as a pharmacodynamic interaction, leading to potentiated and dangerous responses within the body. A 2012 study documented the case of a 46-year-old individual who mixed 240 mg of baclofen with alcohol.
Despite not having a medical history that consisted of neurological conditions, this man suffered two seizures after drinking while on baclofen. Other research has found that combining baclofen and alcohol contributes to elevated blood pressure and heart rate, which can cause issues in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.
As both substances are CNS depressants, they can compound each other’s effects when they are used together. A person who mixes alcohol and baclofen may experience feelings of deep relaxation and a sense of drowsiness and peacefulness. Combining alcohol and baclofen could also mitigate anxiety or depression, at least temporarily. There is also the possibility of accidentally combining baclofen and alcohol or doing so without knowing the risks.
If someone mixes alcohol and baclofen, the side effects of both are going to be more profound. For example, mixing alcohol and baclofen can cause extreme drowsiness and weakness, mood changes, agitation, irritability, dizziness, and confusion—symptoms that may be much more intense than those produced by either substance on their own.
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