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Side Effects Of Baclofen Abuse

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: October 2nd, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Many people make the mistake of assuming that prescription medications are always safe to use. However, when you start taking them in ways not recommended by a doctor, you can face severe mental, physical, and social problems. Side effects of baclofen may be significant enough to discontinue use for some people.

Baclofen is a type of muscle relaxer frequently prescribed for chronic muscle pain. Compared to opiates and other painkillers, baclofen is a reasonably safe drug with little risk of addiction. However, this does not mean that it is harmless. Just like any other muscle relaxer, baclofen does have some potential for abuse. If you regularly misuse baclofen, you may encounter a variety of issues.

Understanding Baclofen’s Side Effects on the Body

To learn about the side effects of baclofen, it is necessary to understand what the drug is and how it works. Baclofen is a drug that is chemically related to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a type of neurotransmitter that inhibits or blocks nerve signals throughout the body.

Since baclofen makes the body think it has extra GABA, the brain blocks even more nerve signals than usual. All the blocked nerve signals cause a wide range of effects on the body. In addition to relaxing muscles, baclofen may also help reduce pain, prevent spasms, and cause drowsiness.

Baclofen is typically given in small doses of around 15 to 80 milligrams a day. The drug has a short half-life, which means that its effects are quickly felt and quickly dissipate. Therefore, people usually need to take multiple doses throughout the day to get the results of baclofen. The drug is almost always sold as an oral medication, but it can be used through injections.

What Is Baclofen Abuse?

Before getting further into all the consequences of baclofen abuse, it is helpful to learn a little about what misuse looks like. Any time you take baclofen in a way not prescribed by your doctor, you are misusing it. Some people with a baclofen use disorder have a legitimate baclofen prescription, while others may have never been prescribed baclofen by a doctor.

Even if you have a prescription, it is still possible to misuse the drug. Baclofen abuse happens whenever you are taking more baclofen than prescribed. Some people with a baclofen addiction may quit taking their prescription regularly so that they can use one massive dose at once. Others may routinely take larger than normal doses. You can also misuse baclofen by combining it with other mind-altering substances, such as alcohol or opiates.

Misusing Baclofen Often Causes Physical Health Problems

When a person has a painful muscle spasm, baclofen’s ability to minimize nerve signals related to muscular contraction can be beneficial. However, when a person is taking baclofen needlessly, the drug’s method of action becomes a problem. Since it regularly inhibits nervous activity in the brain, baclofen can end up causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects. In addition to relaxing muscles, baclofen can affect the gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, and more.

Regularly using baclofen can cause several fundamental health problems. You may find yourself feeling drowsy and fatigued, but at the same time, baclofen may also cause insomnia. The drug tends to cause chronic nausea and dizziness as well. Some people also encounter digestive issues and baclofen abuse may lead to constipation or frequent urination.

Occasionally, baclofen’s side effects may become more dangerous. Though rare, baclofen can interfere with breathing. Some people may experience shallow or weak breathing.

Baclofen can also cause mental confusion. The confusion can become so severe that some patients lose touch with reality and experience hallucinations.

Baclofen may also result in seizures. If you experience trouble breathing, mental confusion, hallucinations, or seizures, it is important to seek emergency medical care. These dangerous side effects are more likely to happen when you take large amounts of baclofen regularly, but they can even occur the first time you take the drug.

Baclofen Abuse May Lead to Mental Health Problems

Baclofen has a very complex effect on the brain. It can act somewhat like a depressant since it reduces breathing, slows heart rate, and relaxes muscles. However, the drug is also structurally related to amphetamines so that it can cause some stimulant-like effects. These contradictory impacts on the brain can alter a person’s thinking patterns and behavior. Especially when it is frequently taken at large dosages, research finds baclofen can cause mental health problems.

The side effects of baclofen abuse can cause mental health problems like delirium, hallucinations, and paranoia. People may become easily confused, lose touch with reality, and exhibit poor judgment. This can lead to all sorts of erratic behavior. Those around the person may notice that they are easily irritated, get angry rapidly, and make bizarre decisions. Even those who did not have mental health problems before may experience some issues, and patients with mental health conditions may worsen.

Baclofen abuse is common among those with mental health conditions. Since the drug can have a relaxing, anti-anxiety effect, some people might try to self-medicate by taking baclofen regularly. Baclofen can indeed help with some anxiety and depression symptoms. However, self-medicating is never wise. Without support from a doctor, it is possible to take the wrong amount and make your symptoms worse. Especially when you have been abusing baclofen for a while, you might find that you get intense waves of anxiety and depression between doses. This can make it even harder to manage your mental health, and if you run out of baclofen, your situation can deteriorate rapidly.

Chronic Baclofen Misuse

Just like any other type of addiction, a baclofen use disorder comes with a huge host of problems. When dealing with a substance use disorder, it is hard to prioritize yourself, your loved ones, and your long-term goals. Even when baclofen use causes all sorts of unpleasant side effects and consequences, you may continue to use it.

Those with a baclofen addiction often find themselves constantly thinking about and focusing on baclofen usage. Some people may skip work, neglect schoolwork, or forget to finish essential projects. Those who are responsible for a household or child care may become irresponsible and forgetful. Even if a person has financial problems, they may continue to purchase large amounts of baclofen.

All of these sorts of personal consequences of addiction can take a considerable toll. You may find yourself losing friends, and family members as your loved ones can no longer enable your addiction. Plans you had for your life, such as career goals or housing plans, may no longer be attainable. Ultimately, the effects of addiction can lead to all sorts of devastating problems like getting fired or being evicted.

People Experience Withdrawal After Baclofen Abuse

Another frustrating and unpleasant side effect of baclofen abuse is withdrawal. Baclofen is a drug that can cause physical dependence. When you take it for too long, your body alters the number of neurotransmitters that it produces. You then start to need baclofen to function normally. Since your body is constantly trying to compensate for regular baclofen usage, you will feel ill if you quit taking baclofen suddenly.

Baclofen withdrawal symptoms may include

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Tremors
  • Fever
  • Visual changes
  • Poor coordination

For many patients, these withdrawal symptoms can be highly uncomfortable. They can complicate your life since you may feel ill if you cannot take baclofen for a few days. Baclofen leaves the system rapidly, so even just skipping your dose for a couple of hours can cause you to start feeling unwell.

Baclofen side effects

Furthermore, the unpleasant physical symptoms can make it harder to quit baclofen. Since you feel so sick when you are in withdrawal, you will crave the drug intensely, and continuing to take it despite the damage that it’s doing seems justified.

Baclofen Abuse Can Result in Dangerous Overdoses

Baclofen comes with a reasonably high risk of overdosing. Just a 200-milligram dose or about eight tablets can be enough to cause overdose symptoms. The chances of overdosing are not too high when they are just temporarily taking the medication as ordered by their doctor. However, when someone is regularly taking baclofen and taking higher than normal amounts, their risk of an overdose increases.

Baclofen tends to act like a central nervous system depressant when taken at high dosages. This is a problem because it can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate crucial bodily functions. A person with a baclofen overdose often has slowed breathing, delayed responses, muscle weakness, mental confusion, and difficulty staying awake. In some cases, patients can even end up losing consciousness and going into a coma. If a patient does not get prompt care, they may stop breathing and die.

A baclofen overdose often results in severe versions of typical baclofen side effects too. This means that people who overdose may vomit, hallucinate, or have seizures. In some cases, the seizures can be bad enough to become fatal.

The risk of overdose is especially high if you are combining baclofen with other drugs or alcohol. Baclofen can interact poorly with other medications that are central nervous system depressants. You are more likely to overdose if you take baclofen alongside alcohol, other painkillers, or antidepressants. Even if the amount of baclofen or other drugs you take would not cause an overdose on their own, combining them can lead to overdose symptoms.

Don’t Let Baclofen Abuse Damage Your Health and Happiness

As you can see, misusing baclofen is not a harmless activity. It can end up harming your physical health and potentially causing life-threatening side effects. In addition to the physical dangers, baclofen can also cause all the mental, social, and emotional problems of addiction. When you are addicted to any substance, it takes a toll on your well-being. If you want to avoid all the problematic side effects of baclofen abuse, it is important to seek treatment at a substance use treatment center.

If you or a loved one is struggling with baclofen side effects and abuse, there is hope. Granite Recovery Center can give people the tools that they need to overcome addiction. Our rehab center provides a peaceful New England setting for recovery. You get support from fellow patients as you follow the 12-step program. In addition to 12-step techniques, we also provide a variety of therapy modalities. Your doctor may recommend evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma counseling, or medication-assisted treatment depending on your situation. To learn more about your treatment options at Granite Recovery Center, contact us today.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.