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Baclofen And Alcoholism Treatment: Will It Work?

Baclofen is a medication that has historically been used to treat multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Recently, studies have been conducted that test the efficacy of using Baclofen for alcoholism. Results have so far been inconclusive.

Like many other pharmaceuticals, Baclofen is not currently being used to treat the condition it was designed for. Baclofen was initially created in Switzerland to treat epilepsy. The medication trials did not work as hoped, but researchers did notice an increase in muscle spasticity in those with muscle disorders.

Baclofen was approved by the FDA in 1977 for use in reducing muscle spasms, stiffness and to treat general pain associated with back issues. The chemical makeup of the medication mimics the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid, also known as GABA. As a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA works to create a calming effect on a person’s mood. The calming effect has been shown to reduce muscle tension and relax bodies suffering from muscle ailments.

Baclofen For Alcohol Abuse

Baclofen is currently being studied for its use in treating alcoholism. Some evidence has suggested that the medication may be helpful, but the trials are ongoing and have not yet shown conclusive evidence. The only country that has approved Baclofen for alcoholism is France, which has approved a three-year trial period.

Baclofen was initially recommended for treatment of alcoholism to lessen a person’s craving for alcohol. The neurotransmitters in an alcoholic’s brain are severely limited by the large quantities of alcohol consumed. In addition to the neurotransmitter GABA, the brain produces dopamine which is considered the ‘feel good’ chemical in the body. Chronic alcohol use results in these brain systems no longer functioning without the presence of alcohol in the system. This can mean an alcoholic’s brain does not process the necessary neurotransmitters to maintain a healthy brain state.

Researchers began testing Baclofen for alcoholism because of its effects on GABA receptors, to make up for the lack of neurotransmitters produced in the brains of those with alcohol addictions. The idea was that while taking Baclofen, alcoholics would stop craving alcohol because of the improved mood created by the medication.

Does Baclofen Work For Alcohol Abuse?

University studies have been performed to determine the efficacy of treating alcoholism with Baclofen. One study at the Medical College of Wisconsin performed a study with the use of lab rats. One group of rats were addicted to heroin and one group was not. Both groups of rats were allowed to self-administer heroin as they wanted. Rats that were administered Baclofen showed a marked decrease in the number of times they self-administered the heroin. The theory behind the study is that the increase in GABA and dopamine levels from Baclofen use reduced the positive effects of the heroin, ultimately lessening their visits to the heroin corner. Although the study involved heroin, the effects on addictions are still relevant to treating alcoholism.

Similar results have been shown in human studies of those dependent on alcohol in France, to a limited extent. The promising results shown in the rats addicted to heroin do not necessarily indicate that Baclofen will be successful in treating alcoholism in adults, although it’s possible. Extensive studies still need to be conducted in order to determine whether the medication should be used to treat alcoholism.

Side Effects of Baclofen 

No medication comes without the risk of side effects. For Baclofen, physical side effects include:

  • fatigue
  • sleepiness
  • insomnia
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • sexual changes
  • bowel disorders
  • weight changes

Changes in mood and emotions are also a side effect. Memory loss, worsening anxiety and depression have been reported. Patients who have been prescribed Baclofen are recommended not to drive or operate machinery, as the medication has a sedative effect.

In addition to side effects while taking the medication, withdrawal symptoms have also been recorded during research. Withdrawal symptoms are more likely when Baclofen has been used in larger doses over longer time periods. Symptoms of Baclofen withdrawal include hallucinations, confusion, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, psychosis, tremors, seizures, and mood disturbances. Patients taking the medication are advised to taper off doses incrementally to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Is Baclofen Recommended For Alcohol Abuse? 

At this point in time, the answer is a resounding no. The theory of using Baclofen to treat alcoholism is still in its infancy. The medication has not yet been scientifically proven to be effective in treating any addiction. Many more studies will need to be conducted for researchers to completely understand the process and how it helps addiction.

Scientifically Proven Methods Of Alcohol Treatment

Currently, there is a set of guidelines professionals have established for the treatment of alcohol dependency. The process and methods have been shown in numerous scientific studies to be the most successful method of treating alcoholism and reducing relapse rates.

  1. Medical Alcohol Detox

The beginning of alcohol addiction treatment includes detoxification of alcohol from the system. Detox is not a treatment, but it’s the first step in the process. A good indicator of whether an individual needs medical detox is whether they require alcohol in their system to feel ‘normal.’ For lifelong, heavy drinkers, detox can be a dangerous process that must be monitored by medical professionals.

  1. Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Treatment for alcohol addiction should be varied and tailored the individual seeking treatment. Part of this step in the process is the individual understanding that they are suffering from the disease of alcoholism. When receiving alcohol addiction treatment, the individual will actively seek help and work with providers to find the best plan of care.

  1. Alcohol Rehabilitation Programs

Successfully beating alcoholism takes long-term rehabilitation. It is not a short process, it is a lifestyle change that must be maintained. Patients have the option for in-patient or out-patient rehabilitation. Finding a reputable and well-rounded facility is the key to success.

  1. Alcohol Therapy

There is a wide range of therapies available for treating addictions. Group, individual, massage, acupuncture, and even equine therapy are all proven methods for successful treatment. As with the other steps of the process, therapies need to be individualized to ensure the patient is receiving the best care possible for their specific needs.

Receiving The Best Alcohol Addiction Treatment

At the present time, the most successful scientifically backed method of treating alcohol addiction is through these four steps. Medication efficacy has yet to be proven, making it a less attractive choice for those seeking treatment. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for addiction, be sure that the treatment plan includes a medical detox, addiction treatment, rehabilitation, therapy, and a well-rounded, whole-body treatment plan.

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