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Risks of Mixing Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol

What are Muscle Relaxers?

Muscle relaxers or muscle relaxants are prescription medications used to treat severe muscle pain caused by muscle spasms. A muscle spasm means that one or more of your muscles is contracting, and the cramping or twitching is out of your control. Muscle spasms can occur for several reasons and can sometimes be very painful. Prescription drugs used as muscle relaxers can differ in their composition, chemical structures, and the way they work in the brain.

Muscle relaxers work as central nervous system (CNS) depressants and cause a sedative effect or prevent the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. The onset of action is fast and results typically last from four to six hours. Like other prescription drugs, muscle relaxers pose a risk for abuse and even drug addiction. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [1], centrally acting muscle relaxants are a potential drug of abuse.

Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
Mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol leads to dangerous side effects, is potentially addictive, and increases the risk of overdose.

Although skeletal muscle relaxants are occasionally the primary drug of abuse, they are often used along with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol or narcotics. The major toxic effects are respiratory depression (slow and ineffective breathing) and coma. 

While other drugs such as meth and heroin get a great deal of attention when it comes to abuse and addiction, the potential for muscle relaxers to become part of a user’s cocktail of preferred substance, if not the outright drug of choice, can’t be ignored. To determine the signs a person is addicted to prescription drugs such as muscle relaxers, it’s important to understand what they are and how they work.

Types of Muscle Relaxers

Muscle relaxer abuse can have a number of harmful effects, including behavioral changes, seizures, and withdrawal. It is important to recognize and understand these signs of addiction early because long-term use of this drug can lead to worsened side effects.

Muscle relaxers reduce levels of activity in muscle cells and change how the central nervous system (CNS) transmits spasmodic messages. These chemical effects lead to the relaxation of muscle tissue and in some situations, paralysis.

The two main classes of muscle relaxers include:

Antispastics

This class of muscle relaxers is commonly prescribed to relieve and mitigate pain from spasms and other neurological conditions. It directly affects the spinal cord or the skeletal muscles with the aim of improving muscle tightness and spasms. This class of drug can help with conditions that cause spasms, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy, as well as spinal cord injuries.

Tizanidine

It is sold under the brand name Zanaflex. This drug has both antispastic and antispasmodic effects. Individuals take it to help manage spasticity from spinal cord injuries or MS. Side effects may include drowsiness, itchiness, constipation, hallucinations, and low heart rate.

Baclofen

This drug is sold under the brand name Lioresal or Gablofen. It is primarily used for spasticity in spinal cord injury patients or those with multiple sclerosis. Most common side effects include drowsiness, confusion, muscle weakness, vertigo, and nausea.

Dantrolene

This medication can help ease muscle spasticity. Brand names are, Revonto, Dantrium, and Ryanodex. Oral dantrolene may damage the liver. The side effects of this drug may include breathing changes that happen due to weakness in the respiratory muscles and muscle weakness.

Antispasmodics

Antispasmodics are used during emergency situations and during surgical procedures and to cause paralysis. These drugs help reduce muscle spasms via the central nervous system. They inhibit the transmission of neurons in the brain. There are two types of antispasmodics: benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines block certain chemicals in the brain, and nonbenzodiazepines act on both the brain and spinal cord.

Carisoprodol

Carisoprodol is a nonbenzodiazepine. Adults can take this medication for the relief of severe, painful muscle conditions. A common brand name for this drug is Soma. It has the potential for being abused. It can cause drowsiness and dizziness and isn’t recommended for long-term use or by those with a history of addiction. Doctors also warn people of the dangers of combining this medication with alcohol.

Diazepam

Diazepam is a benzodiazepine. Physicians may prescribe diazepam for severe muscle spasms and for spasticity associated with neurological disorders. Diastat and Valium are common brand names for this drug. Common side effects of this drug include fatigue, muscle weakness, drowsiness, and loss of muscle movement.

Cyclobenzaprine

Cyclobenzaprine is a nonbenzodiazepine. It can treat muscle spasms that happen with serious muscle conditions when a person combines it with rest and physical therapy. Amrix, Flexeril, and Fexmid are brand names of this drug. Its sedative properties limit its use during the day. Common side effects may include dizziness, irritability, confusion, and headache.

Metaxalone

It is sold under the brand name Skelaxin. It has the lowest sedation potential and the fewest reported side effects of the muscle relaxers. People cannot take it with drugs that affect the amount of serotonin in the body due to the risk of serotonin syndrome. Common side effects may include dizziness, irritability, an upset stomach, and headache.

Mixing Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol

So, why is mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol a bad idea? The answer lies in how muscle relaxers and alcohol affect your body. Muscle relaxers and alcohol both depress your central nervous system. They work to slow brain activity, which can slow functions down your breathing and heart rate as well. They can also make you feel calm or sleepy. Since both muscle relaxers and alcohol have this depressant effect, combining the two can compound their impact on your body. This means that the side effects of muscle relaxers, such as drowsiness or dizziness, can be intensified when you drink alcohol.

Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
Muscle relaxers and alcohol both have a depressant effect on your central nervous system. Mixing the two can intensify these effects.

The Dangers Of Combining Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol

While any combination of muscle relaxers and alcohol can be dangerous, many people face more extreme risks when they intentionally use both drugs simultaneously to create a desired, pleasurable effect. Within situations of use, an individual is far more likely to use a medication in large dosages.

This means that they may take greater-than-prescribed doses of the muscle relaxer or take the pill more frequently than they should, behaviors that increase the odds of overdose, addiction, and other adverse health effects.

Mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol is a potent combination that can produce extreme sedation, decreased cognitive abilities, impaired motor functioning, accidental death, and addiction. If a person is addicted to one or both muscle relaxers and alcohol, a comprehensive inpatient treatment program should be sought to alleviate these risks.

A person faces an increased risk of respiratory depression, injuries, motor vehicle accidents, drug overdose, and seizures when combining muscle relaxers and alcohol. Both muscle relaxers and alcohol slow down or depress the body’s central nervous system (CNS), an action that can lead to these and other dangers should these two substances be combined.

Side Effects of Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol 

The sedation and CNS depression induced by muscle relaxers can become dangerous when amplified by the effects of other intoxicating substances, alcohol included. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that using alcohol with muscle relaxers may cause the following adverse reactions:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Increased risk of seizures
  • Increased risk of overdose
  • Increased risk of overdose
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Impaired motor control
  • Unusual behavior
  • Memory impairments

One of the biggest risks of this combination is profound motor impairment and loss of coordination and equilibrium. Together, the combined use of muscle relaxers and alcohol can make it challenging for a person to walk and balance. This effect can cause a person to fall, especially if compounded by dizziness and impaired vision.

Injuries that result from this effect can be very serious and even life-threatening. Motor impairment also makes it very hazardous to operate heavy machinery or a motor vehicle. Even when they are used separately, these substances impair a person’s reaction time, judgment, decision-making ability, and cognition.

Why do people mix muscle relaxers and alcohol?

Muscle relaxers, including benzodiazepines, can cause euphoria and intense relaxation, effects which lead some to use their own prescription or someone else’s. Some people may also use these prescription drugs to self-medicate as a means to reduce the unpleasant feelings associated with alcohol withdrawal or induce sleep.

The dangers linked to the use of this drug may occur unknowingly to the users who consume one drug in close proximity to the dose of the other. This may occur when an individual is taking the muscle relaxers as prescribed and mixing them with alcohol without realizing the harmful interactions. It can also occur if they have a drink a short time later while the medication is still in their system.

Most muscle relaxants last around four to six hours, so even if an individual starts drinking several hours after they take their dose, the medication will still be in their system. Muscle relaxers can be extremely potent; even having one drink while on one can cause debilitating, uncomfortable, and dangerous side effects.

What about muscle relaxers for alcohol withdrawal? 

In general, muscle relaxers and alcohol don’t mix. However, some experts believe there is a muscle relaxer called baclofen that might help with alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is a condition that happens when a person who’s been drinking heavily or for a prolonged period quits drinking alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be possibly severe and include things like:

  • Tremors
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Quick breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

It’s believed that baclofen may work by mimicking the effects of alcohol on a specific type of brain receptor. But so far, evidence supporting the use of baclofen for alcohol withdrawal is limited. A 2017 review couldn’t draw concrete conclusions about the effectiveness of baclofen in treating alcohol withdrawal. The researchers found that the studies reviewed contained either insufficient or poor-quality evidence. A more recent review noted that baclofen is not recommended as a first-line treatment for alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Treatment for Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol Problems

Alcohol is the most abused addictive substance in America, as more than 17 million people in the United States are considered to suffer from addiction to alcohol. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) publishes that over 1.5 million American adults are considered to be currently abusing a prescription drug.

Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
Pursuing treatment for the use of muscle relaxers and alcohol works to protect yourself or a loved one from the risks of overdose.

Mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol magnifies the side effects of both and may promote more use of both. A wide variety of options are available to help the person stop taking muscle relaxers and alcohol and avoid serious side effects from polysubstance abuse. Many Soma (a brand of muscle relaxer) users respond well to Soma detox residential rehab programs. 

If you are struggling with muscle relaxers and alcohol abuse, it’s crucial to first get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When the symptoms have been evaluated by a mental health professional, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular type of treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional. 

Medically-Assisted Detox

Detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of alcohol withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy 

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Solution Focused Therapy – is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

 If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term drug abuse and a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
Break free from muscle relaxers and alcohol addiction, reach out today!
Sources:

[1] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1927837/

[2] DEA – https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs10/10913/10913p.pdf

[3] NIAAA – https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh23-1/40-54.pdf