In 2011, more than 52,000 admissions to hospital emergency departments involved muscle relaxants, and cyclobenzaprine (e.g., Flexeril) accounted for 11,000 of these. Of the 52,000 admissions, 18 percent involved the combination of Flexeril and alcohol. Flexeril is a popular muscle relaxant and central nervous system depressant.
Mixing alcohol and muscle relaxants is a dangerous combination that can produce profound sedation, decreased cognitive abilities, impaired motor functioning, accidental fatalities, and addiction. Individuals face an increased risk of overdose, respiratory depression, falls and injuries, car accidents, and seizures when combining alcohol and muscle relaxants.
What Are Muscle Relaxers?
Muscle relaxants are prescription drugs used to relax muscles, providing relief from sprains, strains, or other injuries. Muscle relaxants provide their effect by depressing the central nervous system, inducing sedation and relaxation of the skeletal muscles.
When used for these purposes, muscle relaxants relieve pain, reduce muscle spasms, aid an individual in having greater motility, and, as an additional benefit for some, provide relief from insomnia caused by these illnesses.
Muscle relaxants are not usually recommended as a first-line defense for specific concerns, such as low-back pain, due to their potential for abuse and side effects. These drugs are generally prescribed for short-term use to avoid misuse, abuse, and dependence.
The side effects of muscle relaxants vary somewhat from drug to drug and person to person, but in general, they include the following:
- Impaired coordination
- Impaired thinking
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Impaired vision
Muscle relaxants can also make it challenging for an individual to remain alert and think clearly, causing impairments to decision-making and thought processes.
The Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Despite alcohol’s reputation as a social drug, it’s actually a depressant. When drank in excess, alcohol will significantly slow down a person’s brain and body and reduce their ability to function normally.
Alcohol use can result in the following:
- Stomach pain
- Impaired vision
- Impaired decision-making
- Impaired motor skills
- Impaired memory
- Impaired concentration
Why Do People Mix Alcohol And Muscle Relaxants?
Muscle relaxants can cause intense relaxation and euphoria, which lead some to abuse their own prescription or someone else’s. Some individuals may also use these drugs to self-medicate as a means to induce sleep or to reduce the unpleasant thoughts and feelings associated with alcohol withdrawal.
The risk linked to this use may occur unknowingly, as a person consumes one drug close to the dose of the other. This may happen when a person takes the muscle relaxant as prescribed and drinks with it (without realizing that harmful interactions can occur). 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 4-6 hours, so even if a person begins drinking several hours after taking their dose, the medication will still be in their system. Muscle relaxants can be extremely powerful—even having one drink while on one can cause debilitating and dangerous side effects.
While any combination of these substances can be dangerous, many individuals face more severe risks when they intentionally abuse both together to create a sought-after pleasurable effect. Within circumstances that involve abuse, an individual is far more likely to use a medication in large dosages. This means that they may take higher-than-prescribed doses of the muscle relaxer, which increases the risk of overdose, addiction, and other adverse health complications.
Risks of Combining Alcohol And Muscle Relaxants
The CNS depression and sedation produced by muscle relaxants can become dangerous when compounded by the effects of other substances, including alcohol.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that using alcohol with muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine may cause the following harmful reactions:
- Risk of seizures
- Risk of overdose
- Slowed/difficulty breathing
- Impaired motor control
- Unusual/erratic behavior
- Impaired memory
One of the biggest dangers of this combination is motor impairment and incoordination. Together, muscle relaxants and alcohol can make it challenging to walk and balance. This can cause an individual to stumble and fall, especially when enhanced by the dizziness and impaired vision that may be present associated with each drug.
Motor impairment also makes it risky to operate heavy machinery or a vehicle. When used separately, these drugs cause an individual’s reaction time, judgment, decision-making ability, and cognition all to be adversely affected. When alcohol and muscle relaxants are used in combination, these effects become even more hazardous.
The sum of these adverse effects can place a person in danger, not only the individual driving the vehicle but also passengers, other drivers on the road, and pedestrians. Scientific American reports that “automobile drivers were much more likely to weave and speed if they were under the influence of drugs like Xanax in addition to alcohol than if they had consumed alcohol alone.”
The profound sedation and respiratory depression that results from these two medication place a person at a high risk of overdose or a situation that requires emergency medical intervention.
The most recent DAWN findings document that almost 20% of emergency room visits relating to the abuse of muscle relaxants involved alcohol use, with carisoprodol being the most frequently used and cyclobenzaprine being the second.
Overdose from alcohol and muscle relaxants can be lethal. If you believe yourself or a loved one is overdosing, please contact emergency medical services as soon as possible.
Muscle relaxants can be addictive, as can alcohol. Abusing either of these drugs places a person at risk of addiction. Mixing the two makes this risk even more pronounced.
When an individual abuses one drug, their ability to reason and think correctly is reduced, making it easier for them to abuse another drug or use it in higher amounts, which in turn up the odds of developing dependence and addiction.
Lastly, should an individual become addicted to muscle relaxers and alcohol and abruptly stop using each, withdrawal symptoms can become severe. Withdrawal from these two drugs can become so extreme as to cause death. Seeking treatment for muscle relaxants and alcohol abuse works to protect yourself, or a loved one from these dangers and preserve your life.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Addiction is a debilitating disease that often requires long-term, comprehensive treatment. Just Believe Recovery Center offers a multifaceted approach to addiction treatment with programs that include time-tested services, such as the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- 12-step group support
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Relapse prevention
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Meditation and yoga
- Experiential activities
- Aftercare planning
We are dedicated to ensuring that those we treat receive the most effective, state-of-the-art care available, including all the tools, education, and support they need to sustain long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol.