Muscle relaxers are a class of drugs that help to relieve muscular spasms and pain. They are commonly prescribed to help reduce symptoms associated with neck and back pain and tension headaches.
Examples of common muscle relaxers include the following:
- Baclofen (Baclosan)
- Carisoprodol (Soma)
- Chlorzoxazone (Parafon Forte)
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
- Methocarbamol (Robaxin)
- Metaxalone (Skelaxin)
- Tizanidine (Zanaflex)
While these medications may work differently, they all promote either muscle pain relief or muscle relaxation.
If you have been prescribed a muscle relaxer, you should avoid drinking alcohol for several reasons.
Why Is This Combination Potentially Hazardous?
But why, exactly, is mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol ill-advised? The answer is related to how muscle relaxers and alcohol affect the brain and body.
Muscle relaxers and alcohol both work to depress the central nervous system (CNS). Each substance slows brain activity, which can slow vital bodily functions, including breathing and heart rate. They can also induce drowsiness and impair cognition and coordination.
Because both muscle relaxers and alcohol have this depressant effect, using the two in combination can compound their impact on a person’s brain and body. Moreover, muscle relaxers’ side effects, including drowsiness or dizziness, can be intensified when alcohol is also consumed.
What Can Happen If They Are Mixed
Drinking alcohol can amplify the effects of muscle relaxers and vice versa, which at first glance, may seem desirable. However, this combination can also lead to potentially dangerous symptoms, including the following:
- Profound drowsiness/sleepiness
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Liver damage
- Slow or labored breathing
- Reduced motor control
- Blackout or memory loss
It is critical to note that driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery may be risky when taking muscle relaxers alone. Consuming alcohol in combination makes these activities even more dangerous.
Also, both muscle relaxers and alcohol have the potential to be addictive, and chronic or excessive use of either substance can increase a person’s risk of developing dependence or addiction to one, the other, or both.
Baclofen and Alcohol Withdrawal
As a general rule, muscle relaxers and alcohol should not be used in conjunction. However, baclofen is a muscle relaxer that some experts believe might help aid in alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a condition that frequently occurs when an individual who is dependent on alcohol and has been drinking heavily or for an extended period stops abruptly or “cold turkey.” In severe cases, symptoms have the potential to be life-threatening and may include the following:
- Shakiness and tremors
- Profuse sweating
- Accelerated heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
It’s believed that baclofen works by simulating alcohol’s effects on a specific type of brain receptor. Thus far, however, evidence supporting baclofen’s effectiveness for alcohol withdrawal is limited.
A 2017 review did not draw solid conclusions about the usefulness of baclofen in treating alcohol withdrawal. Researchers found that the studies reviewed contained evidence that was either inadequate or of poor quality.
Also, findings from a more recent review suggested that using baclofen as a first-line treatment for alcohol withdrawal was not advisable. Moreover, the review stated that additional research is needed to determine where baclofen might have a role in second-line management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome either independently or in conjunction with benzodiazepines or other agents.
Identifying Signs of Dangerous Intoxication
You should seek emergency medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one after using muscle relaxers with alcohol:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Blurred vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slowed or labored respiration
- Profound weakness
- Severely impaired mobility
- Heart palpitations
- Confusion and unusual behavior
- Hypotension and fainting
What Else to Avoid
Other drugs and medication to avoid while taking muscle relaxers in addition to alcohol include the following:
- Illicit and prescription opioids, such as heroin and oxycodone, respectively
- Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitor antidepressants
- Fluvoxamine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), an antibiotic
If you’re prescribed a muscle relaxer, be sure to tell your doctor or pharmacist about any other medications or drugs you are using. Many people have turned to alcohol use to produce some pain relief when experiencing muscle pain or spasms. While drinking may promote some pain-relieving effects, as noted, taking muscle relaxants while consuming alcohol is not advisable.
Treatment for Alcoholism or Muscle Relaxer Dependence
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