Dangers of Mixing Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
What are Muscle Relaxers?
Muscle relaxers are used in addition to rest, physical therapy, and other measures to alleviate discomfort. They are usually prescribed for short-term use to treat acute, painful musculoskeletal conditions. However, muscle relaxers are occasionally prescribed for chronic pain (pain lasting longer than three months). These medications are also prescribed for other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and seizure disorders.
Muscle relaxers are not a class of drugs—meaning they do not all have the same chemical structure or work the same way in the brain. Instead, the term muscle relaxer is used to describe a group of drugs that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants and have musculoskeletal relaxant and sedative properties.
There are two categories of muscle relaxants:
- Antispasmodics — also known as centrally acting skeletal muscle relaxants (SMRs)- relieve muscle spasms.
- Antispastics — are used to treat muscle spasticity and shouldn’t be used to treat spasms.
Physicians believe muscle spasticity is caused by your nerves sending excessive signals to your brain. Muscle relaxers reduce the number of signals sent between your nerves and your brains. This is commonly referred to as a “sedative effect.”
Muscle relaxers can be addictive and have adverse side effects from their use, including impaired thinking and functioning, physical body symptoms, risk of substance abuse, and possibly unsafe interactions with other drugs.
Common Muscle Relaxants
Common muscle relaxants include:
Baclofen. Muscle tightness and muscle spasms, including those related to spine injuries, may be eased with baclofen. In addition, the medication may help treat multiple sclerosis and stab nerve pain. However, typical side effects could include nausea and confusion, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, or muscle weakness.
Benzodiazepines. In addition to treating alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, and seizure disorders, such as epilepsy, benzodiazepines can also treat skeletal pain and muscle spasms. Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), and temazepam (Restoril), are typically only intended for short-term use. This limitation is due to their habit-forming potential and altered sleep cycles, leading to sleep difficulties once the drug is stopped.
Carisoprodol (Soma). Carisoprodol eases pain and stiffness and relaxes muscles caused by acute muscle and bone problems, often caused by an injury. It is taken by mouth in tablet form and is also available in combination with aspirin or aspirin and codeine. Soma can be addictive, mainly if used in combination with alcohol or other prescription or illegal drugs that have a sedative effect, including opioids (such as codeine). Common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, and headache.
Dantrolene (Dantrium). Dantrolene helps control chronic spasticity related to spinal injuries. It is also prescribed for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and cerebral palsy. Dantrolene is taken as an intravenous powder for injection or capsule. Sensitivity to light and drowsiness are common side effects. It can cause severe liver problems, and should not be taken by individuals with active liver disease.
Metaxalone (Metaxall, Skelaxin, and Metaxall CP, PharmaPak, Lorvatus). Metaxalone targets muscle spasms and pain from strains, sprains, and muscle injuries. This drug is available as a tablet or injection. Common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness nausea, and vomiting. Metaxalone is typically not recommended for people with a known tendency to become anemic, and who have liver or kidney disease.
Methocarbamol (Robaxin, Robaxin-750). Methocarbamol relieves acute muscle and bone pain. It is available as a tablet or by injection. Common side effects include headache, dizziness, flushing, nausea, and blurred vision. Methocarbamol is generally not recommended to individuals with renal disease or failure.
Orphenadrine. Orphenadrine is a prescription drug used to relieve stiffness and pain caused by muscle injuries. It is available as an extended-release tablet. Common side effects include heartburn, dry mouth, lightheadedness, difficult urination, nausea, and vomiting. It is generally not prescribed to people with previous sensitivities to the ingredients, myasthenia gravis, those glaucomas, or certain types of ulcers.
Tizanidine (Comfort Pac with Tizanidine, Zanaflex). Tizanidine is prescribed to treat muscle spasms caused by spinal cord injuries and other conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Tizanidine is available in capsule and tablet form and absorbs differently depending on whether it is taken on an empty stomach or with food .
Mixing Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)  states that mixing alcohol and prescription drugs, which include muscle relaxers and alcohol, may interact in harmful ways even when these are not taken together. The agency also notes two other factors that may increase risks for muscle relaxers and alcohol interactions: age and sex. Older people and women are more exposed to the side effects of combining muscle relaxers and alcohol.
Deliberately or habitually mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol is a sign of substance abuse leading to addiction. Do muscle relaxers make one high? Yes, they have been documented to cause mild to severe degrees of euphoric high. Individuals who abuse muscle relaxants observe that alcohol intensifies the high derived from mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol.
When muscle relaxers and alcohol are combined, the depressant effect of both types of substances on the central nervous system (brain and spinal column) is heightened. This is extremely dangerous because it increases the risk of overdose.
In other cases, alcohol may limit the effectiveness of prescription muscle relaxants. The same may occur to OTC muscle relaxant alternatives as well. The individual will then tend to increase the dosage or frequency of intake; thus, the risk of overdosing on muscle relaxers increases.
The Dangers of Combining Mixing Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
Mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol is a dangerous combination that can produce decreased cognitive abilities, extreme sedation, impaired motor functioning, accidental death, and drug and alcohol addiction. Should an individual be addicted to one or both of these drugs, a comprehensive inpatient treatment program should be sought to alleviate these risks.
A person faces an increased risk of respiratory depression, falls and injuries, motor vehicle accidents, overdose, and seizures when mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol. Both muscle relaxers and alcohol slow down or depress, the body’s central nervous system (CNS), an action which can lead to these and other dangers, should these two substances be combined .
Side Effects of Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol
Combining muscle relaxers and alcohol intensifies the sedating effects of both substances. On that note, how long does it take for muscle relaxants to take effect? Most muscle relaxants start affecting the system within 30 minutes from intake and stay in effect for as long as six hours. During this period, side effects connected with these prescription drugs also become evident and may become gravely intensified with alcohol intake .
These drugs can produce severe side effects. This is why other measures, such as taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), or the use of herbal muscle relaxants must first be explored before taking prescription-only muscle relaxers.
Following are side effects that may arise from alcohol-muscle relaxant interactions:
Nervous System Side Effects
- Mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol increases the adverse effects on the nervous system, including sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and dizziness.
- With increasing misuse, dependence, or abuse, these side effects, including confusion, impaired thinking, memory lapses, and poor judgment, become more frequent, and the impact on the nervous system becomes more permanent.
- Typical complaints include dry mouth and constipation. Over time or with increasing dependence, this can lead to kidney damage, liver damage, and edema.
- Mixing muscle relaxers and alcohol also makes coordination and motor control more difficult. This is why it is important not to operate or drive machinery when one is ingesting muscle relaxants, especially if they are mixed with alcohol.
- Individuals who abuse muscle relaxers and alcohol experience blurred vision. Over time, this can lead to permanent damage to the eyes.
Increased Risk for Addiction and Overdose
- Early signs of addiction to alcohol-muscle relaxant combination such as shallow or slow breathing and slower heartbeat may lead to low blood pressure, chronic fainting, higher risk for seizures, and death.
- In which case, immediate detoxification as part of a more comprehensive professional inpatient medical treatment is advised to prevent side effects from escalating to irreversible and more severe complications.
Why Do People Combine Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol?
Muscle relaxers, including benzodiazepines, can cause euphoria and intense relaxation, leading to abuse of their own prescription or someone else’s. Some individuals may also use these medications to self-medicate to induce sleep or reduce the unpleasant feelings associated with alcohol withdrawal.
The dangers 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 the harmful interactions). It can also occur if they have a drink a short time later while the medication is still in their system.
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.
Symptoms can be possibly severe and include things like:
- Elevated heart rate
- Quick breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trouble sleeping
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.
Are You Struggling with Muscle Relaxers and Alcohol Addiction?
Frequent use of muscle relaxants causes the brain to become used to its effects. If you stop using muscle relaxers abruptly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the specific drug and how long you have been using it, various treatment options are available to help you overcome your addiction.
Flexeril, a popular muscle relaxer, can cause withdrawal with mild symptoms such as headache, nausea, malaise, drowsiness, and discomfort for many people. These symptoms tend to peak about 2-4 days after you last took the Flexeril, although, in some individuals, withdrawal symptoms may last for up to 1-2 weeks. If muscle relaxer addiction is accompanied by alcohol or opioid abuse, the withdrawal symptoms from these other substances can be severe and life-threatening. In these situations, it may be best to undergo medically-assisted detox.
Soma withdrawal is usually more severe and can include hallucinations and seizures. Therefore, it is often best to find an inpatient treatment program that includes a detox program to manage withdrawal symptoms for your safety and comfort. After detox, clients can transition into the actual inpatient rehab program. Most inpatient rehab programs include cognitive behavioral therapy that will help you learn the coping skills needed for long-term recovery.
Someone who has become addicted to muscle relaxers and alcohol should seek immediate addiction treatment. During your rehabilitation, 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.
We Level Up NJ provides proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to assist your recovery through our medically-assisted detox program. Reclaim your life, call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.