Baclofen: A treatment option for addictions?
Baclofen is a drug that has been around since the 1920’s. It has been used primarily for the treatment of spastic movements. However in 2004, Dr. Olivier Ameisen, used himself as a case study for the feasibility of using baclofen as a suppressant for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. By carefully increasing the dosage over a period of time, he reached what he calls a craving-suppression dosage. It seems that baclofen lessens the anxiety that alcohol dependent people experience when withdrawing from alcohol use. It has been found to be at least as effective as diazepam, a drug commonly prescribed for this purpose. Not only did the drug ease the anxiety Dr. Ameisen felt, it also seemed to be effective in reducing alcohol dreams. This is a major plus for alcoholics as dreams are often used as an excuse for relapse. About a month into his study, Dr. Ameisen found that he had become “indifferent” to alcohol. He reported that from Day 37 of his experiment he experienced no cravings or desire for alcohol. After nine months of being alcohol dependence free, and with lessened anxiety, he declared it a success. He called for more studies to be done, but sadly this did not happen until very recently.
Now a few studies have been done, and it appears that Dr. Ameisen was right. An Italian study done with severe alcoholics showed that baclofen is effective in treating patients with cirrhosis of the liver. At least two other doctors have used his therapeutic model with success also.
The FDA has not approved the use of baclofen for these symptoms as yet, but that can’t be far in the future. If future studies continue to compare favorably to his trial, alcoholics will soon be clamoring to their physicians for the opportunity to try this method. A word of caution to these people though. Dr. Ameisen also used Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and their techniques while using baclofen. This suggests that it is decidedly not the “miracle” cure all alcoholics dream of. However, it does seem as though we are one step closer to eliminating the biggest obstacle in the way of recovering alcoholics. As a long time member of AA, I have experienced the very withdrawal symptoms this drug seems to address. In addition, I have seen literally thousands of people try, and fail, because of the horrible cravings they experienced while trying to quit drinking. I can only imagine how much of an impact this could have in millions of lives. Enormous.