I’m not one to automatically suggest that a pill alone could be the answer to every problem, but word is beginning to get out about a promising new medication that has been found to aid in the treatment of alcoholism.
Baclofen (sold under the brand names Kemstro, Lioresal, and Gablofen) is a drug traditionally used to suppress muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries. However, studies conducted over the past several years have demonstrated that “…baclofen is able to suppress withdrawal symptoms in alcohol-dependent patients affected by the alcohol withdrawal syndrome.”
French cardiologist Dr. Olivier Ameisen first documented this effect in an effort to treat his own alcoholism. The veteran of a number of treatment programs and countless AA meetings, Ameisen began to experiment on himself. This path seems like a somewhat dubious mix of desperation and sketchy ethics. I’ve not yet read the book, but he has apparently written extensively about his experience in “The End of My Addiction” (2008).
What Ameisen found has since been backed up by a number of studies cited on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website. The NIH reports that “Baclofen has shown efficacy and safety in promoting alcohol abstinence in alcohol dependent patients…” and “…that baclofen was associated with reductions in withdrawal-related anxiety and alcohol craving.”
The application of baclofen to the treatment of other addictions is also being explored. At the University of Pennsylvania, Teri Franklin, a professor of neuroscience, has found that the drug can also reduce cravings for nicotine. In one experiment conducted by Franklin, smokers were able to cut their daily intake of cigarettes in half.
On the downside, unpleasant side effects like muscle spasms and drowsiness have been associated with baclofen. Research also suggests that once the medication is discontinued, its effect also stops. This means that an individual would have to stay on the medication for the rest of their lives if other avenues are not developed to manage their addiction.
The reduction of cravings associated with withdrawal from any addictive substance would inestimably ease the burdens associated with the process of recovery. However, I worry that many individuals who pursue medication alone would miss out on understanding the dynamics that brought them to addiction in the first place.
Talk therapy and AA provide more than the promise of abstinence or a reduction in substance use. They also provide emotional support and the development of insight into the source of addiction. With this information in hand, I know that those fighting addiction are better equipped to manage life and flourish.
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