Updated on September 12, 2023
7 min read

How Can You Recognize & Deal With Muscle Relaxers Addiction?

Muscle relaxers, or muscle relaxants, are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that relieve muscle pain and spasms. These medications can give relief from different forms of muscle pain and discomfort. 

Muscle relaxers create a therapeutic effect by modulating CNS neurotransmission, reducing muscle tone, and inhibiting motor excitability. This leads to a relaxing effect that comes from affecting the brain’s receptors that transmit pain.

The Two Types of Muscle Relaxers

Prescription muscle relaxers are typically divided into two main types, antispasmodic and antispastic drugs.

  1. Antispasmodic drugs (spasmolytics) They relieve, prevent, and decrease muscle spasms affecting smooth muscles. These drugs aid organs in alleviating spasms such as gastrointestinal spasms. Some examples are cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) and tizanidine (Zanaflex).
  2. Antispastic drugs  They treat and relieve spasticity in skeletal muscles, especially in conditions such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. Examples include baclofen (Lioresal) and clonidine (Catapres).

Muscle Relaxer Uses

Your healthcare provider may prescribe muscle relaxers if you have spasms or spastic episodes. Your physician may also prescribe them if you experience muscle pain accompanied by muscle spasms or spasticity.

Listed below are specific ailments a muscle relaxer can help you with.

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms are the sudden and involuntary contraction of muscles.  Some episodes of spasms can be short and painful but can last from a few seconds to several minutes. These “muscle cramps” can affect one part, the entire muscle, or a group of muscles due to:

  • Overstretching
  • Staying in the same position for too long
  • Becoming overused or strained

Spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis (MS), and other conditions can cause muscle spasms, leading to varying effects.

Muscle Spasticity

Muscle spasticity is a long-term disorder that causes persistent stiffness or tightness of the muscles. People with this condition have recurring muscle spasms, which limit their movement and cause permanent muscle contractions.

Signs of muscle spasticity include:

  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Delayed motor development in infants and young children
  • Impaired function (e.g., reduced ability to care for oneself)
  • Abnormal posture
  • Contractures
  • Bone and joint deformities

Muscle relaxers with antispastic properties are prescribed for spasticity.

Muscle Pain

Ample rest or a small dosage of painkillers should be enough to eliminate or relieve muscle pain. Your physician may prescribe muscle relaxants if your body doesn’t tolerate painkillers well.

Below are some reasons you might get muscle relaxants for your muscle pain.

  • Have acute muscular pain but are allergic to or can't tolerate painkillers
  • Experience muscle spasms that interfere with sleep (e.g., nocturnal leg cramps and restless legs syndrome)
  • Have spasms that impair your ability to perform essential daily functions, like eating and bathing
  • Aren’t responsive to over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers    

Using a muscle relaxer for chronic pain can lead to long-term health risks, like drug addiction and abuse. Experts also claim that muscle relaxers aren’t as effective in long-term pain management. An extensive study concluded that they helped with acute but had a limited effect on chronic back pain. 

Remember to consult your doctor for medical advice before taking muscle relaxants. Doing so can help determine whether prescription or over-the-counter medication suits your condition.


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Are Muscle Relaxers Addictive?

Your doctor’s prescription will determine how long you can take a muscle relaxer. Generally, it should be for no more than 2 to 3 weeks. Studies suggest that muscle relaxers aren’t healthy for long-term use. 

Though some muscle relaxants have the potential for addiction, not all can lead to drug dependence. The most common muscle relaxers that cause addiction are:

  • Soma (carisoprodol)
  • Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine)
  • Valium (diazepam)

If you use these or other muscle relaxers for a long time, you may become physically dependent on them. You may also experience severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug.

Prevalence of Muscle Relaxer Misuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 3.69 million people aged 12 and above experimented with Soma (carisoprodol) for non-medical use at least once in 2012.

Muscle relaxer addiction also doubled from 2005 to 2016 in the general population. Additionally, there was a disproportionately high use of muscle relaxers in older adults in the same year.

To avoid potential misuse, seek medical advice before taking any muscle relaxer. Healthcare professionals can help you understand these drugs' possible side effects and health risks.

Signs You’re Addicted to Muscle Relaxers

Addiction comes in many forms. However, these warning signs can help identify whether someone might be abusing muscle relaxers:

  • Taking a muscle relaxer when a prescription no longer indicates it
  • Requiring more of the drug to feel the same effects
  • Faking symptoms to receive more prescription refills
  • Changes in physical appearance, hygiene, and behavior suddenly
  • Combining a muscle relaxer with other substances to experience a more intense high
  • Overdosing

Long-Term Side Effects of Muscle Relaxers

Long-term muscle relaxer abuse can lead to various side effects, significantly endangering older adults.

It can inflict the following physical and psychological effects:

  • Loss of balance
  • Stupor
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Coma
  • Death

Because of these risks, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) does not recommend muscle relaxers in older people. 

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Muscle Relaxer Withdrawal Symptoms

Although muscle relaxers can relieve pain and discomfort, some can cause withdrawal symptoms after use. For this reason, doctors slowly taper your dose over time to reduce the risk of withdrawal. 

Common muscle relaxer withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Malaise
  • Discomfort
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

These symptoms usually peak between 2 to 4 days after the last dose. However, they can last for up to 2 weeks.

Muscle Relaxer Overdose Symptoms

Taking a higher dosage of muscle relaxants than prescribed can lead to a drug overdose. The signs of muscle relaxer overdose can have consequences on the central nervous system, which include:

  • Drowsiness 
  • Cardiovascular problems (e.g., fast or irregular heart rhythms) 
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking or moving 
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Tremors or seizures 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Stupor
  • Shock
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing a muscle relaxant overdose, call 911 immediately.

Treatment for Muscle Relaxer Abuse and Addiction

The most crucial step in overcoming muscle relaxer addiction is seeking help. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to achieve sobriety from substance abuse.

Listed below are some solutions you can choose to overcome muscle relaxer dependence.

Inpatient Programs

An inpatient treatment plan is an all-inclusive option where people with an addiction live in secure housing with 24/7 access to medical care. Depending on your needs, you can choose a 30-, 60-, or 90-day program with daily therapies. Afterward, treatment centers help set up your aftercare once you complete their program.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Also known as Intensive outpatient programs (IOP), PHPs offer a high level of care as inpatient programs with added independence. Unlike inpatient programs, people can go home to sleep and may receive additional services like food and transportation.

PHPs offer less supervision and medical support but still allow medical care, behavioral therapy, and support groups to be available on-site.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is a good option for those motivated to recover and cannot leave their personal and work responsibilities. These programs include therapy, education, and support in an environment that's flexible around your schedule.

Outpatient programs are an excellent place for first-timers to start or people who completed an inpatient or partial hospitalization program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

MAT combines medications that reduce the adverse side effects of detox, withdrawal, and cravings and normalize body functions through therapies. Undergoing this program can help you overcome addiction, prevent relapse, and increase the chances of a full recovery.

Common medications used for MAT include benzodiazepines or other muscle relaxers to help manage withdrawal symptoms.

Support Groups

These organizations welcome people with substance abuse disorders and help them remain sober. They’re usually the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan. While in-person meetings are more common, some consultations can occur online or by phone.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Al-Anon are great examples of peer-led organizations.

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Muscle relaxants affect the brain’s receptors to provide relief from muscle spasms and target muscle spasticity. While short-term usage is relatively harmless, prolonged use of muscle relaxers can come with lesser efficacy in the treatment and the risk of drug dependence.

To avoid experiencing the harmful effects of muscle relaxers, follow your physician’s instructions and seek professional advice if you need further treatment.

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Updated on September 12, 2023

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