New trial results released last week further suggest that the drug baclofen may help heavy drinkers control their alcohol use, or even stop drinking all together. However, previous study results suggest that the drug works no better than counseling, and it may be too early to prescribe high doses of this drug without more evidence proving its effectiveness, Medical Xpress reported.
Results released last week showed that individuals given baclofen drank less alcohol than individuals given a placebo. This evidence showed that 57 percent of heavy drinkers who were given the drug were able to decrease their alcohol consumption, as opposed to only 37 percent of those given a placebo. Another trial, also reported last week, showed that people who got the drug were able to drink less than people who got a placebo, Medical Xpress reported.
In both trials, volunteers did not know if they were given baclofen or a placebo, and they were not asked to consciously cut down on their drinking. Due to these positive results, Ethypharm, the company who developed baclofen, announced that they will submit an application to the French government to allow the commercialization of the drug for the treatment of alcoholism in France.
Baclofen is a muscle relaxant, approved for use to treat muscle spasms, such as those experienced by patients with multiple sclerosis, The Guardian reported. The drug was also noted for controlling the withdrawal spasms of cocaine addicts, which may explain its effectiveness for easing alcoholics off their drug of choice. According to Olivier Ameisen, a noted French cardiologist who wrote a book detailing his experience using baclofen to overcome his alcoholism, the drug creates an almost complete indifference to alcohol, The Guardian reported. Drinkers no longer feel the need to drink as they once had.
However, the drug is not completely free of side effects, and high doses can cause severe insomnia, drowsiness, depression, heightened anxiety and mood changes. Others experience psychotic and manic behaviors, night sweats, muscle spasms, and changes in their sense of taste and hearing. What’s more, these side effects are not rare, and in one study, 88 percent of patients reported at least one undesirable side effect caused by baclofen. Other research had suggested that there is a strong correlation between how much an individual drank before their treatment and how much of the drug they will need to reach their alcohol indifference, The Guardian reported.
This is not the first time that baclofen has been in the news; in 2014 French health authorities gave provisional approval for it to be used as an alcoholism treatment. However, not all study results on this drug have been as positive. For example, a Dutch study from 2016 determined that baclofen worked no better than counseling and suggested hesitation with its use for alcoholism treatment.
“Together these studies indicate that baclofen may be as effective as psychosocial care, but does not seem to increase effectiveness further,” explained lead study author Dr. Reinout Wiers in a 2016 statement. “For example, perhaps it can help a subgroup of alcohol-dependent patients who do not respond to psychosocial treatment,” said Weirs, adding that “prescribing baclofen widely, as currently happens in France, might be premature and should be reconsidered."