Muscle Relaxers Side Effects, Addiction & Withdrawal

What are Muscle Relaxers?

Muscle relaxers, or muscle relaxants, are used to alleviate short-term joint pain and muscle spasms. Muscle spasms are often temporary, involuntary contractions in the muscles that administer an immense amount of pain and discomfort.

There are two main types of prescription muscle relaxers prescribed to ease the aches that result from muscle spasms— antispastic drugs and antispasmodic drugs. Typically, these fast-acting drugs act as a central nervous system depressant, working to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. More specifically, antispasmodic medication helps to regulate muscle spasms found specifically in the gut. Often, medical professionals prescribe antispasmodics for symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The second type, antispastic drugs, is primarily prescribed for muscle spasticity—stiffness or tightness in the muscles that suppress one’s motor skills. 

A common and ideal side effect is the sense of relaxation and relief that circulates through the body to calm spastic muscles. In addition, these medications often result in sedation and sleepiness. For this reason, individuals are recommended to consume their prescription muscle relaxers when it is approaching their bedtime, making it effortless for them to fall asleep.

How Do Muscle Relaxers Make You Feel?

Due to the sedative effects elicited by muscle relaxers, people tend to feel drowsy and sluggish after taking their medication. Most are pleased with the sedative side effect because it puts them to sleep and provides them with a brief reprieve from their discomfort.

With that being said, a potential downside of this effect could be the prolonged drowsiness one feels when they wake up in the morning. The effects quickly take place and shouldn’t last much longer than 4-6 hours, however, the dosage amount, type of medication, and body mass can prolong the side effects. A young female taking the same recommended dosage as an older male will likely feel the effects more intensely than the man. When planning to take your muscle relaxer, make sure that you have an ample amount of time to relax—more than likely, that’s all you’ll be able to or feel like doing. 

Common Side Effects of Muscle Relaxers

The side effects of muscle relaxers aren’t always adverse, however, the dosage can and will impact the extremity of how someone experiences them.

  • Drowsiness
  • Faintness/Lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Muscle relief
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability 
  • Pain relief 
  • Relaxation
  • Better sleep

Types of Muscle Relaxers

The most common types of antispasmodics—medications for muscle spasms— are carisoprodol (Soma), tizanidine (Zanaflex), methocarbamol (Robaxin), and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril). Further use of muscle relaxant medications should not be necessary following the initial 2-3 weeks of you taking them. The most prescribed Antispastics— medications for muscle spasticity— are Baclofen (Lioresal), Diazepam (Valium), and Dantrolene (Dantrium). 

Tizanidine is widely-prescribed clonidine that reduces spasticity in doses, resulting in less hypotension than that of clonidine. Diazepam (Valium), for muscle spasticity, produces a rather strong sedative effect, whereas Baclofen is just as effective but generates minimal sedation.

Carisoprodol, the generic form of “Soma”, has become a prevalent alternative for people addicted to opiates such as Fentanyl, Vicodin, and Oxycontin. Substituting alternative medications due to addiction and/or dependency can often open the door to another addiction for most individuals.

Cyclobenzaprine’s most common brand, Flexeril, is a prescription muscle relaxer widely used for physical therapy, relief from short-term skeletal muscle ailments, and rest. Flexeril is commonly associated with misuse and abuse due to its amplified effects compared to other muscle relaxers. This is a cause for concern because adverse effects of Flexeril are also amplified and can often be detrimental to the person abusing the drug. In fact, an overdose of Flexeril can produce severe health complications—cardiac arrest, seizures, depression, heart attacks, and even death.  

How Long Do Muscle Relaxers Stay in Your System?

The side effects associated with muscle relaxers will typically last anywhere from 4-6 hours, whereas some might not fully wear off for up to 24 hours. The question remaining is, does it leave your system once the effects have worn off? No, not entirely. 

Common muscle relaxants can be detectable in urine up to eight days following consumption. The half-life of muscle relaxers can amount anywhere from four to eight days or even weeks, depending on the type of medication. To clarify, the half-life of a drug is the time that it takes for the activity in the body to reduce by half. In general, the lasting effects of muscle relaxers factors into an individual’s body mass index (BMI), age, physical health, medical history, dosage, etc. 

Determining how long muscle relaxers stay in the system (blood, urine, saliva, and hair) depends on the person’s unique system but also on the type of muscle relaxer being prescribed.

For example, these estimates are in reference to the prescription medications Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) and Carisoprodol (Soma):

  • Blood: 1-3 days
  • Urine: Up to 8 days
  • Saliva: Up to 36 hours
  • Hair: 30-90 days

Prior to performing a drug test, individuals should inform their provider of any prescriptions, more specifically any prescribed muscle relaxants, as this could interfere with the results. 

Are Muscle Relaxers Addictive?

The sole intention of a muscle relaxer is to provide relief for those that struggle with muscle aches and pains. Many people who regularly experience physical pain due to muscle spasms often become dependent on these medications in order to achieve any sense of normalcy. Unfortunately, needing medication to function can result in the person building a tolerance through repeated use. Once tolerance is built, the individual no longer receives the same level of relief, causing them to seek out a higher dose or abuse their medication.

On top of this, people may view the relief resulting from a muscle relaxant as addicting in nature. Due to the immense toll that pain can take on the mind and body, those suffering from lingering pain may believe that their prescription is their hope of a pain-free life which can lead to abuse and addiction. That being said, a typical prescription for muscle relaxers does not exceed more than 2-3 weeks. 

Addiction to muscle relaxers often begins when people take more than the prescribed dosage, which unfortunately is not uncommon. Most people who depend on muscle relaxers become addicted to the side effects and the feeling it gives them. Concerns and dangers arise when a person is unable to function normally without their medication. One of the most common struggles people face after tapering off of muscle relaxers is being able to fall asleep on their own—which is often where dependency happens. Additionally, muscle aches and spasms can feel heightened in those who have stopped taking medication as they adjust back into their normal routine.

So the question remains, are muscle relaxers addictive? The answer is that muscle relaxers can be addictive depending on the individual. Factors such as the medical condition, severity of pain, BMI, and the symptoms following treatment can all affect the potential for misuse, abuse, and forming of an addiction.

Dangers of Muscle Relaxer Abuse

When a doctor or medical professional prescribes someone with muscle relaxers, it is typically for the short term. With this in mind, muscle relaxers are not intended for regular consumption. In contrast, over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen or Tylenol allow for regular use due to their minimal risk of harm. That being said, nonaddictive pain relievers are limited in their ability to reduce severe, recurring discomfort. Those suffering from consistent or intermittent muscle pain may require muscle relaxers in order to power through the beginning stages of physical therapy to regain strength without debilitating pain. The issue arises after the routine use of muscle relaxers because the euphoric effects can lead to addictive behaviors. Those who take muscle relaxers habitually will often develop a dependency on the substance. As a result, these individuals commonly struggle to successfully taper off of the medication once their treatment plan comes to an end. When tapering off of a drug due to dependence or addiction, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur. Some people cannot bear the absence of their substance and will indulge in it even more than usual—this can often lead to an overdose. Abusing muscle relaxers can lead to seizures, severe anxiety, hallucinations, irregular heartbeat, and possibly death.

Symptoms of Withdrawal 

Withdrawal from a substance might look different for everyone depending on their BMI, drug of choice, and intake. 

The most common symptoms of withdrawal from muscle relaxers can include:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Hallucinating
  • Body tremors 
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of balance and coordination
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis

Withdrawal is the uncomfortable experience of suffering a combination of mental and physical side effects following quitting or reducing substance intake. Unfortunately, the discomfort of withdrawal often pushes people back into their old routines of substance abuse. An overdose can occur when tolerance is built, lowering the level of relief provided by the medication. As result, people who consistently consume muscle relaxers often become increasingly dissatisfied with the medication’s results. This dissatisfaction leads them to take more than their prescription dictates in an attempt to alleviate discomfort. Taking more than the doctor-recommended amount of a pain killer can result in harmful side effects, an overdose, or death.

Symptoms of Overdose

Overdose is what happens when a person takes an excessive and lethal amount of a substance. While not all overdoses result in death, it is never a risk that you want to take. It is common knowledge that the symptoms of withdrawal are uncomfortable, however, overdose symptoms are ten times worse. 

  • Confusion
  • State of shock
  • Slowed, ineffective breathing
  • Unresponsive
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Death

Overdose can be prevented altogether when you accept your situation and seek out help for muscle relaxer addiction. In doing so, people who endure the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms can successfully remove their mental and physical dependence on painkillers. 

Moreover, those who are willing to recover from their addiction or dependence on muscle relaxers can find comfort and compassion within a seamless transition into treatment. If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction, drug rehab for addiction treatment could be the safest, most comfortable place to detox and fully recover in a healthy, reliable environment.

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