Are Muscle Relaxants as Addictive as Opiates?

red, yellow, and blue pills spilling out of medicine bottles

While effective to treat pain if used as prescribed, similar to opiates, muscle relaxers have gained a reputation as a dangerous drug of abuse on the prescription painkiller playing field.

Why Are Muscle Relaxers Addictive?

Many people think of muscle relaxers as relatively harmless pain relievers. They’re regularly prescribed for back and neck pain, muscle spasms and other discomfort associated with the skeletal muscles. Muscle relaxers may be dispensed when over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen aren’t strong enough to relieve pain or when conditions of the liver or ulcers make acetaminophen and ibuprofen potentially damaging.

If taken as prescribed, muscle relaxers can provide temporary relief for physical pain. Dependence may develop when they’re taken in larger quantities or habitually. Some of the properties of muscle relaxers that cause people to abuse them include the following:

  • Muscle relaxers can have a sedating effect. Some people become dependent on them for sleep.
  • As the name implies, muscle relaxers help people feel relaxed. Muscle relaxers work on the entire central nervous system, not just muscles, so both the mind and body feel relaxed and tranquil. Some people may start abusing muscle relaxers because they help them feel less anxious.
  • When taken in large quantities, certain muscle relaxers can create a subtle altered state of mind or floating feeling.

Soma Muscle Relaxer Addiction

Carisoprodol (more commonly known by its brand name Soma) is thought to be the most frequently abused muscle relaxer because of its benzodiazepine-type qualities when taken in high doses.

Some reasons why soma muscle relaxer addiction develops include the following:

  • Carisoprodol is a schedule IV controlled substance because of its high propensity for abuse.
  • Soma muscle relaxer addiction may develop alone or as part of a polysubstance addiction. Many times people use alcohol or other drugs in combination with carisoprodol to enhance a relaxed or euphoric state.
  • People with substance abuse problems may combine Soma with benzodiazepines or opiates to achieve a high similar to heroin when heroin isn’t readily available.
  • People with soma muscle relaxer addiction can experience unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit, including anxiety, insomnia, vomiting, nausea, tremors and headaches.

Are Muscle Relaxers as Addictive as Opiates?

There are no scientific studies that compare the addictive nature of opiates versus muscle relaxers, but the healthcare profession and Drug Enforcement Administration view them both as highly addictive substances. There are several case studies and scientific reviews of data that show there’s clear evidence of a high risk and incidence of soma muscle relaxer addiction. One of the most troubling problems is the combination of these two substances to achieve a high.

A recent report released by Express Scripts, one of the largest U.S. pharmacy benefits management companies, found:

  • 28% of people prescribed opioid painkillers in 2013 were also taking a muscle relaxant.
  • 8% of those people were mixing opioids, benzodiazepines and muscle relaxers known as the “Houston Cocktail,” which can have deadly consequences because of the way it depresses breathing.
  • Two-thirds of people taking the dangerous medication mixes were women.

Abusing muscle relaxers, especially pairing them with other substances, comes with serious risks.

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