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Baclofen Raises Eyebrows as Potential Pill “Cure” for Alcoholism and Cravings

Posted in Alcoholism Treatment

Can alcoholism finally be cured? Debate and speculation on the subject have turned heads toward Dr. Olivier Amesien, a top-ranked cardiologist in France, who claims that baclofen, a muscle-relaxing drug, not only stopped his personal addiction battle with alcohol, but the physician also proposes it could be administered worldwide to other alcoholics seeking recovery.

Baclofen, says Dr. Amesien, actually stops the intense cravings for alcohol – one of the key triggers for alcoholic relapse. His theories are presented in his book, “Le Dernier Verre,” (meaning the last glass) or the U.S. title “The End of My Addiction.” Baclofen’s approved medical uses include for patients with multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms.

When his book hit the stands in France, it received intense coverage by media sources. Some physicians, responding to patient demand, prescribed baclofen to alcoholics with positive results. Other doctors are not so certain, believing that these types of “easy” cures often carry risks.

Dr. Ameisen is a Cornell University associate professor of cardiology, and then started his own Manhattan-based cardiology practice. Experiencing low self-esteem and self-doubt, Ameisen began consuming hard alcohol to cope. For two years, Ameisen worked on recovery from alcoholism at in-residence treatment centers for a total of nine months in rehabilitation. These efforts weren’t successful, and the physician went back to Paris.

There he read about a U.S. patient who took baclofen for other health problems but discovered it helped with his cocaine addiction. Ameisen began self-medicating with small amounts of baclofen, then increased his dosage to 270 mg, finding that it took away his desires to drink.

Today, Ameisen takes small doses of baclofen – ranging from 30 to 50 mg – each day. However, baclofen is still not medically approved for alcoholism. Furthermore, some medical experts say that a simple pill will not resolve the complicated issues at the heart of alcoholism, and the side effects long-term of baclofen are unknown. If proven to actually work for helping alcoholics curb cravings, experts warn that baclofen would be only part of the answer – counseling, family or peer support and a strong commitment to a lifestyle change would also be required for long-range recovery.

Cravings for alcohol can be nearly uncontrollable, described by some patients as never-ending, overwhelming and desperate. They can come on without warning, in a social setting, in the car or almost anywhere. A recovering alcoholic’s ability to overcome cravings is a critical part of their recovery success. Research indicates that cycles of relapse and recovery are very common for alcoholics embarking on recovery, affecting as many as 90 percent of patients during the early years of their recovery journey.

Baclofen isn’t the only pill considered for reducing alcohol cravings. In a separate research report, a 14-week research study at the University of Virginia’s Health System said that topiramate, a drug approved for seizures and migraines, may help reduce cravings for alcohol. Some physicians have given it to recovering alcoholic patients, though it has not yet been officially approved by the FDA for this purpose.

Most addiction professionals agree, however, that a pill is unlikely to be the total solution, but is only one part of helping a patient conquer alcoholism. Counseling and therapy based upon changing the behaviors, and treatments that involve group support, are recommended as part of an overall treatment approach.