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French health authorities have approved the use of a muscle relaxant to treat people addicted to alcohol. However, concerns have been raised about the efficacy of the drug as well as its possible side effects.

Following a trial in 132 heavy drinkers that began in 2014, the French national drug agency, ANSM, cleared the use of baclofen, reports Medical Xpress. After being treated with baclofen, 80% of the participants either became abstinent or drank moderately. Two other drugs commonly used to treat alcoholics, naltrexone and acamprosate, have a success rate of 20–25%.

Interest in the muscle relaxant as a treatment for alcohol addiction began in 2008 when Olivier Ameisen, a French cardiologist who practiced in the USA, published his book Le Dernier Verre (The last drink). Using a treatment of high dose baclofen, Ameisen was able to assist many of his patients in achieving sobriety.

Critics of using baclofen for alcoholism say that its efficacy has not been proven, while others say that treating addiction with another substance is a bad idea. The dosage has been reduced to 80 mg/day from the previous 300 mg. However, concerns remain about its side effects.

ANSM director Dominique Martin said that the authorisation of baclofen (sold under brand names including Kemstro, Lioresal and Gablofen) was important to meet “a public health need”.

In the UK, a number of medications are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to treat alcohol misuse. These include acamprosate, disulfiram, naltrexone and nalmefene. Alcohol Awareness Week runs in the UK from 19–25th November 2018.

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