You might not think of muscle relaxers as drugs of abuse, but they’re misused frequently. Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) is a muscle relaxer prescribed for pain related to muscle spasms and muscle injuries. It’s also a prescription drug that can put you at risk for overdose as well as cardiac arrest, seizures, and other dangerous effects when abused. Flexeril abuse is more common than most would think.
Flexeril is the brand name for cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxer that has some of the same chemical properties as tricyclic antidepressants. Flexeril is typically used in combination with physical therapy after a muscle injury or strain.
Individual muscle fibers are the target of most pain medications. When those cells relax and release, movement returns, and pain tends to fade. Flexeril is different. It works by altering chemical signals in the brain. Most people feel sleepy while taking Flexeril, and they don’t move around much. That rest and sedation could help pain to fade.
Flexeril side effects may include:
Taking Flexeril can also impact the heart’s signaling system. When that happens, you might feel like your heart is beating irregularly or too quickly. A potential danger with Flexeril involves slow digestion. Your liver processes the molecules, and it can take more than 18 hours for half of it to fade from your blood. If you start to feel sick, it takes some time for the rest of the drug to stop working.
Flexeril affects the brain’s natural processes. It’s also slow to leave the bloodstream. You may find yourself taking more than your doctor recommends, and it can be difficult to stop taking the drug once you start.
There are no scientific studies that compare the addictive nature of painkiller drugs like opiates versus muscle relaxers, but the healthcare profession views them both as addictive substances. There are several case studies and scientific reviews of data, such as this one, that argue there’s clear evidence of a high risk and incidence of muscle relaxer addiction.
Dangers of Mixing Flexeril with Other Drugs
One of the most troubling problems is the combination of other substances with muscle relaxers to achieve a high. Data shows that 70% of people prescribed opioid painkillers are also taking a muscle relaxant. Furthermore, some substance abusers are mixing opioids, benzodiazepines, and muscle relaxers to create what is known as the “Houston Cocktail” or “Holy Trinity,” which can have deadly consequences because of the way the combination of drugs depresses the respiratory system.
If you take Flexeril as prescribed by your doctor, you should not have a problem. If you start using it in any other way, there’s reason to suspect you have an addiction.
An addiction to Flexeril is characterized by behaviors like:
- Higher doses than prescribed – Your doctor tells you to take one pill at a time. You take three.
- Shortened timeframes for doses – You’re told to take the drug every four hours. You take it every three hours.
- Preoccupation with Flexeril – You find yourself thinking about Flexeril and when you can have the next dose. You plan your day around your pills.
- Loss of control – You don’t want to take more pills. You tell yourself you won’t. But you find it’s difficult or impossible to stop.
- Using Flexeril with other substances – You use alcohol or drugs with Flexeril to feel high or relaxed.
While Flexeril is considered safe when used as prescribed, it’s important to know that the drug isn’t benign. It’s made by pharmaceutical companies and sold in pharmacies, but it can still harm you.
Research published in American Family Physician suggests that serious Flexeril side effects include:
- Arrhythmias – Your heart beats in a fast, irregular manner. Muscle fibers can be damaged, and blood clots can form.
- Seizures – You lose consciousness, and your muscles move on their own, in ways you can’t control. Your body temperature rises during these episodes, and that can lead to organ failure.
- Heart attacks – Your heart stops beating altogether, or it moves in an unusual way. Tissues can die without adequate blood flow, and clots can form.
The National Institutes of Health reports that Flexeril abuse can harm liver cells. The liver can work overtime to clear the drug from your body, and Flexeril use can lead to unusual liver function. Your skin and eyes might turn yellow, and toxins could build up in your blood. The more Flexeril you take, the more likely this problem becomes.
Flexeril and alcohol abuse are also not a good combination. Taking Flexeril in large amounts with alcohol and other substances can add a whole slew of risks and dangers to the mix, including overdose and death.
Taking more than prescribed of many drugs comes with the risk of overdosing. This includes large doses of Flexeril. Symptoms of cyclobenzaprine overdose that indicate a dose that’s overwhelmed your body’s system include:
- Loss of consciousness
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that while Flexeril overdose is rare, it does happen. People have overdosed on Flexeril when they ingest toxic amounts. If you combine Flexeril with alcohol and other drugs your risk for overdose increases.
Flexeril abuse can lead to a psychological addiction, but people typically don’t develop a physical dependency on the drug. Physical Flexeril withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Low energy and low motivation
You may experience psychological withdrawal symptoms from drug abuse. These can include feeling anxious without the drug because you think you need it to cope with life. You may feel depressed without having the feeling of escape or comfort you got from the substance. Sometimes you may experience psychological cravings for the drug as well as restlessness and difficulty concentrating as you try to overcome your preoccupation with drugs and alcohol.
If you struggle with alcohol abuse or other substance misuse in addition to abusing Flexeril, you’re at risk for dangerous and even deadly withdrawal symptoms.
Many people may think of muscle relaxers like Flexeril as relatively harmless pain relievers. They’re prescribed for back and neck pain, muscle spasms, and other discomfort associated with the skeletal muscles. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed 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 and/or habitually. Some of the properties of muscle relaxers like Flexeril 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.
- Flexeril addiction may develop alone or as part of a polysubstance addiction. Many times people use drugs and alcohol in combination with muscle relaxers to enhance a relaxed or euphoric state.
- Substance abusers may combine muscle relaxers with benzodiazepines or opiates to achieve a high similar to heroin when heroin isn’t readily available.
Researchers look at emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers to determine the extent of drug abuse for medications. After all, people with an addiction issue tend to take a lot of the target drug, and they often take doses too close together.
Many people like this need medical help. That data suggests that Flexeril abuse is relatively common. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says that emergency room visits due to Flexeril rose 101% over a six-year period. And in one year alone, close to 11,000 phone calls to poison control centers were attributed to Flexeril.
The misuse of Flexeril could be due to:
- How many doctors use medications for back pain – One study found 35% of people with back pain are given medications, even though drugs aren’t always proven to help people recover.
- How long people stay on the drug – Flexeril prescriptions should be short, so you don’t have time to develop physical dependence on the drug. But researchers say about half of people who get a prescription stay on the drug for more than a year.
- The strength of the drug – Your brain notices powerful drugs and the changes they deliver. Since Flexeril is incredibly potent, it’s easy for your brain to remember, and want to use it again.
Flexeril typically stays in the system for up to 10 days. The length of time Flexeril/cyclobenzaprine can be detected in the system by lab testing depends on factors like:
- The type of drug test for Flexeril
- The halflife of cyclobenzaprine and your metabolic rate
- Your age, weight, and physical makeup
- How much Flexeril you’ve been taking and the length of time you’ve been taking it
Drug screens for Flexeril:
- Urine test – Flexeril stays in urine from three to eight days.
- Saliva test -Flexeril can be detected in saliva for up to 36 hours.
- Hair test – Flexeril is detectable in hair for up to three days.
- Blood test – The detection window for Flexeril in blood is a few hours after use and up to 10 days.
For people who feel they’re addicted to Flexeril, treatment will look similar to other substances of abuse.
You may experience mild symptoms when you stop taking Flexeril like headache, nausea, and low energy. These symptoms will typically subside on their own or may be treated with medications. If you combine Flexeril with substances like alcohol, benzos, or opioids, you’ll likely require medical detox. This is medically monitored drug detox or alcohol detox, which means that you’re under the care of professionals around the clock. They ease discomfort from withdrawal symptoms with medications, monitor your vital signs, keep you safe, and attend to medical emergencies.
To stop abusing drugs and alcohol, you need to address the root causes of your addiction. Substance abuse is a symptom of a bigger problem. Some reasons why people self-medicate with substances often include:
- Trauma and PTSD
- Unaddressed mental health issues
- Unhealthy early attachment styles
- Dysfunctional relationships
- Grief and loss
- Poor self-worth and coping skills
A professional addiction treatment program will help you address these issues with behavioral therapies and medication if needed. When you can identify underlying emotional pain, address it, and learn healthier ways to cope with it, you may be better able to refrain from substances.
You’ll work one-on-one in individual therapy as well as in groups with peers who understand what you’re going through. You will likely participate in a number of traditional and holistic therapies that help address the root causes of addiction and teach you healthier ways of thinking, relating to others and stress, and managing uncomfortable emotions.
Some of the approaches often used in addiction treatment include:
- Individual, group, and family therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Motivational interviewing
- Dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety
- Trauma therapies like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
- Holistic approaches like yoga, massage therapy, nutrition counseling, and art therapy
- Relapse prevention groups
Addiction recovery is lifelong work. When you leave a drug rehab center, you’ll be set up with an aftercare plan that includes resources to support you in recovery. In addition to healthy lifestyle changes like exercise, proper nutrition, and getting enough sleep, a continuing care plan may include:
- Appointments with an individual therapist
- Psychiatrist appointments for medication management
- Chiropractic of physical therapy appointments
- 12-step program groups
- Alumni meetings and events at the treatment center
- Staying at a sober living residence to ease the transition back into everyday life
Addiction doesn’t get better on its own. If you or a loved one is struggling with cyclobenzaprine addiction or other substance abuse issues, Footprints to Recovery can help. Our approaches to drug and alcohol addiction treatment are evidence-based and engaging so you get the best care while staying motivated in recovery. With a wide selection of traditional and holistic therapies as well as inpatient and outpatient programs, we can tailor a treatment plan to your individual needs and life situation. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation.