Side effects of muscle relaxers include dizziness, drowsiness, intestinal issues, organ damage, and addiction.
The Purpose of Muscle Relaxers
Muscle relaxers don’t work directly on your muscles. Instead, they alter impulses moving from your brain to your muscles. As signals are suppressed, your muscles move, cramp, and hurt less.
You could use muscle relaxers to help with chronic conditions like cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. But you could also use them in the short term to help with an injury.
Between 2005 and 2016, office visits related to muscle relaxants tripled. Stats like this suggest that more people are taking these drugs. If you’re one of them, know that your prescription has several side effects, including addiction risks.
5 Common Muscle Relaxer Side Effects
There are dozens of medications in the muscle relaxer class, which all cause different side effects. Your prescription should come with a handout that explains all of the side effects you can expect from your medication.
These are a few side effects most muscle relaxers can cause:
1. Substance Abuse or Addiction
Muscle relaxers can cause euphoria in some people and have been associated with abuse and addiction. Drugs like carisoprodol (brand name Soma) have the strongest abuse potential.
If you’re taking more doses than your doctor recommends, or you’re crushing extended-release pills to get sensations faster, you could be dealing with an abuse issue. If you find your use is escalating, a treatment program can help you recover.
Since muscle relaxers work directly on brain cells, they can slow down core central nervous system functions.
Some people feel dizzy when they stand up or move quickly. Others find it hard to control their hands and feet and develop an odd gait.
Your risk of falls increases if you’re dizzy or uncoordinated. A slip or trip could be fatal if you hit something hard on the way down.
Some people find the sedating qualities of muscle relaxers beneficial. If you can’t sleep because your muscles hurt, your prescription could give you the rest you need to heal.
But drowsiness could also lead to falling asleep while driving, cooking, or operating machinery. Fatal accidents could result, and you could hurt others in addition to yourself.
4. GI Upset
Some muscle relaxers leave a sour or metallic taste in your mouth. When your food tastes unusual, you may stop eating altogether. Some muscle relaxers also cause nausea and vomiting.
These issues could lead to significant weight loss, especially if you take your medications for an extended period. Nutritional deficiencies can negatively affect your overall health.
5. Organ Damage
The liver processes most types of muscle relaxers, and some variants have been tied to liver damage. Take too much, or take the drug for too long, and you could harm this vital organ.
Some types of liver damage are reversible, but some forms of liver damage are permanent.
How Dangerous Are Muscle Relaxants?
You might start taking muscle relaxants to deal with a very real and painful issue. But in time, you might find that you’re using these medications recreationally.
Soon, you’re using the drugs more, or you’re combining them with other substances like alcohol. Eventually, you discover that you can’t quit. This is addiction, and unfortunately, it’s common.
People addicted to muscle relaxants must take more of the drug to get the sensations they crave. As they take higher and higher doses, they run the risk of a fatal overdose.
People experiencing an overdose commonly have these symptoms:
- Fast heart rate
If you take some types of muscle relaxers along with opioid painkillers, your risk of an overdose increases. If you suspect an overdose in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately.
What Should You Do Next?
If you’ve been using muscle relaxers for a while, talk to your doctor. Some types of muscle relaxers change the brain so significantly that quitting abruptly is dangerous.
The drug baclofen (brand name Gablofen) can cause these symptoms when people quit abruptly:
Instead, you should taper off this drug very slowly with the help and supervision of a doctor. If you’ve been abusing your muscle relaxer, you can get the help you need in an addiction treatment program.
Once you’re sober, your team can offer treatments (like therapy) to help you avoid relapse risks in the future. You’ll identify the reasons that led to your misuse of muscle relaxants, and you’ll develop coping skills to help you stay sober for life. With the right support, you can avoid relapse.
- Long-Term Use of Muscle Relaxants Has Skyrocketed Since 2005. (June 2020). University of Pennsylvania.
- A Review of Three Commonly Prescribed Skeletal Muscle Relaxants. (January 2000). Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation.
- Choosing a Skeletal Muscle Relaxant. (August 2008). American Family Physician.
- Considerations for the Appropriate Use of Skeletal Muscle Relaxants for the Management of Acute Low Back Pain. (June 2014). Pharmacy and Therapeutics.
- Muscle Relaxants. (January 2017). Liver Tox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury.
- Flexeril. (April 2013). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- UF Study Finds Some Combinations of Opioids and Muscle Relaxants Are Safe, Others Raise Overdose Risk. (June 2020). University of Florida.