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Tizanidine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks & Treatment

Tizanidine is a prescription medication that is FDA-approved for a condition called spasticity. People with this painful issue experience prolonged muscle tightness and intense pain.[1] While tizanidine is effective, it can also be addictive.

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If you’re experiencing tizanidine abuse or addiction, a treatment program can help you regain control, stop abusing the drug, and stay sober for a lifetime.

An Overview of Tizanidine 

Brand names Zanaflex, Comfort Pac-tizanidine
Drug classificationMuscle relaxant 
Prescribed for?Spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, stroke, and traumatic brain injury 
FDA approved?Yes
Typical side effects Drowsiness, blurry vision, nervousness, and hallucinations
Addiction potential Unclear 
Withdrawal dangers High blood pressure and fast heartbeat
MAT available?No

What Is Tizanidine Addiction?

Doctors use the term substance use disorder (SUD) when discussing what others call tizanidine addiction. No matter what you call it, people who take this medication compulsively are struggling and need help. 

A tizanidine SUD might begin with a prescription for the drug. But in time, the person uses the drug in ways a doctor never intended. 

But a tizanidine addiction could also begin with another type of substance abuse. Some people abuse drugs like tizanidine to manage withdrawal symptoms caused by narcotics or alcohol.[2] In time, the person could become addicted to both substances. 

Signs & Symptoms of Tizanidine Addiction 

Everyone with a SUD is different, But doctors need criteria to diagnose conditions and offer appropriate help. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (or DSM-5) does that. 

Per the DSM-5, addiction symptoms include the following:[3]

  • An inability to quit or cut back use, even if you want to 
  • Using more tizanidine than you intend to
  • Using tizanidine in risky situations 
  • Continued use of tizanidine despite the knowledge that it’s dangerous 
  • Needing more tizanidine to get the effect a smaller dose once delivered
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms between doses or when you try to quit

Withdrawal symptoms are a part of addiction. It’s important to understand what that looks like.[5] Common symptoms seen in people who quit tizanidine abruptly include the following:[1]

  • Fast heartbeat
  • High blood pressure 
  • Muscle tension 

How Addictive Is Tizanidine?

Researchers use extensive studies on humans to determine how addictive drugs are. Unfortunately, they have not completed these studies on tizanidine.[2] Because of this lack of research, it’s impossible to know just how addictive this drug can be. 

Studies done in the 1990s prove that muscle relaxants can be drug abuse targets, and they’re often abused with narcotics and alcohol.[4] Sometimes, people use these substances in combination to extend a high. And sometimes, they abuse these drugs together to ease withdrawal symptoms. 

The chemical makeup of tizanidine can factor into its addictiveness. But your health, genes, age, and more can also influence how quickly you develop a complicated relationship with drugs.

Causes of Tizanidine Addiction 

There isn’t one set of addiction triggers that applies to every single person. Typically, people develop complex relationships with drugs due to an interplay of multiple factors. 

Those typical risk factors can include the following:

  • Biology: The quicker your body processes drugs and sparks a change, the more each dose is memorable and reinforcing. 
  • Environment: If it’s easy for you to access tizanidine via friends, family, and doctors, building up an addiction takes less time and effort. 
  • Trauma: People with a difficult past are more likely to self-medicate with substances. 
  • Pain: People with painful conditions are more likely to get prescriptions for strong drugs like tizanidine. 
  • Poor mental health: Conditions like depression, anxiety, or an addiction to another substance make tizanidine abuse more likely.

Having one or all of these conditions doesn’t mean you’ll automatically develop an addiction after using tizanidine. But the more you have, the more dangerous the drug might be. 

Effects of Tizanidine Abuse 

Like most prescription drugs, tizanidine can cause both short-term and long-term side effects. The more you take and the longer the abuse occurs, the more difficulty you might have. 

Short-Term Effects

Common short-term tizanidine side effects include the following:[1]

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Tingling of the extremities (arms, legs, feet, and hands)
  • Depression
  • Rash
  • Sweating

More serious side effects include the following:

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Pain in the abdomen (upper right portion of the stomach)
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Hallucination (hearing or seeing nonexistent things)

If you or someone you know is experiencing serious side effects, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Long-Term Consequences & Risks 

Tizanidine can cause both physical and mental health issues when abused for long periods. Symptoms include the following:[2]

  • Kidney disease 
  • Liver disease 
  • Drug dependence 
  • Withdrawal symptoms between doses
  • Higher risk of overdose 

Treatment Options 

People addicted to tizanidine can get better, but they often need to enroll in a qualified treatment program. Your program might involve the following elements: 

Medical Detox 

A tizanidine detox program typically involves a taper. Instead of quitting the drug quickly, your doctor reduces your dose very slowly while watching for severe withdrawal symptoms. Brain cells adjust to sobriety slowly, allowing you to get healthy without experiencing severe distress. 

Medical detox alone isn’t enough to address an addiction. When the program is complete, you’ll be sober. But you need to build up skills to help you stay that way. 

Inpatient Rehab

An inpatient rehab program allows you to step away from your habits and triggers. You’ll focus exclusively on your addiction and getting better. 

Inpatient rehab programs typically offer medication management, individual counseling, group counseling, and support group meetings under one roof. This full-service approach can help you make great strides in your recovery.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

When your inpatient program is complete, a partial hospitalization program (PHP) could come next. You’ll move back home but return to the facility for up to 30 hours of therapy and recovery services per week. 

A PHP program allows you to keep a tight focus on your recovery while you challenge your sobriety by living at home. If you’ve relapsed after leaving inpatient programs in the past, a PHP could be a better choice for you. 

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

At the end of a PHP, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) represents the next level of care. You’ll spend between 9 and 20 hours in contact with your treatment team in the facility you know and recognize. 

But you’ll have more time to connect with your family. And you might be able to return to work or volunteer in your community.

An IOP program typically offers individual counseling, group counseling, support group meetings, and medication management. 

Standard Outpatient Care

A standard outpatient program represents the last step in your treatment journey. You spend a few hours in contact with your team every week, but you’ll live at home, return to work, and otherwise return to your normal life, but with new skills to resist relapse. 

An outpatient program typically involves individual and group counseling. If your team determines that your relapse risks are too high, you can return to more intense forms of care at any point. 

Therapies Used in Rehab

Counseling is a core part of any addiction treatment program. Treatment teams use sessions to help you build relapse prevention skills and your general knowledge, so you can thrive in recovery. 

Common therapy approaches include the following:

  • Education: Few people understand how addictions work, especially when they have them. Classroom or virtual sessions can help you understand how the substances you take can harm your body and mind. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Treatment professionals help you understand your addiction triggers, including negative thought patterns. With that information, you can deal with your cravings before they overwhelm you. 
  • Family therapy: Your spouse, parents, and children can be amazing helpers in sobriety. Counseling sessions can help you repair these critical relationships, as oftentimes, they are damaged during active addiction. 
  • Group therapy: Join a session with others in recovery. Learn how their addictions are similar to or different than yours. The relationships formed in sessions can serve as the foundation of your support network in recovery.

Aftercare & Relapse Prevention 

A robust treatment program gives you knowledge and skills that lead to sobriety. But most people also need support. An aftercare program can help. 

Your aftercare program might involve the following elements:

  • Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery meetings
  • Sober living homes if you’re not ready to live with your family
  • Continued therapy appointments
  • Medication management

You’ll spend the rest of your life in recovery. Your need for support may wax and wane during this time. Stay committed to your sobriety and ask for help when needed. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Tizanidine Addiction

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about tizanidine addiction. 

What is tizanidine used for?

Tizanidine is a treatment for spasticity (uncomfortable and uncontrollable muscle contractions).

Is tizanidine a narcotic?

No. Tizanidine is a muscle relaxer.

How long does tizanidine stay in your system?

Tizanidine has a half-life of about 2.5 hours.[1] It stays in your system for about 12 hours, but you may not feel your dose for that long.

Can you overdose on tizanidine?

Yes. Typical overdose symptoms include very slow breathing, confusion, and cardiac abnormalities. Medical care is needed.

Is tizanidine considered a strong muscle relaxer?

Yes. Tizanidine is a strong medication used to treat spasticity, which involves severe muscle contractions.

Updated October 29, 2023
Resources
  1. Tizanidine. (January 2022). StatPearls.
  2. Tizanidine. (November 2015). American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
  3. Risk of Tizanidine-Induced Adverse Events After Concomitant Exposure to Ciprofloxacin: A Cohort Study in the U.S. (May 2022). The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
  4. Using Clonidine in the Treatment of Tizanidine Abuse and Withdrawal: A Case Report of a patient With Somatoform Pain Disorder. (March 2020). Journal of Substance Use.
  5. Management of Tizanidine Withdrawal Syndrome: A Case Report. (February 2018). Clinical Medicine Insights: Case Reports.
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