Baclofen is a drug used to treat an alcohol use disorder. It has long been debuted as the "Wonder Drug" for several of its unique characteristics. For one, baclofen is secreted from the kidneys, not the liver which is particularly advantageous to individuals suffering from liver disease due to an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Historically, baclofen was developed by Dr. Heinrich Keberle in 1962 initially to treat epilepsy. But because of its muscle relaxant properties, it was used instead for the treatment of spasticity particularly in cases related to multiple sclerosis. It was also used in spinal cord injuries for painful muscle spasms.
So, what is baclofen? Baclofen is a GABA receptor agonist that works to suppress the nervous system from an overdose. It's hypothesized that individuals with an AUD are GABA receptor-deficient and thus taking baclofen may reverse this complication and reduce alcohol dependence.
However, the mechanism of action of baclofen particularly in treating AUD, still remains unknown. Such mystery encouraged researchers at the University of Liverpool to re-examine the wonder drug.
Originally, the support of baclofen in treating AUD comes from clinical studies showing a decrease in mood swings, depression, and anxiety. Participants also experienced a reduction in alcohol craving.
Now, addiction researchers at the University of Liverpool are questioning the effectiveness of baclofen. Lead researchers, Dr. Abi Rose and Dr. Andy Jones performed a meta-analysis study of roughly 12 clinical trials to see if baclofen holds true in treating alcohol dependence. The purpose was to re-examine the original clinical study that showed support for baclofen and to compare this study across various variables including the placement of a placebo. The meta-analysis study merged all results together to ensure accuracy and reliability of the effectiveness of baclofen.
The addiction research team found that alcohol dependence was reduced in comparison to a placebo. However, that was not sufficient enough as baclofen did not increase alcohol abstinence over a period of days. It was also found that it did not decrease alcohol craving, anxiety, or depression.
Even though the outcomes of this study were more accurate in comparison to the original clinical trial, there are still issues that need to be examined in these current clinical trials. Dr. Rose of the addiction team states, "The existing trials also differ on a number of factors, such as the dose of baclofen given and the length of treatment. Importantly, the pharmacokinetics of baclofen (how it moves in the body) are not well-understood, so there may be individual factors influencing the effectiveness of baclofen that we do not yet understand." The research claims that the use of baclofen in the treatment of an AUD is ‘premature’.
The results of this study were published in the Addiction journal.