Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Baclofen is an old medication which is a muscle relaxant. Typically it was used to lessen the muscle spasms of cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. Years ago, we starting recommending it for alcoholism after the courageous book “The End of My Addiction” written by a French surgeon. Now we find, like Oxytocin, Baclofen can help with the symptoms of autism. Given its low side-effect profile, this merits closer study.
Addiction Drug for Autism Patients
History of Baclofen
Baclofen was originally used in the 1920s to help with cerebral palsy. It is a muscle relaxer and antispastic agent. It has a way of calming muscles, relieving pain, and decreasing stiffness in patients with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. Baclofen works on a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, which makes it also effective for the treatment of addiction. Baclofen increases GABA activity, which is the same effect alcohol and some drugs have on the brain. The result is a calming of the brain, and a decrease in anxiety. Doctors have been using baclofen to treat people with drug addiction and alcoholism since the 1980s.
Baclofen for Autism
This is the same effect researchers are hoping the new form of this drug will have on a different group of people. Children with autism have been found to benefit from a reformulated version of baclofen, called STX209. Researchers are studying this drug and its effects on autistic children and have found a reduction in behavioral outbursts and an increase in social behavior and communication. The children become more relaxed, more comfortable, and not as anxious as they normally would be.
Benefit for Addiction Treatment
The development of STX209 and its treatment for autistic patients may also benefit the field of addiction treatment. It could be that this medication has more potential than was originally thought. We know it can help with addiction, because it helps reduce anxiety in these patients. With the trials for autism treatment, researchers have separated out baclofen into two components, and begun using the active part of this drug, called STX209. This new drug is more potent than baclofen and may more effectively treat addiction patients also.
There is much research to be done on this drug before it is given the go ahead to use. Scientists are learning much along the way about how a drug addict or alcoholic can be similar to an autistic child. These two conditions, while such different diseases, seem to have somewhat of a connection. Maybe it has to do with how the brain handles stress, or the effects of anxiety on the mind. But hopefully with more studies, we will have a better treatment someday for autism. Someone that suffers from addiction may also be able to benefit from a medication like this during treatment, but there is no quick fix for conditions like addiction. Any medication given will need to be followed up with treatment and therapy in order to help the recovering addict stay sober without the aid of medication.