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Using friend's muscle relaxant — Safe?

Dear Alice,

I originally took a muscle relaxer because I was experiencing very bad back pain and could not sleep. I was not prescribed the muscle relaxers. My friend suggested I take one of hers. So I did, and now I will take one sometimes before bed if I can't fall asleep or if I want to actually just relax. It makes me just want to sleep, and I feel really calm after taking one. Is this bad that I take them for this reason? What are the side effects? Is it harmful?

Sincerely, Miss Dazed and Confused

Dear Miss Dazed and Confused, 

Given that your question touches on a few different topics, it may be helpful to tease them apart. While the issues you described are what muscle relaxants are prescribed and approved for, taking medications that aren’t prescribed specifically for you can put you and your health at risk (more details on this later). Additionally, even though using muscle relaxants helps you relax and feel calm, there are several alternatives you can utilize to help you feel relaxed without taking a pill. To minimize any potential risks to your health, speaking with a health care provider who’s familiar with your personal health history may provide a tailored treatment plan to effectively and safely treat your back pain and sleep concerns.   

First, it can be good to start with the risks of taking a muscle relaxant that’s not prescribed for you. While you may feel that your friend is doing you a favor, taking a prescription drug that's prescribed for someone else or taking one for a purpose other than indicated by a health care provider is referred to as drug misuse. This behavior can also include taking a drug at a higher dosage than prescribed or in a different method (e.g., grinding up and snorting a drug that was prescribed to be taken orally). When a health care provider prescribes a certain medication to a patient, they check their medical history to see if it's appropriate to prescribe, as well as review current medications to see if there could be any potentially hazardous interactions. Therefore, by taking a friend's prescription medication, you may be putting yourself at risk for harmful interactions. Beyond being unsafe, it may also be good for you to know that it’s illegal to take someone else's prescription medication. For all these reasons, health care providers are encouraged to educate patients not to share their drug prescriptions with friends and family. 

Furthermore, all drugs carry potential risk to the user's health, whether they’re prescription or not. In the case of muscle relaxants, they're a controlled substance that have been known to be addictive, as prolonged use can increase both tolerance and dependence. Therefore, medications like these require oversight to help prevent addiction. Even if you are prescribed a muscle relaxant, it could be worth asking your health care provider about alternative methods of pain relief that pose less of a dependency risk. Other side effects of muscle relaxants include feeling fatigue, dizziness, or having a dry mouth. Additionally, using muscle relaxants in conjunction with other substances that are also central nervous system depressants, such as antihistamines, sedatives, tranquilizers, cold medicines, alcohol, and narcotics, may compound the effects of the drug. So, if you’re still experiencing back pain, it may be wise to make an appointment with a health care provider to discuss this and see what could be done to help, whether it’s over-the-counter medications or certain exercises. 

Lastly, you mention that one of the benefits of taking the muscle relaxant was feeling calm and sleepy. While muscle relaxants do produce these effects, there are several alternatives you could consider to help you relax before bed. Making your favorite warm beverage such as herbal tea or hot cocoa with extra marshmallows, snuggling under a fuzzy blanket with your most comfy pajamas, or listening to soothing music before bed may all make you feel ready for sleep. If you’re well enough to be active and your back isn’t in jeopardy, a workout class or a long, brisk walk may tire you out before “hitting the hay.” Another option might be yoga; it could be just the thing to center and calm your mind, as well as help bring you toward a place of inner serenity. If you really want to treat yourself, buying yourself a gift like a massage or getting acupuncture might also be options to help reduce tension and get you to that calm, blissed out state. For some other tips on relaxing and falling asleep, it may help to check out the Sleep category Go Ask Alice! General Health archives. 

Here’s to helping you find relief safely and get to sleep soundly! 

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Last updated Oct 01, 2021
Originally published Jan 15, 2015

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