What is the Soma Abuse Potential and Symptoms of Addiction
Soma, also known by its generic name carisoprodol, is a muscle relaxant prescribed to ease acute musculoskeletal pain and tension. Soma is sometimes abused recreationally for its sedative properties, and chronic misuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Death from overdose or the potentially severe sedative withdrawal syndrome is a concern, and those who think they may have a problem with Soma addiction should seek help from a professional rehab facility.
What Is Soma?
Soma is the brand name for the prescription drug carisoprodol, a muscle relaxer with sedative properties that depresses activity in the central nervous system.1 A generic compound form of the drug contains both aspirin and carisoprodol, and another contains carisoprodol, aspirin, and the opioid painkiller codeine.
Doctors prescribe Soma, in conjunction with rest and physical therapy, to help relieve muscle tension and pain associated with injuries such as sprained or strained muscles.2 However, some people abuse the drug for the feelings of sedation and relaxation it produces. Those who abuse Soma often do so in combination with other substances.
Soma can enhance the effects of alcohol, other sedatives, and opioid painkillers.3 In fact, people with a dependence on opioids or benzodiazepines will sometimes turn to Soma as a substitute if those drugs are unavailable.3
What Are the Effects?
In prescribed doses, the therapeutic benefits of Soma take effect within about 30 minutes. These effects last 4–6 hours and include:3
- Reduced muscle pain.
- Relaxed muscles.
At higher doses, Soma can lead to a euphoric high. Sensations may include:3
- Heightened sensations of well-being and self-confidence.
- Increased energy.
- Increased socialization.
- Elevated mood.
Combining Soma with other drugs, such as opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines, may enhance these effects.3
What Are the Risks?
While Soma is generally safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor, there are potential side effects. These can include:1,2
- Fast heart rate.
One of the greatest risks associated with Soma is overdose.The use of Soma can induce problems with memory, cognition, and coordination, especially in older people. This increases a user’s risk of injury from falls or accidents while operating a vehicle or heavy machinery.1
One of the greatest risks associated with Soma is overdose. Taking large doses of the drug can result in serious medical complications, which can be fatal in some cases.1
Signs of Overdose
It is possible to overdose on Soma, and the number of people who overdose on the drug is rising each year. The number of emergency room visits related to Soma overdoses doubled from 15,830 visits in 2004 to 31,763 visits in 2009.4 In 1/3 of these emergency room visits, the person was admitted to the hospital for further treatment.4 Signs of a Soma overdose include:1
- Slowed breathing.
- Low blood pressure.
- Loss of muscle control.
- Rigid muscles.
- Repetitive, uncontrolled eye movements.
- Blurred vision.
- Dilated pupils.
Soma overdose requires immediate medical attention. If you suspect someone has overdosed on Soma, call 911.
Mixing with Other Drugs
Recreational users sometimes mix Soma with other drugs or alcohol to enhance the sedative and relaxing properties of both substances. Some compound forms of carisoprodol already contain codeine, an opioid painkiller, so combining Soma with other opioids is especially dangerous.
The risk of overdose rises significantly when users mix Soma with other substances that depress certain key functions of the central nervous system, such as respiration and heart rate. Antidepressants, alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium, all increase the risk of an overdose when taken with Soma.1
A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that in emergency room visits related to Soma, 77% of cases involved other prescription drugs: 55% involved opioids and 47% involved benzodiazepines. Additionally, 12% of Soma-related ER visits also involved alcohol.4
Mixing Soma with other drugs has become so popular that there are even slang terms for the practice. “Soma Coma” is the street name for Soma mixed with codeine, while Soma taken with Vicodin is known as the “Las Vegas Cocktail.”5
In addition to the risk of overdose and other health complications, users who abuse Soma alone or in combination with other drugs face a risk of developing compulsive, drug-seeking behaviors that could lead to addiction.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic condition in which a person keeps seeking out and using drugs, despite experiencing serious negative consequences from doing so. With many types of substance addiction, changes take place in the brain over time that make it difficult for the person to control his or her compulsion to use the drug.
Addiction is frequently tied to the dual processes of tolerance and dependence. As tolerance increases, people find they need to take increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired response. As the patterns of Soma abuse escalate, significant physical dependence is almost guaranteed to develop, and when it does, the body will have grown so accustomed to the presence of the drug that it needs it in order to feel normal. A person who is physically dependent on Soma will experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop using it.
Developing some degree of either tolerance or dependence does not necessarily mean a person is addicted to Soma, though they are related. Someone who is addicted to Soma will keep taking the drug despite serious physical, social, or psychological consequences.6 Someone may be diagnosed with addiction if they experience at least 2 of the following signs and symptoms over a period of 12 months or less:6
- Taking Soma over a longer period of time or in greater amounts than intended
- Wanting to cut back, or trying to cut back on drug use, but not being able to do so
- Experiencing strong cravings to use Soma
- Spending a lot of time trying to get Soma, taking Soma, and recovering from using Soma
- Performing poorly at work or in school, or neglecting family responsibilities because of drug use
- Using the drug even though it creates conflict with family or friends
- Using Soma in dangerous situations, such as when driving
- Continuing to take the drug even though it aggravates a medical or psychological condition
- Developing a tolerance to Soma
- Experiencing physical withdrawal when drug use is stopped or reduced
When a person who is dependent on Soma stops using the drug, they are likely to experience certain physical symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs when the body had become dependent upon a substance and that substance is withdrawn.
Soma withdrawal symptoms include:3
- Abdominal cramps.
- Muscle pain.
- Seizures, which can be fatal.
Professionals recommend that you never stop taking Soma “cold turkey” but rather slowly taper off of the drug.
Because of the potential for serious and possibly deadly side effects, medical supervision is recommended when you’re ready to stop using Soma. Professionals recommend that you never stop taking Soma “cold turkey” but rather slowly taper off of the drug.5
A professional detox facility can help you determine the best tapering schedule for your individual case. For example, a recommended tapering schedule for a relatively healthy person under the age of 65 is 4 days. 7 People who take more than 1400 mg of Soma per day, who are over the age of 65, or who have kidney or blood disease, may require a longer taper period of up to 9 days.7
What Happens in Rehab?
Detox is just the first step in a rehab program and is the process of clearing a drug from the body while under the professional care of detox staff. In addition to monitoring for medical complications, most detox programs provide some form of social and emotional support as patients adjust to drug-free living.
During detox, doctors may prescribe medications to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal. For example, if you have insomnia, the doctor can give you sleep medications. Or, if you have nausea or stomach cramps, you can receive medicine to help with those symptoms. There are also medications that can help prevent the seizures that sometimes occur during Soma withdrawal.8
Detox alone is not sufficient to fully treat substance addiction; it is only the first step in a rehab and recovery program. Patients who leave treatment immediately after detox have not addressed the underlying issues that led to the use of drugs in the first place—leaving them vulnerable to relapse. The counseling, therapy, and other strategies applied in rehab are necessary for patients to learn how to stay drug-free.
There are numerous therapeutic approaches to rehab, but most will include various forms of individual and group treatment. Many rehab programs use group therapy as the primary form of treatment for addiction, while other programs focus on individual treatment. Many treatment facilities use both. Regardless of whether the treatment is individual or group, there are 2 common behavioral interventions used by counselors.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of behavioral treatment that is common for treating addiction. CBT helps people change thinking patterns, recognize situations that can lead to drug use, and learn ways to avoid using drugs again.
- Motivational interviewing is another form of therapy designed to work with a person’s motivation to change and enhance the motivation to stop using drugs.
Options to Consider
There are many options for treatment, and everyone’s situation is different. There are many factors to consider in selecting the best fit for your needs. In general, there are 2 broad categories of rehab programs:
- Inpatient programs: These rehab programs provide 24/7 support and supervision while you are being treated for addiction.
- Outpatient programs: These vary in intensity and frequency of services. An intensive outpatient program (IOP) usually meets 2–3 days a week for 3–4 hours a day, while a partial hospitalization program (PHP) typically provides treatment from 4–6 hours per day for up to 7 days a week.
Some of the important factors to consider in choosing a rehab program include:
- Location: If you need to get away from an environment that triggers your drug use or be in an environment where you are free from day-to-day responsibilities so that you can focus on your treatment, an inpatient program far from those distractions might be a better choice. However, if you have a strong support system of family and friends, a program close to home might be better for you so that family can visit more often and participate in treatment.
- Cost: Can you afford to attend a program in another state, including air fare to get there? Does your health insurance only cover programs with specified providers? If you have no insurance and are paying the full cost of treatment yourself, how much can you realistically afford? Does the program offer a payment plan, or are you able to take out a healthcare loan? All of these are questions that must be considered.
- Amenities: Do you want a program which emphasizes holistic health and provides a focus on nutrition and exercise as part of the rehab program? If you want vegan food, yoga classes, or horseback riding as part of your treatment program, be sure to ask questions about what is available in each program you are considering.
Because patients struggling with addiction to Soma typically started taking the drug therapeutically for pain, it’s also important to consider the alternate pain management strategies available at the treatment center. Options like massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga, or regular access to a chiropractor can help the patient manage their pain without Soma or other prescription drugs so they have a better chance at successful recovery.
Where Do I Start?
The thought of entering rehab can be frightening, and you may feel unsure of where to begin. There are many options available to help treat Soma abuse and dependence, and treatment professionals can help you through each step of the process. Thousands of people have made this same journey from addiction to recovery, and you can too
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2009). Soma Compound.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Carisoprodol.
- Kumar, M., Dillon, G. (2015). Carisoprodol: Update on Abuse Potential and Mechanism of Action. Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology,7(1), 1–10.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Hospital Emergency Department Visits Involving the Misuse of the Muscle Relaxant Drug Carisoprodol Have Doubled Over Five Years, Study Shows.
- New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. (2010). FYI Soma (Carisoprodol).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
- Mississippi Division of Medicaid. (2014). Tapering Carisoprodol.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal from Specific Substances.