Stammering and Baclofen

Norbert Lieckfeldt | 12.05.2017

Stammering (also known as stuttering) is a neurodevelopmental condition which affects the physical structure of the brain and the way the brain processes speech. These brain differences are not pathological but are within the normal range of human brain development and difference. It can lead to severe anxiety which in turn will reinforce stammering patterns. Secondary behaviour can lead to tensing of muscles, especially around those related to speech production. Again, these secondary behaviours (while not the cause of stammering) can reinforce stammering speech patterns.

Recent media reports seem to indicate that research has shown some evidence that Baclofen could reduce stammering in a test subject. Baclofen is a muscle relaxant offered to patients with multiple sclerosis or spinal injuries.

In a recent study into the effectiveness of Baclofen in people with Alcohol Dependency (AD) it appears that in one case, stammering disappeared in a 61-year old bilingual man with AD when the dosage reached 90mg/day. The patient then asked for the drug to be reduced due to the side effects, and stammering returned (but his alcohol consumption also increased to pre-trial levels). When the drug was reinstated, his stammer disappeared again only to reappear after the end of the trial.

As a note of caution, the person himself did not voice any concern about stammering and regarded it merely as a problem of finding the right word in Dutch (he’s a native English speaker) and reported he doesn’t stammer in English (“Personally, as I mentioned in my report, I think my stuttering had a lot to do with finding the right words when speaking Dutch”)

It is also possible that the reduction in stammering was due to the reduced alcohol consumption which went hand in hand with an increased dose of Baclofen. Less alcohol consumption means better fine motor control.

There have been a number of drug trials in the past for stammering (eg Pagoclone) – none have so far shown promising results either in terms of stated effectiveness or in terms of increasing fluency at a cost that is acceptable to the user in terms of negative side effects.

In addition, therapy which does not address the serious impact that stammering can have on the person who stammers’ life, emotional and mental well-being, and social inclusion is merely tinkering with the symptoms. Stammering is a multi-faceted condition, affecting the individual on many levels, only one of which is a failure to be able to speak 100% stammer free.

Norbert Lieckfeldt