Is naltrexone addictive? Is naltrexone a narcotic? How does naltrexone work? These are all questions people commonly have about this prescription medication. It’s important to understand how naltrexone works if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to opioids or alcohol. Naltrexone is a promising medication to help combat opioid addiction as well as alcohol use disorder. Despite the benefits of naltrexone, it still requires comprehensive treatment.

Opioid Abuse

There is an opioid epidemic occurring in the U.S. Drug overdoses in 2016 killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War. In 2016 it’s estimated that as many as 65,000 people died from drug overdoses. Even as lawmakers and health officials try to find solutions to the tens of thousands of lives lost each year from opioids, the numbers continue to rise.

Why are opioids so dangerous? These drugs bind to opioid receptors in the central nervous system which cause a euphoric high, but also respiratory depression. That respiratory depression can cause a coma or death during an overdose. There is no way to know what’s being bought on the streets, either. Increasingly, many products are laced with fentanyl, which is highly potent and deadly. Opioids are problematic not just because of respiratory depression, but also because they’re extremely physically and psychologically addictive. Once someone takes opioids, whether it’s prescription painkillers or heroin, there are certain chemicals released in the brain that trigger a very rapid descent into addiction. It’s easy and takes very little time for many people to lose control of their intake of opiods.

Dealing with an opioid addiction typically requires a comprehensive treatment program, because of the complexity of addiction. Naltrexone is one potential component of a treatment program. Naltrexone is a prescription medicine that can be used in medication-assisted treatment or MAT. Naltrexone is FDA-approved to aid in opioid addiction as well as alcohol use disorder. This medication is available as a pill and also a once-monthly injection.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment refers to the combination of behavioral therapy and medication to treat a substance abuse disorder. Naltrexone is a prescription drug that when combined with behavioral therapy and counseling can deliver a holistic approach to substance use disorders. Combining medication and therapy-based treatment often proves the most successful way to treat these disorders.

When someone takes naltrexone, it works by blocking the effects of opioids. It binds to the same receptors as prescription painkillers or heroin. If someone were to use drugs while on naltrexone, they wouldn’t feel the effects of the drugs. Naltrexone is classified as an opioid antagonist. There’s no way to get high from the use of naltrexone on its own. If someone tried to overcome the blocking effects of naltrexone with a high dose of opioids or alcohol, it could be and often is deadly. When opioids are taken with naltrexone, it can also trigger immediate withdrawal symptoms.

When someone is prescribed naltrexone they often take it in a monitored setting, such as at a drug treatment facility or in a clinic. It can be taken at home, but as was touched on above, it’s so important that it be used in conjunction with a behavioral treatment program that deals with the underlying issues contributing to addiction.

Is Naltrexone Addictive?

With some forms of medication-assisted treatment, there is the fear that one addiction is being replaced with another. Methadone is an example. For some opioid addicts who begin a methadone treatment program, they become addicted to that substance. The use of methadone and similar opioid medications is meant to be done in a carefully supervised way, but drug misuse and addiction are still possible. This concern is why people frequently question whether or not naltrexone is addictive. The answer is no. Naltrexone isn’t addictive because it doesn’t cause people to feel high or euphoric when using it. All naltrexone does is block the effects of opioids or alcohol to reduce cravings and lower the risk of relapse.

Summing Up

Naltrexone can be a valuable resource in the fight against substance use disorder. It can be used as part of a medication-assisted treatment plan to help people who are addicted to opioids or alcohol because it blocks the effects of these substances and reduces cravings. As opposed to options like methadone, it’s safer since it’s not addictive. Despite the benefits, naltrexone doesn’t prevent future relapses. It only works while a person is actively using it. An in-depth treatment program paired with naltrexone offers the best chance for a successful recovery.

Do you have a substance use problem, or does your loved one? There are options available to you. Speak with us at The Recovery Village to learn more about the steps you can take to live a drug-free life. We have nationwide programs that are individualized. There isn’t one way to approach all addictions. You’re an individual, and your treatment plan should focus on that.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.