What Is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a drug that has shown a great deal of promise in assisting people who are working to overcome their addiction to alcohol. Naltrexone acts by binding to endorphin receptors in the body and completely blocking the pleasurable sensation that one gets either from drinking alcohol or taking opioids. Researchers have found that in the absence of this “high,” researchers have found that even the heaviest drinkers have little incentive to continue drinking.

Naltrexone has been shown to be safe insofar as it carries no risk of dependence and has few withdrawal side effects. Naltrexone is not an opioid and will not itself give the person taking it a euphoric high, even in large doses. Therefore, the risk of this drug being abused is relatively low. These factors make it particularly helpful in assisting people recovering from addiction. Naltrexone comes in two forms: a pill form called Depade or ReVia and an injectable form called Vivitrol.

Naltrexone for Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

A 2008 study published by the National Institutes of Health indicates that naltrexone “has been shown to be an effective adjunct to the treatment of alcohol dependence.”

Currently, there are two approved methods that focus on naltrexone as a form of treatment for alcoholism. The first method is simply to take one naltrexone pill daily in the morning and try to refrain from drinking alcohol. This method has been moderately successful.

The second method of using naltrexone for alcohol abuse is called the Sinclair Method, named for the doctor who invented it. A patient using the Sinclair Method takes a dose of naltrexone approximately one hour prior to drinking. The patient is not asked to abstain from alcohol use during this treatment, which early studies have shown to be quite effective in helping people recovering from alcohol addiction.

Drinking Alcohol While Taking Naltrexone

Excessive drinking while on naltrexone in order to “get past” the boundary and experience the pleasurable effects of the alcohol is never a good idea because naltrexone can cause liver damage in much the same way that excessive drinking can. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “Naltrexone can have toxic effects on the liver. A patient receives blood tests of liver function prior to the onset of treatment and regularly during treatment to determine if he/she should take it at all, if he/she should stop taking it, or if he/she experiences the relatively rare side effect of liver toxicity.” While drinking on naltrexone is safe in reasonable amounts and for a reasonable amount of time, continuing to abuse alcohol on naltrexone is not a solution for overcoming a dependency on alcohol.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder involving alcohol or other drugs, we invite you to contact our compassionate and well-trained team at The Recovery Village. We’re here to answer your questions and ready to help in any way we can.

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.