Naltrexone is a prescription medication, recommended to help treat opioid and alcohol addiction. Due to its role in the opioid epidemic, people wonder, is naltrexone a narcotic. It’s medication that’s used as part of a medication-assisted treatment program (MAT) for opioid and alcohol use disorders, but does it have the same effects of opioids? Can it lead to drug misuse issues, or cause a high?

The Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is surging around the U.S., and as a result, so are overdose deaths. Opioids are an especially dangerous class of drugs which encompass both prescription pain relievers and heroin. Opioids create a sense of euphoria which is physically and mentally addictive. These drugs can also cause respiratory depression by slowing the functionality of the central nervous system.  When breathing gets too slow, a person can lose consciousness, go into a coma or die.

It’s not just the risk of overdose deaths that make opioids so problematic. They’re also highly addictive even when only using them a few times, and this can cause lifestyle and social issues related to addiction. For example, people who are addicted to opioids may engage in risky behaviors, or have difficulty caring for their children. Relationships are destroyed because of addiction. It can be impossible for people addicted to opioids to maintain steady employment or have a productive life. Lawmakers, health professionals, and society, in general, are constantly looking for ways to curb opioid addiction and its effects in the U.S. Naltrexone is one part of that objective.

An Overview of Naltrexone

When someone is prescribed naltrexone tablets, they can be taken at home but is often done at a drug or alcohol treatment center or in a clinic. Naltrexone is also available as a once-monthly injection, which has to be administered by a medical professional. This medication works by blocking the effects of narcotics, which are also called opioids. It competes with drugs to take over the opioid receptors in the brain and occupy them. The action of naltrexone in the brain blocks the effects of opioids. If a person takes naltrexone and then attempts to use opioids, there is no high.

People frequently wonder if you can feel high from taking naltrexone, and the answer is no. There are no euphoric effects of naltrexone. Naltrexone is intended as a way to reduce cravings for opioids and prevent relapse when someone is in detox or drug treatment. Along with blocking the effects of opioids, this medication also causes immediate withdrawal if opioids are taken while on it.  Before someone can take naltrexone, they shouldn’t have used opioids for at least seven days. For certain opioids, like methadone, it should be 10 to 14 days following the last dose.

Naltrexone is ideally part of a larger drug or alcohol treatment program. In the best-case scenario, a person would be prescribed naltrexone and then would go on to complete a full treatment program that includes a medically-supervised detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment, and aftercare planning. It’s essential to understand that naltrexone isn’t a replacement for substance use disorder treatment and is actually just one part of the puzzle. Naltrexone may help people physically avoid taking drugs or alcohol, but it doesn’t treat the root causes of their substance abuse. Using naltrexone also doesn’t teach the coping and life management skills needed to be successful in long-term recovery.

Is Naltrexone a Narcotic?

Narcotic is another word for opioids including prescription pain medicines. Is naltrexone a narcotic? This is something people often wonder, but it’s not. Naltrexone is classified as an opiate antagonist, which means it prevents the stops the effects of opioids. Sometimes it’s classified as a “special narcotic,” since it blocks the effects of other narcotics.  Technically you wouldn’t classify naltrexone as a narcotic, particularly since you can’t feel high from using it.

What Are the Risks of Naltrexone?

While naltrexone is helpful as a medication-assisted treatment option, it’s not necessarily without risks. There are mild side effects possible such as nausea, vomiting or dizziness. If a person taking the drug tries to overcome the blocking effects of naltrexone by taking large amounts of opioids, it can cause a coma or death. Before taking naltrexone people should let their doctor know about their medical history, including a history of kidney or liver disease. It’s classified by the FDA as a category C drug during pregnancy, meaning it could be harmful to an unborn baby. Definitely let a doctor know if you’re pregnant or could become pregnant while taking naltrexone.

Summing Up

Naltrexone is one medication being used in the fight against opioid misuse. As an opioid antagonist, naltrexone can block the effects of heroin and prescription medications. Using naltrexone doesn’t mean you’re replacing one addiction with another. There is no potential to experience a high on naltrexone, or to misuse it.

If you or a loved on is struggling with opioid addiction or a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village. There are options available for successful treatment. We offer nationwide programs that are individualized and tailored to the specific needs of each patient.

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.