Tens of thousands of people die from opioid overdoses each year. Those numbers continue to go up, especially as highly potent and dangerous drugs like fentanyl overtake the streets. Opioids, which are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers and heroin, cause respiratory depression. Respiratory depression is the cause of opioid overdoses resulting in death.
Opioids are highly addictive, and addiction can have severe consequences. People who struggle with opioid addiction may be more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, they may experience breakdowns in their relationships, and they may be unable to maintain a productive life. Untreated opioid addiction can also lead to criminal behaviors. There’s so much conversation about what can be done to curb these effects. One approach is medication-assisted treatment or MAT. Naltrexone pills are part of a complete MAT approach to opioid misuse, and they can also be used to help treat alcohol use disorder.
When someone is addicted to alcohol or opioids, it’s a complex scenario. There is physical dependence where their body is dependent on the presence of drugs or alcohol. When someone is physically dependent and tries to stop taking the drug, they experience withdrawal symptoms. There’s also the complexity of psychological addiction, which involves the chemistry of the brain, as well as underlying psychological considerations. There’s not one cure for addiction, especially with a class of drugs as powerful as opioids.
Instead, it often requires a holistic approach, which is what MAT is. With medication-assisted treatment, people addicted to drugs or alcohol may receive medication such as naltrexone pills. That medication alone isn’t considered a cure-all. Ideally, medication is combined with behavioral treatment and counseling which looks at all of the components contributing to addiction. This is the best way to be successful in long-term recovery.
There are two primary ways naltrexone is administered. The first is orally with naltrexone pills. There is also an injectable form of naltrexone. Naltrexone pills can be taken daily in varying dosages. Before beginning to take naltrexone pills, a patient should be opioid-free for at least seven days. With some opioids such as methadone, patients typically have to have stopped taking them at least 14 days before taking naltrexone. ReVia is the brand name of naltrexone pills, while Vivitrol is an intramuscular injection. Vivitrol is a long-lasting variation of naltrexone, and it’s usually given monthly in a clinical setting. Naltrexone pills can be taken in a clinic or at home, and they’re taken daily as with most prescription medicines. There are advantages and disadvantages to both naltrexone pills and the injectable medicine. For example, with naltrexone pills, patients can take them at home, which may be more convenient. On the other hand, patients have to make sure they keep up with their prescription, as opposed to a once-monthly commitment with Vivitrol.
Both naltrexone pills and the injectable form block the brain’s response to opioids, since this drug is an opioid antagonist. There are certain receptors in the brain and throughout the central nervous system occupied when a person takes opioids. The activation of these receptors is why users experience the effects of these drugs, such as pain relief, euphoria, and respiratory depression. With naltrexone pills or the injectable version, the same receptors are occupied by the naltrexone, blocking the effects of other opioids. The effects of naltrexone are similar in alcoholics. Alcohol activates some of the same receptors as opioids. Naltrexone can block the pleasant effects of alcohol. If someone takes naltrexone and then drinks, they’re not likely to feel a buzz or feel drunk from it. Without those desirable effects, cravings may be reduced.
People considering naltrexone pills or an injectable version of the medicine have to understand that it’s not a cure-all. What needs to happen for a successful recovery is effective, in-depth treatment. Any medical professional who can prescribe medication can prescribe naltrexone, but the medication used alone isn’t likely to be very effective, especially for severe addiction problems. There are also side effects of naltrexone pills and shots, including possible liver damage. It would take large doses for effects on the liver to occur, but it is possible. If people take naltrexone and then attempt to take drugs to overcome the blocking effects, there’s a high risk they will overdose and die.
Naltrexone pills are one variation of this medication, and the other is injectable. Naltrexone, whether in pill for injection form, can help people who struggle with opioid or alcohol addiction, by blocking the effects of these substances as they participate in a treatment program. There is not a potential for abuse or addiction with naltrexone pills or injections. Naltrexone has shown promise as part of a medication-assisted treatment approach to substance use disorders.
If you or your loved ones are struggling with addiction, we encourage you to contact The Recovery Village. We offer nationwide treatment centers with programs that vary in approach and length. We work with patients to address each aspect of their issues and prepare them for a successful, productive life free of opioids or other substances.
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.