What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a drug that has shown great promise in assisting people recovering from addiction. Naltrexone is a unique drug that is classified as an opioid antagonist. It binds to opioid receptors in the body and blocks them from creating the high sought by people addicted to opioids. In fact, a person attempting to get high on an opioid while on naltrexone will experience no high at all. As a result, the hope is that since there is no euphoric high, the person recovering from addiction will be better able to control his or her craving for the drug. Similar drugs, like methadone and buprenorphine, are also used to assist recovering opioid addicts, but they actually activate, rather than suppress, opioid receptors.

Naltrexone comes in two forms: the pill form is called ReVia, and the monthly injection of naltrexone is called Vivitrol. The injection must be given by a physician. In either form, it is virtually impossible to obtain any type of high from naltrexone. It’s not an opioid. However, naltrexone’s ability to block or inhibit those effects is not limitless, and some people may take a higher dose of a drug or ingest more alcohol to surpass the naltrexone barrier and obtain the sought-after high; many people who have done this have overdosed as a result.

Is Naltrexone Addictive?

So, is naltrexone addictive in any way? The answer is no, and the good news is that it has been approved for long-term use, which is why some physicians much prefer to prescribe naltrexone over methadone and similar drugs that can become addictive on their own. The major drawback of naltrexone is that, as with any drug, it does have side effects that must be addressed.

Potential Side Effects of and Reactions to Naltrexone

Despite being a promising drug in the fight against opioid and alcohol dependency, naltrexone does have some side effects. Those experiencing any of these side effects must not discontinue taking naltrexone on their own; instead, they are encouraged to talk to their doctor about how to manage the side effects of naltrexone. According to the SAMHSAwebsite, these are some of the more common physical side effects associated with naltrexone:

  • Upset stomach or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep problems/tiredness
  • Joint or muscle pain

In addition to these physical side effects, there are some psychological side effects to be aware of. These include confusion, anxiety, depression, insomnia, paranoia, euphoria, abnormal thinking, and hallucinations. These side effects are undoubtedly difficult to bear when combined with the side effects of withdrawal and possibly even post-acute withdrawal syndrome. As such, they must be closely managed by a counselor or other mental health professional.

Additionally, although naltrexone is generally regarded as safe for long-term use, there are a few long-term side effects of naltrexone (e.g., arthritis, liver damage and respiratory infections).

What are the Drawbacks of Using Naltrexone

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect drug that solves every problem that can arise. Although naltrexone can be incredibly effective at assisting people recovering from addiction, there are some problems to be aware of. In addition to the potential to overdose as a result of trying to overcome the receptor-blocking barrier, naltrexone can lower a person’s tolerance to the abused substance, which can also lead to overdose.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or an addiction and is considering using naltrexone to overcome it, 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.