Naltrexone Withdrawal & Detox
Naltrexone is a prescription medication that is primarily used to treat drug addiction and dependence. Specifically, naltrexone can be used as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in which medications are used in conjunction with addiction treatment therapy. Naltrexone is a generic medication. It’s available in brand name products including Revia, Depade and Vivitrol. Naltrexone can be taken in oral form or as an injectable medication. Vivitrol is the injectable version, which is given once a month.
Naltrexone functions as an opiate antagonist. While it’s not completely clear how it works to treat alcohol dependence, it is known to block feelings of euphoria stemming from alcohol or opioids, generally. If someone takes naltrexone and attempts to use alcohol or opioids, they won’t feel the desirable effects of the substances. Naltrexone can reduce cravings and make it more likely that a person succeeds in their addiction treatment program.
Before taking naltrexone in all of its forms, including Revia, Depade, and Vivitrol, the patient has to be drug-free and detox from other substances. If someone isn’t fully detoxed from opioids or alcohol and they take naltrexone, they will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Naltrexone is a treatment intended only for people who are no longer dependent on narcotics or alcohol. It’s important that patients let their doctor know if they think they could still be experiencing withdrawal symptoms because they won’t yet be able to take naltrexone. Most doctors will order a urine drug screening before prescribing Revia, Vivitrol or Depade, to make sure that there are no opioids in the patient’s system. Most people should have stopped using opioids at least 7 to 10 days before beginning naltrexone or, in some cases, up to 14 days. If opioids haven’t fully left the body, withdrawal symptoms can occur. These symptoms can be severe and include:
- Muscle aches
- Teary eyes
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Dilated pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
One of the misconceptions about naltrexone is that the drug is an opioid itself. This is not true as naltrexone is not an opioid. Rather, it’s an opioid antagonist -meaning it blocks the effects of opioids but doesn’t create the same effects. With naltrexone, there is no potential for addiction or dependence. This means that there is no such thing as a naltrexone withdrawal timeline. However, someone may confuse the drug and its effectiveness with the sudden withdrawal symptoms that could occur if they take naltrexone and have opioids in their system. In this case, the withdrawal timeline can begin suddenly. In contrast, withdrawal from opioids without the presence of naltrexone can take 12 to 30 hours to begin. The reason that withdrawal symptoms would appear suddenly if someone were to take naltrexone while still using opioids is that naltrexone blocks the opioids immediately, rather than a gradual detox.
People may also be confused about a possible naltrexone withdrawal timeline or naltrexone withdrawal symptoms because they can experience adverse side effects while using the drug, such as cramping, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal side effects. These are common side effects associated with naltrexone that are also common symptoms of opioid withdrawal. These symptoms do not necessarily indicate opioid withdrawal.
There is no need to detox from naltrexone itself. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that does not cause physical dependence. So, if someone were to stop using naltrexone, they wouldn’t experience withdrawal. However, it is essential that patients detox from opioids before starting naltrexone. The recommended time people should wait before taking naltrexone is typically 7 to 10 days after their last dose of a narcotic. This could be longer if someone chronically uses opioids or if the drug has accumulated in their system due to heavy or frequent use.
Naltrexone can be a valuable part of an alcohol or opioid recovery program. However, naltrexone alone is not a cure for addiction. Naltrexone provides a way for people who are dependent upon alcohol or opioids to reduce their cravings and to be successful in a treatment program. Any form of medication-assisted treatment needs to be part of a larger addiction treatment and recovery program. Otherwise, even if someone uses naltrexone, the underlying disease of addiction will not be addressed.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.
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