Naltrexone is a pharmaceutical used in the treatment of addiction. It has proven to be an effective medication for those struggling with alcohol and opioid dependence. Discover more about this drug, its medical applications and risks, and role in addiction recovery.
Background & History
Naltrexone belongs to the class of drugs known as opioid antagonists. Also known as blockers, these types of medications work by binding to specific receptors in the brain with the effect of stopping or reducing unwanted reactions. In the case of naltrexone, the medication works on certain opioid receptors in the brain.
In 1984, the medication was approved by the FDA for use in patients struggling with opioid dependence. While the mechanism of naltrexone is on opioid receptors, it was approved in 2006 for the treatment of alcohol dependence.
Though its primary, approved use is in the treatment of alcohol and opioid addiction, naltrexone has been studied or used off-label for the treatment of other conditions, including:
- Dissociative symptoms
- Nicotine addiction
- Impulse control disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
This medication has been marketed under the brand names Revia, Depade, and Vivitrol. It is available both as a pill and as an injectable.
Use in Treating Addiction
For those who are struggling with alcohol dependence, naltrexone can create the space for recovery. The medication does not directly curb alcohol cravings but instead works by blocking the intoxicating effects of alcohol. By removing the “reward” for drinking in the brain, naltrexone effectively disincentivizes the patient from consuming alcohol.
Studies of those receiving naltrexone as part of their alcohol recovery treatment indicated lower drinking rates and fewer relapses. Used in tandem with therapy and other treatments, naltrexone can help alcohol users modify behavioral patterns necessary for long-term sobriety.
Opioids are a class of pain relieving drugs. While generally safe under prescribed use, they have a high rate of misuse and dependence-forming. Drugs in this category include:
Similar to its use in treating alcohol dependence, naltrexone is used for opioid addiction because of its receptor-blocking abilities. By removing the euphoric high that opioids produce, the medication removes the incentive for taking them.
As with alcohol, naltrexone does not directly mitigate opioid cravings.
Reported side effects include the following:
- Confusion or unusual thoughts
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain or cramps
Naltrexone is non-addictive and does not interact adversely with alcohol.
A secondary effect of naltrexone is an increased sensitivity of opioid receptors for a period of time following use. This can result in significantly stronger effects from opioid use than a person may be used to. The risk is that someone resuming opioid use following naltrexone treatment may overdose due to lowered tolerance.
Because of this risk, it is recommended that an individual complete a medically managed drug detox before they begin treatment with naltrexone. Such treatment should always be done under the guidance of a medical professional.
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It is possible to overcome dependence on alcohol and opioids. If you or someone you love are struggling with addiction, we can help. Please reach out to our expert staff today to learn about how to begin your path to recovery.