What is Naltrexone and How Does It Work?

What is Naltrexone and How Does It Work?

what is naltrexone

Addiction to drugs or alcohol can be addressed with individual therapy, group support systems, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). When you are addicted to opioids or have an alcohol use disorder, MAT is a proven method of treatment. A combination of FDA-approved medications and therapeutic methods, MAT is effective for your recovery when you are addicted to drugs or alcohol. One of the most common drugs used to treat substance use disorders is naltrexone. What is naltrexone and how does it work?

Opiate Antagonists

Naltrexone is in a class of drugs known as opiate antagonists. The medication blocks the effects of drugs known as opiates or narcotics, which includes morphine, heroin, and codeine. Naltrexone competes with these drugs for opioid receptors in the brain, preventing the feeling of well-being and pain relief provided by opioids and alcohol. The medication can also decrease the desire to take opiates.

Naltrexone has also been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for alcohol abuse. It can help people drink less alcohol or stop drinking altogether, when used with a treatment program that includes counseling, support, and lifestyle changes.

Decreased Cravings

Naltrexone has been proven effective in decreasing cravings and urges to use alcohol or opioids. People who take the medication, as part of a medical supervised MAT program, can better control their urges to use drugs or alcohol and are better able to maintain abstinence from these substances. It is important to combine naltrexone treatment with counseling, therapy, and other support.

Symptoms of alcohol and/or opioid dependence include:

  • Being unable to quit using alcohol or opioids despite problems with health and relationships
  • Requiring more alcohol or opioids to achieve the same effect
  • Presence of withdrawal symptoms (sweating, shaking, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, anxiety) when unable to use alcohol or opioids
  • Spending the majority of time using or finding a way to use alcohol or opioids
  • Having a desire but an inability to decrease the amount of alcohol or opioids used
  • Giving up enjoyable activities in order to use alcohol or opioids.

Side Effects

In some studies, side effects have been reported, although only in a small percentage of those who use naltrexone to overcome their addiction to drugs or alcohol. When someone is participating in a professionally supervised MAT program, those side effects and any other symptoms of withdrawal can be monitored safely. Side effects of naltrexone may include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Sleepiness

Guidelines for Usage

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that people who are dependent on opioids, such as heroin or morphine, should stop their drug use at least seven days prior to starting treatment with naltrexone. A supervised detox program is strongly recommended.

In addition, some people should not take naltrexone, such as those suffering from chronic pain who rely on opioid painkillers or people with liver failure or acute hepatitis. This is another reason that it is critical to participate in a supervised MAT program when taking naltrexone for addiction to drugs or alcohol.

NIAAA has found that reports from successfully treated patients who had been addicted to alcohol suggest they experienced the following three kinds of effects:

  • Naltrexone can reduce a patient’s urge or desire to drink.
  • Naltrexone helps patients remain abstinent.
  • Naltrexone can interfere with the patient’s desire to continue drinking more if he/she slips and has a drink.

In most clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of naltrexone, subjects who received naltrexone were significantly more successful in remaining abstinent and in avoiding relapse than were those receiving an inactive placebo pill. Naltrexone does not reduce the effects of alcohol that impair coordination and judgment. The medication may reduce the feeling of intoxication and the desire to drink more, but it will not cause a severe physical response to drinking. Most importantly, naltrexone is not habit forming or a drug of abuse.

Get the Help You Need with Medication Assisted Treatment

At Calming Goat, we work with you to heal your whole person – mind, body, and spirit. Our team of board-certified physicians is uniquely equipped to help you move forward toward a successful recovery. We provide the types of medication assisted treatment you need, through a blend of medications and therapies, so you can experience true healing. Call (424) 376-3444 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.

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