Naltrexone For Alcoholism Treatment
Naltrexone was initially used to treat Opioid addiction, including Heroin treatment. Recovering addicts taking Naltrexone no longer experienced the pleasurable sensations association with Opioid use and were therefore less motivated to continue drug abuse. It was discovered that the same was true for alcoholics. Although the exact mechanism is not entirely understood, the brain interacts with alcohol in a very similar manner to how it reacts with Opioids; Naltrexone also suppresses the euphoria and pleasurable sensations of alcohol. Alcoholics no longer receive a “reward” for drinking once they are on Naltrexone and are therefore less likely to continue consumption.
Although Naltrexone has a lengthy history of success treating alcoholism, it is not sufficient when taken alone. Naltrexone does not reduce the cravings for alcohol, nor does it reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Naltrexone is most effective when taken in concert with other forms of treatment, including other medications, therapy, counseling, and 12-step programs. One area where Naltrexone has proven especially useful is in the treatment of alcoholics who have relapsed.
Naltrexone is absorbed by the body through the liver and may cause liver damage at high doses. This may both limit its effectiveness and make it dangerous to take for patients suffering from alcohol-related liver damage.
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Proper Use Of Naltrexone
Like most treatment medications, Naltrexone is a prescription medication and should only be taken under the supervision of a physician. Although Naltrexone is not known to interact adversely with alcohol, it should only be prescribed after the patient has already ceased use entirely and completed the detox process. Because of certain side effects, Naltrexone should only be prescribed after the physician is sure that the patient’s liver is functioning properly and the patient is not pregnant.
In some cases, especially in-patient rehabilitation settings, Naltrexone is prescribed for a short period of time. However, research suggests that long-term use for more than 3 months is the most effective for keeping alcoholics in recovery. Naltrexone is considered a comparatively safe medication, and treatment may be indefinite.
Because Naltrexone may interact with certain Opioids, patients should refrain from use of illegal Opioids and make sure their physician is aware of any medications they are taking.
A single Naltrexone tablet is generally taken once a day, either with or without food. It may also be taken once every other day, once every third day, or once every day except Sunday (or other designated day of the week). If a patient forgets to take a dose and it is not close to the time when the next dose is taken, they should take the dose as soon as possible. Patients should not double up to make up for a missed dose, however.
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Side Effects Of Naltrexone
Naltrexone has a lengthy history of use, and its side effects are well-studied and documented. One of the reasons it has remained such a popular treatment choice for so long is that it is considered a very safe medication, with comparatively few and mild side effects. However, some of the side effects of Naltrexone can be very serious and should be carefully monitored.
Some of the most common side effects of Naltrexone include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Abdominal pain
- Increased or decreased energy
- Ringing in the ears
Less common but more severe side effects of Naltrexone include:
- Liver toxicity and failure
- Hypersensitivity to the drug
- Suicidal thoughts
- Blurred vision
- Swelling in the face, feet, and legs
- Shortness of breath
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Benefits Of Naltrexone
- Comparatively fewer and less severe side effects than alternative treatments
- Reduces the motivation to drink, especially among alcoholics in recovery who relapse, by eliminating the pleasurable effects of drinking while not eliminating the impairment effects
- Helps improve the outcome of other methods of treatment, such as therapy and counseling
- Therapeutic benefits are widely accepted to outweigh the potential side effects
Naltrexone is a critical part of many alcoholism treatment programs, but it is only a part. It also can only be prescribed by a licensed physician. If you or a loved one are thinking about using Naltrexone to help overcome an alcohol addiction, there is help available. Contact a treatment provider to find a rehab that treats alcoholism.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience