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Naltrexone for Addiction Treatment

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Successful addiction treatment can be life changing, and medication for addiction treatment (MAT) is an effective tool that can promote both abstinence and long-term recovery. Naltrexone is one medication in the MAT armamentarium that is highly effective for both alcohol and opioid use disorders for many individuals.  Here you will learn about naltrexone, including how it works on the body, how it’s used, potential side effects, interactions with other medications, and how it can help treat addiction.

What is Naltrexone?

Medications for addiction treatment, sometimes called medication-assisted treatment, or simply MAT, help treat substance use disorders as part of a comprehensive treatment plan including behavioral therapies and counseling.1 Various addiction treatment medications may be used as part of an addiction treatment plan, but this article will focus solely on naltrexone.

Naltrexone is a type of medication known as an opioid antagonist. It works in the brain by binding to and blocking opioid receptor activation to diminish the rewarding effects of alcohol and opioids.2 In doing so, naltrexone can decrease cravings for alcohol and opioids. This in turn helps people reduce continued drug use and maintain abstinence.

How is Naltrexone Used?

Naltrexone is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat both alcohol and opioid use disorders.3 Naltrexone can be prescribed and administered in a few different forms, including as an oral tablet or an extended-release, intramuscular injection (Vivitrol) that remains effective for a month.1 Naltrexone may be prescribed by a treatment professional as part of a comprehensive substance use disorder treatment plan. Such treatment plans take a whole-person approach that incorporates naltrexone or other medications along with behavioral health therapies, counseling, and other recovery support services.3 You and your treatment team can work together to determine if naltrexone is appropriate for you and can be included in your personalized treatment plan.

Naltrexone Side Effects

Though it can be a valuable therapeutic component of your treatment, naltrexone may have some side effects. Side effects range in severity, and certain side effects are more common than others.

Common side effects can include:1

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Tenderness, swelling, bruising, or itching near the injection site with the injectable form of naltrexone.

Rarer but potentially more serious side effects include:1

  • Changes in liver function or liver injury.
  • Depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Severe allergic pneumonia.

As of today, there are no identified health risks associated with long-term use of naltrexone.1

Naltrexone Precautions

To avoid a heightened risk of adverse effects while taking naltrexone, you should not drink alcohol, take opioid medications (such as codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone), or use illicit opioid drugs. Some cough syrups may contain opioid pain medication, so it is important to tell your doctor about all medications you are taking.1

You shouldn’t take naltrexone if you have opioids in your system. You should be detoxed from all opioid-containing substances for at least 7 to 10 days before taking naltrexone, or you run the risk of experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms.1

After you stop taking naltrexone, your tolerance to opioids may be lower than it was prior to initiating naltrexone therapy; if you begin to re-use opioids after you stop taking naltrexone, you could be at higher risk of respiratory depression, overdose, and death.1, 3 Ask your doctor for a consultation and/or education about the risks of opioid overdose while taking naltrexone.

If you are on a naltrexone treatment regimen, be sure to tell any medical professionals that you are taking naltrexone when you receive services. You may want to consider keeping a card in your wallet that alerts medical professionals of your naltrexone status in case of emergency.1

Will Naltrexone Cure Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease that can be effectively treated and managed.4 Although there is no easy or immediate cure for addiction, treatment for substance use disorders can be highly effective in helping you stop using substances and live a high quality of life in recovery. The science of addiction is complex, and treatment can involve a combination of approaches.

Addiction development involves certain pathological changes in brain functioning and behavior which can have a pervasively negative impact on your life.It can lead to serious and sometimes catastrophic consequences, including threatening your physical health and impacting your ability to function at work, in relationships, and in the community.4 Effective treatment recognizes and addresses the negative consequences of addiction and tailors treatment to your specific needs and recovery goals.

Who Should Take Naltrexone?

While naltrexone is recommended for the treatment of alcohol and opioid use disorders, it won’t be right for every recovering individual. Naltrexone may not be appropriate for people who are:3

  • Currently using illicit opioids.
  • Experiencing active opioid withdrawal.
  • Still detoxing from alcohol.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Dealing with liver or kidney issues.

Alternatives to Naltrexone for Opioid and Alcohol Addiction

In addition to naltrexone, other prescription medications can be used to treat OUD and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Medications used to treat OUD include:5

Prescription medications used for AUD include:5

  • Disulfiram.
  • Acamprosate.

Medications are used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Ending addiction usually includes additional interventions and services such as:2

Find Naltrexone Addiction Treatment Near Me

If you are seeking addiction treatment, don’t wait. Comprehensive, professional treatment can help you end your addiction through a combination of services, including medication, therapy, and other interventions specific to you.3 Naltrexone is one of the medications that can be used as part of your treatment plan. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to help answer any questions you may have and verify your insurance coverage. Call or visit our online directory to locate an opioid/alcohol rehab center near you.

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Dr. Mark Calarco has served as the national medical director for American Addiction Centers (AAC) from 2013 – 2018. With the addition of Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, who assumed that position in August 2018, he has been appointed national medical director for clinical diagnostics. In this position, he works closely with Addiction Labs to conduct medical and laboratory research as well as develop innovative products and services that will improve patient outcomes. Calarco brings more than 25 years of experience to the role, including a background in family and emergency medicine.
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