Naltrexone is a medication that blocks opioid receptors and is used to beat opioid addiction, but will it have the same results for alcohol?
Having a better understanding of how to use naltrexone for alcohol use disorder makes it easier to decide whether to use the drug. According to one study, naltrexone may be highly effective in reducing alcohol intake, with 86% of patients experiencing positive results.
Understanding Naltrexone Use During Alcoholism Treatment
All humans benefit from an ‘endogenous opioid system’— a complex network of naturally occurring chemicals that produce the same pleasurable effects as opioids. These chemicals arise naturally, but it’s possible to heighten them further with certain substances.
Alcohol can stimulate opioid receptors, and heavy drinking can result in dependence similar to opioids. Alcohol-dependent individuals find it difficult to quit drinking because alcohol activates their reward system, resulting in addictive feelings of pleasure.
Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors and was originally developed to combat opioid use disorder. By blocking them, it makes opioids less effective. Because of this, some people who are physically dependent on alcohol may find that binge drinking is less enjoyable when they use the drug.
Naltrexone takes a multi-pronged approach to helping alcoholics enter remission by:
- Reducing cravings: Blocking the brain’s opioid receptors signals to the user that drinking is no longer pleasurable. They’re then less likely to drink alcohol.
- Cutting relapse risk: People who successfully beat their substance abuse disorder should find that they have fewer cravings when taking naltrexone.
- Supporting behavioral therapies: When taken while using counseling programs or support groups, Naltrexone makes it easier to quit drinking. While therapy addresses the psychological aspects of alcohol use disorder, the medication supports the physiological side, including alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Better treatment adherence: Sometimes, naltrexone is available in a long-release injection format that alcohol use disorder patients can use once a month. Long-acting forms of the drug increase its success among those who may not remember to take pills every day.
Patients with substance use disorders won’t receive naltrexone in the first year of their alcohol treatment. Usually, this is due to an increased risk of withdrawal symptoms in the first year of recovery and low medication compliance. Patients who are beyond the initial chaotic stages of recovery are more likely to take medications consistently and maintain abstinence.
Using Naltrexone for Alcohol Dependence
A lot of naltrexone’s success relies upon how the patient uses it and the support they’re receiving. Usually, the drug is prescribed as part of a wider treatment strategy that reduces alcohol consumption.
Finding the Right Type of Naltrexone Treatment
Naltrexone comes in three different formats:
- Oral medication: Patients who take naltrexone’s oral formulation to stop drinking usually do so once per day. The usual dose is 50mg, although this can vary.
- Injection: Long-acting injectable naltrexone injections last for a month. One study reveals how the injectable form is easier to manage because they’re given out monthly instead of relying on the patient to take daily pills.
- Implants: Naltrexone implants are devices that sit under the skin and release the drug over a two-to-six-month period. These aren’t commonly used, as the doctors prescribing them need to be sure that the patient can handle any associated side effects for months.
The type of naltrexone each patient uses will depend on a combination of their doctor’s assessments and their preferences.
Considerations When Using Naltrexone to Treat Alcohol Abuse
It’s important that any patient starting naltrexone to stop binge drinking follows their doctor’s advice.
Some important factors to consider when using the drug include:
- Side-effects of naltrexone: Some patients may experience nausea, dizziness, headaches, trouble sleeping, and fatigue. If side effects become unmanageable, it’s important to seek advice before stopping the drug.
- Safety: As naltrexone blocks opioid receptors, it can make using some pain medications difficult. Patients who need to use opioid medications should discuss their detox process with a healthcare provider to find the best solution.
- Support: Naltrexone works best when it forms part of a bigger treatment package. It’s important for patients to discuss the drug with those close to them so they know how to support them through cravings. It’s also crucial to continue attending therapy sessions to address the psychological elements of addiction.
- Monitoring: Patients should maintain an open dialogue with their medical team and attend regular monitoring. When doctors are aware of how naltrexone is affecting their patients, they can tailor treatment plans to ensure the best outcomes.
Any patient who has concerns about their naltrexone prescription should speak to a doctor for advice.
Naltrexone is a prescription medication that can help patients stop binge drinking. It achieves this by acting as an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks opioid receptors in the brain.
Patients who use naltrexone to treat alcoholism usually do so alongside counseling and group therapies. The drug is available as oral naltrexone or in an injectable form. With ongoing support and commitment, patients may find they can stop drinking in the long term.
If you are considering using naltrexone, it’s important to receive support from medical professionals. Cured Nation offers high-quality treatment plans you can use from home. Find the right clinician for you and begin your recovery journey today.