Naltrexone is a prescription medication used as part of treatment for opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder.
Over the past two decades, opioid overdose deaths in the United States have increased by 400% according to CDC data.
The menace with opioids is multifaceted. As a result of the ongoing opioid epidemic, many people prescribed painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone become addicted to these powerful opioids. Sometimes, this can lead to people being unable to refill prescriptions and using heroin to numb their pain. Cumulatively, over 2 million Americans have opioid use disorder.
2019 NSDUH data shows that 14.5 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. While legal and socially acceptable, alcohol can be highly damaging when abused, harming the user, their families, and society in general.
With substance use disorder such a pressing nationwide concern, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of medications like this is in all our interests.
What is Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is a prescribed medication that’s used to treat both opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder.
The efficacy of this medication is proven. A meta-analysis of 27 RCTs (randomized control trials) shows that short-term treatment with naltrexone minimized the chance of relapse.
It can be given in the following forms:
- Tablet: Naltrexone tablets are branded ReVia and Depade. This form of naltrexone is typically administered in inpatient rehab. You take the tablets once a day. Missing a dose can create complications, leading to alternative delivery methods, such as the injectable and implant forms of naltrexone.
- Injectable: Naltrexone injectables are sold under the brand name Vivitrol. This injection is administered monthly and intramuscularly. Vivitrol eliminates the barrier of daily dosing.
- Implant: Naltrexone implants are the most recent iteration of this medication now being used in clinics and residential rehabs. The implant releases naltrexone into your bloodstream over 8 weeks. With no daily dosing, this form of naltrexone is the best fit for outpatient treatment. Not all insurance providers will meet the cost of the naltrexone implant, though.
What is Naltrexone Used For?
One of the primary uses for naltrexone is for treating opioid users who want to avoid the more unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal without relying on medications like methadone. When you stop using naltrexone, you won’t get any withdrawal symptoms from the medication, and neither will you achieve the rewarding effects of opioids when you take the medication.
Naltrexone is also commonly prescribed to people with alcohol use disorder.
Beyond this, low-dose naltrexone is sometimes used off-label to treat HIV/AIDS, various types of cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Naltrexone can cause liver damage, but this is not one of the low dose naltrexone side effects
Naltrexone Side Effects
Even at a normal dosage, there are some side effects associated with this medication.
Some of these side effects are mild and fleeting, while others can be more severe.
If you have any alcohol or opioids in your system, this will intensify the side effects and possibly cause health complications.
The most common side effects are:
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach cramping
- Muscle or joint pain
More rare and more serious side effects of naltrexone include:
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Swelling in the face, feet, or legs
- Shortness of breath
Naltrexone and Alcohol
Everyone experiences alcohol withdrawal differently. For some people, symptoms are minor and subside within just a few days. For others, withdrawal symptoms are much more severe and persistent.
These are among the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal:
- Fever and excessive sweating
- High blood pressure
Many treatment centers offer this medication during the initial phase of recovery. The medication blocks the receptors in your body that trigger euphoric feelings when you consume alcohol.
When you drink alcohol, it rapidly penetrates the bloodstream and then makes its way through the body.
Unlike some medications used to treat substance use disorder, naltrexone is non-narcotic and non-addictive. There is no possibility of becoming dependent on this medication.
In the event of relapse, you will be unable to achieve the same blissful state of relaxation as before due to the effects of naltrexone. As time passes, your brain will sever the connection between alcohol and happiness. This can be powerfully beneficial in your long-term recovery.
Despite being safe to use as directed, this medication is not typically prescribed beyond the first year of abstinence for alcohol as it is not designed for long-term use.
Naloxone vs. Naltrexone
- Naltrexone is used primarily to prevent relapse in those recovering from opioid use disorder or alcohol use disorder
- Naloxone is used as an opioid overdose antidote
Naloxone is also known as Narcan. Anyone addicted to heroin or prescription opioids like OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid, and MS Contin are at risk of overdose. Where naloxone is intended to reverse the effects of opioid overdose, naltrexone is intended to prevent relapse in those who have been absent for at least a week.
Naloxone is administered via nasal spray or an auto-injector, while naltrexone comes in tablet, injectable, and implant forms.
You also find naloxone in the combination medication Suboxone. This is a drug used in opioid substitution therapy, where it is mixed with buprenorphine.
There is a difference in the way these medications take effect, too. Naloxone kicks in almost immediately, whereas naltrexone takes some time for the effects to manifest.
The side effects of both medications are broadly similar, including:
Beyond this, there are some side effects specific to each medication:
- Naloxone: Chills, fever, sneezing, runny nose, and muscle weakness
- Naltrexone: Appetite loss, aches, pains
MAT and The District Recovery
Here at The District Recovery Community, medication-assisted treatment is a core component of our addiction treatment programs. Medications like naltrexone can be used along with other FDA-approved medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms in both opioid and alcohol detox. This medication can also be administered on an ongoing basis as you pursue your recovery.
MAT is always most effective when delivered in combination with talk therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Not only will the early challenging phase of recovery be more comfortable, but you’ll also identify what triggers you to use substances. Being aware of these triggers will help you to employ healthy coping strategies instead of drinking or using drugs.
Medication-assisted treatment is a cure for addiction. Instead, they are powerful tools to help you kickstart a lifelong journey. To take that first vital step, reach out to the TDRC admissions team at 844.287.8506.