Medication-Assisted Treatment - Drug and Alcohol

What You Need to Know About Naltrexone

Naltrexone is a medication used to treat opiate and alcohol use disorders. Learn how it can help you recover from opioid addiction in our blog!

What You Need to Know About Naltrexone

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

June 16, 2022

The Forge Recovery Center

After the release of OxyContin, addiction to opiates began to skyrocket, and so did overdose deaths. In 2019, almost 50,000 Americans lost their lives from an opioid overdose. In years prior, it was estimated that nearly 2.3 million people in the United States suffered from a substance abuse disorder related to opiates.

While Americans are suffering from the effects of opiate abuse, opiates are not the only substance wreaking havoc in the country.

Alcohol is one of the most widely used substances in the United States. Although many people drink responsibly in the United States, studies have shown that:

  • Approximately 6% of American adults have alcohol use disorder

  • An estimated nearly 95,000 Americans lose their lives every year from alcohol-related deaths

Even more unfortunate about these statistics is that these deaths are entirely preventable. 

Luckily, as America's substance abuse problem has grown, so have the interventions for those suffering from substance abuse disorders related to heroin or alcohol.

One medication, Naltrexone, has been shown to help people struggling with addiction to opiates and alcoholism. 

What Is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a medically assisted treatment option (MAT) that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat Opioid Use Disorder  (OUD) and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The medication comes in two forms:

  • A daily pill, which is typically used to treat AUD

  • A long-lasting injection approved primarily to treat OUD

Naltrexone works by binding to and blocking endorphin and opiate receptors in the brain. This help reduces cravings for alcohol and opiates and blocks the effects of both drugs. 

While both options are prescribed by a medical professional, the pill is generally taken at home without the supervision of a health care provider. On the other hand, the injection is administered in person to help prevent any adverse side effects.

Additionally, to be prescribed the injection, the patient will need to undergo a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) to ensure that the benefits of taking Naltrexone outweigh the risks.

Naltrexone for Alcohol Addiction 

Like the injection, people who want to use the pill form of Naltrexone to treat their AUD cannot currently use alcohol or be physically dependent on alcohol when they start the medication. It is vital to complete alcohol detox before using Naltrexone to treat AUD, as it will help the user avoid side effects like vomiting or nausea.

MAT for AUD will typically happen over four months, with regular checkups with a physician. 

Naltrexone for Opioid Addiction

One of the greatest benefits of Naltrexone, especially in the case of treatment for OUD, is that it is nonaddictive. In years before Naltrexone's FDA approval, methadone, which has shown to be addictive, was commonly used to treat OUD. Naltrexone gives people suffering from OUD a more practical option for recovery as Naltrexone limits cravings and does not cause withdrawal when ceased. 

To be prescribed the injection, someone suffering from OUD cannot use any opiates 7-14 days before their first dose, and they must be committed to not using any drugs or alcohol. Naltrexone reduces someone's ability to tolerate opiates, and if opiates are used in combination with Naltrexone, it can increase the risk of overdose. 

The pill form of Naltrexone can also reduce cravings for opiates, but the injection is the only version of the medication that is FDA-approved as MAT. For those committed to recovering from OUD, the injection is the most effective option. 

Side Effects of Naltrexone

Naltrexone is an incredibly effective MAT treatment for AUD and OUD, but it can come with side effects. More mild side effects include:

  • Muscle cramps and joint paint

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Sleepiness or trouble sleeping

  • Headaches

  • Decreased appetite or toothaches

Naltrexone also can present with serious side effects, and that is why it is essential always to use Naltrexone under the guidance of a medical professional. If an individual is using Naltrexone and they experience any of these symptoms, it is important that they meet with their health care provider immediately: 

  • Tissue death: Tissue death can result in surgery and other negative consequences. If a person is experiencing tissue death, they will experience tense pain localized around the injection site and may be accompanied by open wounds, swelling, or lumps in the skin. 

  • Liver damage or Hepatitis: These symptoms indicate dark urine, intense stomach pain that lasts more than a few days, and tiredness and jaundice. 

  • Allergic reaction: If an individual is allergic to Naltrexone, they may experience swelling of the face, tongue, mouth, skin rashes, and chest pain with depressed breathing and dizziness. 

Whether or not a person should use Naltrexone should be decided by the doctor treating their substance abuse disorder. If an individual believes that Naltrexone may be their best option for recovery, they must first consult with their doctor. 

The Forge Recovery Center Makes Use Of MAT & Drug Replacement Therapies

We know how hard it can be to overcome an opioid use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms can be debilitating and overcoming cravings can become exhausting.

Naltrexone has been shown to reduce cravings and improve the quality of life for people suffering from OUD and AUD.

Our expertly trained staff at The Forge Recovery Center have seen firsthand how treating patients with Naltrexone can help make their journey to recovery manageable and fulfilling. We’ll help you consult with a provider to see if Naltrexone is the best treatment option for you.

If you want to learn more about Naltrexone and how it can help you or a loved one overcome an addiction to opioids, please contact The Forge Recovery Center today.

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