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Naltrexone is a prescribed medication that is commonly used for treating alcohol use disorders (AUDs). While it is not a cure for alcoholism, this medication has proven to be extremely beneficial when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
Before starting naltrexone, a person must not be physically dependent on alcohol or other substances, such as narcotics. This is because patients with alcohol or drugs in their system will experience strong side effects of the medication, such as nausea and vomiting when combined with other substances. To avoid any uncomfortable symptoms, treatment specialists typically wait until after the detox process is complete before administering this medication.
Although naltrexone is widely used in the treatment of opioid addictions, it has many advantages for helping people detox from alcohol. Detoxing from alcohol is safest and most effective when completed under the care of medical professionals in an inpatient or outpatient rehab setting. During medical detox, nurses and doctors are able to keep track of your vital signs and adjust your treatment as necessary.
Call a treatment expert now to learn more about medication-assisted therapy and start your journey to sobriety.
Naltrexone in Treating Alcoholism
The withdrawal phase of recovery affects each person differently. For instance, some people may experience minor withdrawal symptoms that subside within a few days. Others, however, may face serious symptoms that can last a lifetime. Since there’s no telling how the body will react during the withdrawal process, it is highly recommended that individuals check into a rehab facility where their health can be monitored. Alcohol rehab will keep them safe and secure throughout detox and the initial phases of the recovery process.
Some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Fever and excessive sweating
Before taking this medication, talk with your treatment specialist about your medical history, as well as any withdrawal symptoms you may be experiencing.
How Does Naltrexone Work?
Many alcohol treatment centers administer naltrexone during the early stages of recovery. This medication works by blocking the body’s receptors that produce euphoric feelings when you drink.
Once alcohol is consumed, it quickly enters the bloodstream and travels through the body. Since alcohol is a depressant, it releases “feel good chemicals,” known as endorphins, that bring a sense of calmness and happiness. The more endorphins that are present in the brain, the better a person feels. This is why people sometimes resort to alcohol in order to relax and “let loose.” Unfortunately, relying on alcohol to bring happiness can lead to a dangerous cycle of alcohol addiction.
Unlike some other medications used to treat different types of addictions, naltrexone is non-addictive and non-narcotic. This means that users will not develop a dependence or other addictive traits when taking the medication. Even if a person relapses, the medication will prevent them from achieving the same relaxed state they were used to with prior alcohol consumption. Over time, the brain will begin to disassociate alcohol and happiness, which helps patients stay abstinent in recovery.
Types of Naltrexone
Naltrexone can be administered as a tablet, injectable or implant. Before starting treatment, discuss each option with your health provider to determine the right form for you.
Here’s a breakdown of the different types of this medication:
The tablet form is often used in an inpatient rehab setting. Tablets are sold under the brand names ReVia and Depade, and are generally taken once per day. While tablets are the most commonly prescribed type of this medication, it can be difficult to remember to take the pill at the same time every day. If a dose is missed, or a person takes more of the medicine than prescribed, health complications can arise.
Many inpatient and outpatient rehab centers offer naltrexone as an injection. The injectable form, sold under the brand name Vivitrol, is administered into the muscle once a month. Patients may experience tenderness, pain, swelling or redness at the injection area for a few days afterwards. The injectable form is a good alternative to taking a pill every day; however, it’s important to stay on a consistent schedule – every four weeks – when using an injection.
Implants are the newest form of naltrexone being used in rehab facilities and clinics. A small implant is inserted under a patient’s skin, which slowly releases the medication into the body for roughly eight weeks. Since this option doesn’t require daily or weekly medical attention, it is convenient for people who are receiving treatment at an outpatient treatment center. Unfortunately, some insurance providers will not cover the costs of the device, so it’s important to check with your provider before opting for this type of naltrexone.
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Naltrexone Side Effects
As with any medication, there are side effects associated with naltrexone that patients should be aware of. While some side effects are mild and only last a few days, others can be more serious. In addition, having alcohol in your system can worsen the medication’s side effects and lead to further health complications.
The most common side effects of naltrexone are:
- Stomach cramping
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle or joint pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety and restlessness
Rare, but serious side effects of this medication include:
- Blurred vision
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the face, feet or legs
- Ringing in the ears
Naltrexone is usually not prescribed past the first year of alcohol treatment, as it is not intended for long-term use. Prior to taking naltrexone, you should discuss possible side effects with your treatment specialist. Also, be sure to inform them of any medications – prescription and over-the-counter – that you are currently taking. Because some medications can cause adverse reactions when combined with naltrexone, it is imperative to discuss this with your treatment specialist.
Recovering from alcoholism is a lifelong commitment that takes time and hard work. Get in touch with one of our treatment specialists today to learn more about the recovery process and find the perfect treatment program for you.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
Deciding to seek treatment for alcoholism is a huge decision. But it’s important to know that not all treatment facilities are the same. In fact, many programs focus on specific addictions and offer complementary types of therapy.
When choosing a rehab facility, consider what aspects are most important to you. Some questions to ask the admissions department of a treatment program include:
- Which types of addiction do you treat?
- What types of medication are used during detox and continued treatment?
- What therapies do your treatment specialists use and how effective are they?
- How does the facility help patients transition back into life after rehab?
- Does the program offer ongoing treatment services, such as support groups and counseling?
- What does a normal day look like at your rehab center?
End the Cycle
You don’t have to suffer from alcoholism in silence. If you’re ready to get started on your recovery journey, we’re here to help.
Connect with a recovery specialist today to find rehab facilities that will help get your life back on track.
- Author — Last Edited: April 2, 2018
Mayo Clinic. (2015). Naltrexone (Oral Route). February 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/naltrexone-oral-route/description/drg-20068408
Leavitt, Stewart. Addiction Treatment Forum: Evidence for the Efficacy of Naltrexone in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism). February 2017. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/programs_campaigns/medication_assisted/efficacy-naltrexone-treatment-alcohol-dependence.pdf
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Naltrexone. February 2017. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/naltrexone
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2009). Naltrexone. February 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a685041.html