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The Many Benefits of Naltrexone in Addiction Treatment

by | Last updated Oct 2, 2020 at 3:17PM | Published on Jan 5, 2020 | Medication-Assisted Treatment

Naltrexone Benefits

Addiction recovery is a long process with plenty of upside-downs. The first step into recovery is seeking drug and alcohol addiction treatment. However, with it comes potential withdrawal symptoms during the detox process. Because of this, many addicts delay seeking treatment. Fortunately, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can incorporate safe medications that help ease these symptoms. Let’s explore the many benefits of Naltrexone, one of the common drugs used to assist in addiction treatment.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is what’s known as an opiate antagonist. It binds to the brain opiate receptors to prevent opiate effects. Naltrexone is a popular FDA-approved medication used to treat opiate addiction as it helps reside the cravings to take these substances. It’s also used to treat alcohol abuse, assisting people in drinking less, or stopping drinking altogether.  

Naltrexone can be prescribed and administered by any practitioner licensed to prescribe medications and is available in a pill form for alcohol use disorder or as an extended-release intramuscular injectable for either alcohol and opioid use disorder. A Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) is required for the long-acting injectable formulation to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh its risks.

However, Naltrexone isn’t a magic pill. This medication is used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes monitoring, counseling, behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, and more. Naltrexone is not a recommended MAT option for anyone younger than 18 years of age, or patients experiencing other health conditions.

Benefits of Naltrexone on the Brain?

First, it attaches to the same areas of the brain as opiates and alcohol. Because these receptors are “occupied” by Naltrexone, the brain experiences fewer cravings. Naltrexone also blocks the effects of alcohol and opiates. 

On Naltrexone, even if someone uses, they won’t experience the “high” of drugs or alcohol. For some addicts and alcoholics, knowing this prevents them from relapsing in the first place. For those who do relapse, the lack of effect can discourage a future decline.

Even when someone is motivated for recovery, cravings can be powerful. When you mix cravings with the discomfort of withdrawal, it’s even more challenging to resist relapse. Naltrexone can give someone more time for their brain and body to heal without having to fight constant cravings.

The Importance of Naltrexone in Addiction Treatments

The benefits of Naltrexone in fighting alcohol and opiate addiction are well-known. To reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms, patients should wait at least seven days after their last use of short-acting opioids and 10 to 14 days for long-acting opioid drugs before starting Naltrexone. 

Something similar happens to those struggling with alcohol use disorder. Patients must not be physically dependent on alcohol or other substances. To avoid strong side effects such as nausea and vomiting, practitioners typically wait until after the alcohol detox process before administering Naltrexone.

However, there may be potential for this drug to help people who suffer from all kinds of addictions. Naltrexone works on the parts of the brain that produce “reward” chemicals, such as dopamine. The impact on the brain suggests that it may benefit people addicted to other behaviors that produce dopamine.

One recent study from the UK found that Naltrexone reduce cravings for gambling. Other studies have shown that Naltrexone may be useful in reducing cravings for cocaine and meth. While the evidence is relatively limited and new, it’s promising. More information about addictions to other substances could lead to new treatments.

Side Effects of Naltrexone

It’s important to note that the use of Naltrexone can’t happen while someone is still an active addict. For example, this drug can have adverse interactions with some opioid pain medications such as codeine or hydrocodone. These interactions can cause harmful side effects that might hamper the recovery process. 

Side effects of Naltrexone use include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble sleeping

In some cases, people can experience mild opiate withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Restlessness
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose

After stopping naltrexone treatment, you may be more sensitive to lower doses of opioids. This medication blocks the effects of opiate drugs. However, large doses of heroin or opioids can overcome this block. Trying to overcome this block is very dangerous and may cause serious injury, loss of consciousness, and death.

When is Naltrexone Most Effective?

The benefits of Naltrexone are unquestionable. However, for patients who don’t have any other form of treatment, it can’t always prevent relapse. A patient who decides to relapse may stop taking the medication. While it effectively helps reduce cravings, Naltrexone doesn’t address the underlying causes of addiction. Issues such as distorted thinking, trauma, or mental health concerns require more than just medication.

For this reason, Naltrexone is best when in conjunction with other forms of addiction treatment. Therapy, relapse prevention, support groups, and professional help are necessary to address the root causes of addiction truly. When these treatments integrate with Naltrexone, addicts and alcoholics have a solid foundation from which to build a lasting recovery.

Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatment

Some people oppose the idea of medication-assisted treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. However, extensive research suggests that using medications, alongside therapy and traditional addiction treatment, the chances of recovery and long-term sobriety are higher. 

During the early stages of recovery, cravings for drugs and alcohol can be severe. Our collaborative team of licensed counselors and doctors integrate pharmacotherapy to help reduce the desire to use and thereby creating intervention strategies that result in a more effective treatment model for many of our patients.

Integrating MAT provides an extra layer of accountability and support, which allows our patients to focus their energy on the vital work of addiction treatment and therapy.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, seek help immediately. Call Lighthouse Recovery Institute today and speak with our addiction center specialists to learn more about our comprehensive and personalized addiction treatment programs.

Our philosophy revolves around treating each patient on a case-by-case scenario because we know no two addiction stories are alike. Start walking towards your recovery, and we’ll be here supporting you and your family every step of the way. Please don’t wait another day to start addiction treatment–your life depends on it. 

Molly

Molly

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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