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Using Naltrexone To Treat Alcoholism

Those who struggle with alcohol addiction often feel isolated and alone, and these feelings can be difficult to escape. When an addict comes to terms with their addiction and decides to seek out treatment, it’s a big deal. In fact, it’s the first step in the recovery process. Oftentimes, alcoholics aren’t aware of the wealth of treatment options available to them. As rehabilitation centers and 12-step programs are often the most publicized, some may be unfamiliar with the other options, such as medications like Naltrexone.

There are a few different types of medication that can be used to treat alcohol addiction. None of these medications cure addiction, but they do help to curb withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and discourage addicts from consuming alcohol. One option is Naltrexone, a non-addictive drug that blocks the “high” associated with drinking (but does not reduce the impairment).

What Is It And How Does It Work

Naltrexone is the first non-addictive, non-Opioid treatment option for addicts. Originally used to help those with Opioid use disorder (OUD), Naltrexone binds to the opiate receptors to prevent them from feeling the effects of Opioids, therefore diminishing the desire to use them at all. Studies also found that Naltrexone prevented the effects of alcohol consumption in a similar way. Drinking alcohol increases dopamine and inhibits GABA receptors, but Naltrexone reverses these effects.

While Naltrexone can prevent someone from feeling the buzz or high associated with drinking, it doesn’t prevent them from becoming intoxicated. Those who take Naltrexone will still experience poor coordination, poor judgement, and decreased response time if they drink.

Naltrexone Vs. Vivitrol

Naltrexone is taken once per day in pill form. Vivitrol is a brand-name, injectable version of Naltrexone that is used once a month. One of the large problems associated with Naltrexone is the required compliance that comes along with it. People who take Naltrexone must remember and be willing to take the pill every day. Vivitrol doesn’t require daily compliance, as it’s administered once a month. Those who are unsure if they’d be able to convince themselves to take a pill every day should consider Vivitrol instead.

Who Should Use Naltrexone?

Anyone who uses Naltrexone is required to have previously detoxed both alcohol and Opioids from their system. People who use Naltrexone should also have the ability to abstain from alcohol by their own accord. Those who have not reached that step in their recovery may not want to take Naltrexone.

Naltrexone is also an option for those who are addicted to both alcohol and Opioids, as it can help to reduce cravings for both substances. It’s common for people with Opioid addictions to also have an alcohol addiction. One study found that over half of the 4.2 million Americans who used Opioids between 2012 and 2014 also engaged in binge drinking. As combining these 2 substances increases the risk of overdose and death, finding treatment that works is the best option.

People who take other prescription drugs, have depression or history of a mental illness, kidney disease, or liver disease should speak to their doctor before starting Naltrexone.

Side Effects Of Naltrexone

Both Vivitrol and Naltrexone were found to be safe drugs, especially when compared to alcohol and Opioid use. However, they do present some potential side effects. Many people use these drugs without experiencing any side effects at all.

Potential side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blurred vision or swollen eyes
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Frequent urination
  • Fever
  • Hallucination
  • Itching
  • Depression or mood changes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Increased thirst

Benefits Of Naltrexone Use

Before deciding to take Naltrexone or Vivitrol, it’s important to weigh out the pros and cons associated with its use. In many cases, people find that the benefits far outweigh the potential side effects. Benefits of using Naltrexone include:

  • Decreased cravings for alcohol or Opioids.
  • No “high” feeling or buzz when consuming alcohol, therefore no reward associated with consumption.
  • Increased chance of continued sobriety.

One study found that naltrexone was able to reduce the number of heavy-drinking days in a group by 25% overall, while other studies found it to be effective overall when paired with other treatment options, like therapy.

Other Treatment Options

Addicts will have the highest change of success when they engage in multiple types of treatment. Using medication is a great way to prevent alcohol consumption but other options, such as therapy, can help promote healthy coping mechanisms, reduce negative self-talk, and more.

One study found that participating in a therapy program, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was extremely effective, with 60% of participants having a negative toxicology screen at the 52-week check in. Other therapy options, like psychoactive therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and family behavior therapy have also shown to be successful in helping addicts stay sober.

Other treatment options, such as sober living communities and continued participation at an outpatient treatment facility can also help, especially when an addict feels that they need more accountability.

The recovery process is often filled with trial and error, as some programs will work better for some than others. For more information on treatment options, contact a treatment provider today.

  • Author: Megan Prevost | Last Updated: July 27, 2022

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    Megan Prevost

    Megan Prevost earned a B.F.A. in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University. Her work has appeared in many different publications, and she’s held columns and guest spots on LGBTQ+ and entertainment websites. Previously, she’s written copy and content for both law firms and healthcare clinics. She is proud to be able to use her writing ability to help the addiction and mental health communities.

  • Medical Reviewer: Deborah Montross Nagel

  • Sources