Naltrexone Uses in Addiction Treatment

Yes, getting clean and sober is rough.  Withdrawing from opiates or alcohol can be highly uncomfortable for those first few days of detoxifying the body, but, fortunately, withdrawal symptoms usually subside by the end of a week.  Getting sober is hard, but detox and withdrawal isn’t the real challenge in recovery.  Staying clean and sober is the hardest part of recovery.  Enter naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist that can dramatically improve the chances of avoiding relapse and achieving long-term sobriety.  

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone hydrochloride (brand names ReVia, Depade, or Vivitrol) is a synthetic opioid antagonist that was invented in 1963, and then acquired by DuPont in 1969. Naltrexone first appeared on the addiction treatment scene in 1984, the year it was approved by the FDA for treatment of opiate addiction by blocking the effects of the drug.  When an individual is taking naltrexone they no longer experience the same high from opiates as before. This leads to dramatically decreased drug cravings, which can significantly improve the chances of recovering from the opiate addiction.

In 1994 naltrexone was approved for treating alcohol use disorders after it was discovered that the drug also mediated the effects of alcohol, leading to reduced alcohol cravings and relapse occurrence. This was a surprise finding, that drinking alcohol triggers a natural opioid response, making naltrexone useful for reducing alcohol cravings as well as opiate cravings.

In most cases, naltrexone is a safe drug to augment an addiction treatment program.  The drug should not be used by anyone with a liver condition, during pregnancy, or with any other opioids.  In fact, naltrexone should not be used until the individual has completed detox and withdrawal, or about 7 days after last drink or dose.  Side effects from naltrexone may include headache, nausea, joint or muscle aches, and fatigue.

Who Benefits from Naltrexone Uses in Drug and Alcohol Treatment?

It is primarily opiate and alcohol dependent individuals who benefit from naltrexone uses in treatment for addiction.  Regarding alcohol use disorder (AUD), a meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials testing naltrexone efficacy for AUD was completed in 2004.  The findings showed that, when compared with the placebo groups, patients who received naltrexone had substantially fewer relapses, a lower number of drinking days, longer spans between relapses, and more days of abstinence.

For opiate dependency, naltrexone has a deterrent effect, triggering withdrawal symptoms if an opiate is used while on naltrexone.  Because the drug blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, naltrexone can eliminate any desire to use opiates for the individual who has completed detox because they will no longer experience the euphoria or sedative effects of the drug.

Nearly 75% of opioid dependent individuals also abuse alcohol.  For this reason, naltrexone can be helpful in tackling both substance use disorders at once.

Naltrexone Uses Combined With Therapy

Treatment involves adding a naltrexone regimen to an addiction treatment program in order to help reduce drug or alcohol cravings and improve the odds of recovery.  In most cases, naltrexone is prescribed for a three-month period. In addition to the naltrexone, addiction therapy involves receiving ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in both individual and group therapy formats.  

An article published in Focus, The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry, reviewed the findings of a study featuring patients with AUD.  One group was given naltrexone with CBT and the other was given a placebo with CBT. Sixty-two percent of the naltrexone group avoided relapses during the 12-week study, versus 40% who had the placebo.  The authors concluded, “Motivated individuals with moderate alcohol dependence can be treated with greater effectiveness when naltrexone is used in conjunction with weekly outpatient cognitive behavioral therapy.” 

Solutions 4 Recovery Utilizes Naltrexone Uses in Addiction Treatment

Solutions 4 Recovery is an addiction recovery program in San Juan Capistrano, California that includes the naltrexone treatment option when appropriate.  Solutions 4 Recovery incorporates both traditional and innovative treatment elements for the most effective and lasting results in addiction recovery. For more information about our treatment program using naltrexone please contact Solutions 4 Recovery today at [phone-number].