Naltrexone for Alcohol Addiction

Struggling with alcoholism? Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) can be the solution. Naltrexone is a medication that may work for you.

What is Naltrexone?

Approved by the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration), naltrexone is a drug that can be used to treat both alcohol and opioid addictions and disorders. Usually prescribed in the form of a once-a-month intramuscular injection (Vivitrol), it is extended-release, which means that the drug is slowly released over time. Naltrexone can be prescribed by any practitioner or health care provider who is licensed to prescribe medications.

What Is Naltrexone

Who Should Take Naltrexone?

Naltrexone should only be taken by those who suffer from an alcohol or opioid addiction. While it is not a permanent cure for these addictions, it can be used as part of a treatment program for alcohol or opioid dependence.

How Does It Work?

According to SAMHSA (the substance abuse and mental health services administration) and the UAMS Psychiatry Research Institute, naltrexone blocks the cravings the body has for alcoholic substances and the amount of alcohol consumed over time. There is also no way to abuse or divert the effects of naltrexone.

Once the patient begins naltrexone, the medication helps them maintain their sobriety. This drug cannot be administered while the patient is physically dependent on alcohol or other substances. Naltrexone is usually prescribed after the detox process. This MAT treatment usually takes three to four months.

What is Alcoholism?

Mayo Clinic's website defines an alcohol use disorder, sometimes seen at a level high enough to be considered alcoholism, as this, “a pattern of alcohol use that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms if you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.”

If an individual's drinking habits cause problems with daily functions, they may have an alcohol disorder. This disorder can be on a scale of mild to severe. Because alcohol use disorder can cause serious problems, so starting a treatment plan early is a must.

Side Effects of Naltrexone

Common side effects of naltrexone may include:

  • nausea
  • sleepiness
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • decreased appetite
  • painful joints
  • muscle cramps
  • cold symptoms
  • trouble sleeping
  • toothache

However, patients should contact their health care provider if they experience any of these symptoms after the injection:

  • intense pain
  • hardened injection site
  • large area of swelling
  • lumps
  • blisters
  • an open wound
  • a dark scab

While some of these side effects may be experienced, patients should not stop taking naltrexone. They should consult their doctor or health care provider about adjusting the dosage or changing the medication altogether. Patients should also contact their doctor if there is a reaction at the injection site that is concerning, gets worse over time, is bothersome, or does not go away. Naltrexone is meant to be used as part of a treatment plan, which may include counseling or monitoring.

For more information, patients should talk to their doctor or pharmacist.

What Is Naltrexone