May 17, 2024
Alcohol Treatment

Naltrexone: What is it and how does it work?

Naltrexone: A Breakthrough Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. It affects millions worldwide, leading to severe health problems, social issues, and economic burdens. Among various treatment options, Naltrexone has emerged as a promising medication to help individuals reduce or quit alcohol consumption. This post delves into how Naltrexone works, its effectiveness, and what to expect when using it as part of a treatment plan for AUD.

What Is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Studies have shown that naltrexone effectively reduces heavy drinking, frequency of drinking, alcohol cravings, and the likelihood of relapse. It is available in 50-milligram (mg) oral tablets, typically taken daily.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

AUD is a prevalent medical condition affecting around 15 million people in the United States. Individuals with AUD struggle to stop drinking or control their alcohol use despite facing negative consequences. A diagnosis of AUD is made by a qualified medical professional based on specific criteria.

Unlike the non-medical term "alcoholism," which historically referred to severe cases of alcohol misuse, AUD acknowledges that alcohol-related problems exist on a spectrum. AUD can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms present.

How Does Naltrexone Help with AUD?

Naltrexone works by disrupting the brain's reward system associated with alcohol consumption. It binds to opioid receptors, blocking the euphoric and intoxicating effects of alcohol. This interruption in the chemical feedback loop reduces cravings and helps individuals control their alcohol intake more effectively.

By diminishing the pleasurable effects of alcohol, naltrexone reduces the need for willpower alone to moderate or abstain from drinking.

Effectiveness in Reducing Alcohol Cravings

Naltrexone is recognized for its effectiveness in reducing alcohol cravings. For instance, a 2016 study found that participants in a residential treatment program for AUD who took naltrexone experienced a more rapid decrease in cravings than those who did not take the medication. Other research has shown that naltrexone leads to fewer thoughts about alcohol, less interest in drinking, and a reduced appeal of alcohol.

How Does Naltrexone Make You Feel?

Naltrexone is not addictive and does not produce psychoactive effects, meaning it won't make you feel "high" or cause withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it. Common side effects are usually mild and may include:

  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

Can You Overdose on Naltrexone?

While naltrexone is generally safe, taking too much may cause side effects requiring medical attention, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe diarrhea

In rare cases, severe side effects like trouble breathing, seizures, collapsing, or unconsciousness may occur and require immediate medical attention.

FAQ: Naltrexone for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Is Naltrexone Addictive?

No, naltrexone is not addictive and does not cause withdrawal symptoms if discontinued.

What Are the Side Effects of Naltrexone?

Common side effects include nausea, upset stomach, dizziness, and headache. These are typically mild and transient.

Why Haven't I Heard of Medication for AUD Before?

Medications like naltrexone are underutilized in part due to the popularity of psychosocial interventions such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the relatively recent formal recognition of AUD as a medical diagnosis.

When and How Long Should I Take Naltrexone?

Naltrexone can be taken daily or before drinking (known as the Sinclair Method). It is most effective when taken for more than three months and can be used indefinitely. Discuss the appropriate treatment duration with your doctor.

Is Medication Alone Enough to Manage My Drinking?

While some individuals may manage their drinking with naltrexone alone, it is often best used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling, therapy, and support groups.

Can You Drink on Naltrexone?

Yes, it is safe to drink alcohol in moderation while taking naltrexone. The medication helps both those who wish to stop drinking entirely and those who aim to reduce their alcohol consumption.

Is Naltrexone an Opioid?

No, naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. It blocks opioid receptors in the brain, reducing the euphoric and intoxicating effects of alcohol.

Does Naltrexone Work Right Away?

Naltrexone works within a few hours of taking a daily dose, with noticeable changes in alcohol-related experiences occurring within the first few weeks.

Is 25 mg of Naltrexone Effective?

While 25 mg is not a standard dose for AUD treatment, some individuals may find it reduces side effects while still helping control drinking. Consult with your doctor to determine the right dosage for you.

How much does Naltrexone Cost?

Naltrexone is prices vary, at Choose Your Horizon we provide a number of payment options to help give both flexibility and the lowest cost. If you are interested in pricing you find out more here.