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Medically Reviewed

Medically reviewed by Jennifer Strong, LMHC

Written by Tampa Bay Recovery staff
Updated on April 15, 2024

Contents

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Opioid and alcohol addiction are among the most difficult and dangerous addictions to overcome. For this reason, the FDA has approved several medications to treat these addictions. Naltrexone is one of these medications that can help you or a loved one overcome opioid or alcohol use disorders.

Tampa Bay Recovery Center in Tampa, Florida, is here to help you overcome alcohol or opioid addiction with our comprehensive outpatient treatment programs. We offer several options for you to build an individualized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. This includes naltrexone as part of our medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a medication approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders. Along with behavioral therapy, naltrexone can be a part of your MAT program. Naltrexone can be taken orally or as an injectable sold under the brand name Vivitrol.

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How Does Naltrexone Work?

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that works by binding to and blocking the opioid receptors in your brain. These receptors produce feelings of euphoria, reduce pain, and are part of your brain’s reward system. However, opioids and alcohol can hijack these receptors, which in turn reinforces addictive behaviors.

By binding to and blocking the opioid receptors, naltrexone stops the reward activation of drinking and opioid use. This can help to reduce cravings as well as prevent you from getting high if you do relapse.

Therefore, naltrexone works in two ways. First, it reduces cravings for substance abuse to help you during early recovery—when you are at a high risk of relapsing. Second, if you do relapse, naltrexone blocks the effects so that you won’t get high.

It should be noted, however, that high doses of opioids or heavy drinking can potentially override the effects of naltrexone.

client in therapy as part of MAT program

How Can Naltrexone Help Me?

Naltrexone can help you by reducing your cravings and blocking or blunting the effects of opioids or alcohol. Thus, naltrexone reduces your risk of a relapse. And, it helps protect you from the effects of drugs in case you do relapse.

But, naltrexone alone isn’t enough to treat alcohol and opioid addiction. Instead, it is just one part of your treatment plan. You will also need behavioral therapy and mental health support for long-term recovery from addiction.

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What to Avoid When Taking Naltrexone

When taking naltrexone, there are some precautions you should take. For one thing, while naltrexone can block the effects of alcohol and opioids, you want to be sober for at least seven to ten days before starting your prescription. This will help to reduce any potential side effects from drug interactions.

Therefore, it is best to complete a drug and alcohol detox program before taking naltrexone. During detox, you stop taking all addictive drugs in order to return to a pre-addiction state. Detox programs will help you manage the acute withdrawal symptoms that occur as you adjust to no longer having drugs and alcohol in your system.

In addition, you should avoid the following when taking naltrexone:

  • Do not take naltrexone if you have liver conditions, such as hepatitis or other liver diseases.
  • If you are pregnant, tell your doctor before taking any prescription drugs, including naltrexone. Additionally, avoid breastfeeding while on naltrexone.
  • Although naltrexone can help to reduce or block the effects of alcohol and opioids, this is only a safety net in case you do relapse. Therefore, you should not intentionally take opioids, alcohol, or other drugs while on naltrexone.
  • Tell your doctor about other prescription drugs that you are taking. Some psychiatric medications, like Thioridazine, can be dangerous when mixed with naltrexone. In addition, other MAT medications, like disulfiram, can have harmful interactions with naltrexone.

By taking the precautions mentioned above, you can reduce the risk of side effects. Still, as with any medication, there are risks of side effects even when you do your best to minimize these risks.

Side Effects of Naltrexone

Some side effects can occur while taking naltrexone, such as:

  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Upset stomach and constipation
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleeping problems
  • Confusion
  • Increased thirst
  • Body chills
  • Skin rash
  • Sexual dysfunction

As with any medication, you need to consider the risks and benefits of taking naltrexone versus not. Essentially, if your side effects are relatively mild, the benefits of naltrexone could outweigh the discomfort you feel.

However, if you experience severe side effects, talk to your doctor right away. While most side effects of naltrexone are mild, others can be severe, especially mental changes, like confusion or worsening mental health conditions. In addition, physical side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation can lead to medical problems when not addressed.

client sees doctor for naltrexone side effect of abdominal pain

How Long Do the Effects of Naltrexone Last?

How long the effects of naltrexone last primarily depends on the medication route of administration. In other words, it varies depending on if you are taking naltrexone orally or by injection. Additional factors that impact the length of the effects include dosage, body weight, and metabolism.

When taken orally, the effects can last for about 24 to 72 hours. Therefore, you will likely need to take it once daily to be effective. Your doctor will help you find a medication schedule that works for you.

When taken as an extended-release injection (under the brand name Vivitrol), the effects last about one month. This is helpful for people who struggle with medication management or treatment compliance. 

Of course, the effects of Vitirol injections will wear off gradually. The effects will be the weakest during the week before your scheduled injection. Therefore, it is important to stick to your injection schedule when taking Vivitrol.

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Alternatives to Naltrexone

Naltrexone—and Vivitrol—are not the only medications approved for MAT programs. There are a variety of options available that have similar effects. Your doctor might recommend alternatives depending on the level of your addiction, other prescription drugs you take, or the presence of co-occurring conditions.

Naltrexone Alternatives for Opioid Use Disorder

The following medications can be part of your MAT program for opioid use disorder instead of naltrexone:

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that also helps to reduce cravings for those with an addiction to fentanyl, heroin, morphine, and other opioids. Like naltrexone, you can get buprenorphine as a brand-name injection called Sublocade.  

Methadone is another option for treating opioid use disorders. As a long-acting, full opioid agonist, methadone acts on the opioid receptors and occupies them to reduce cravings.

However, while methadone isn’t as potent as other opioids, like codeine, fentanyl, or heroin, it does have some potential for misuse. That is why if you take methadone during your MAT program, you will need to get your dose at a clinic every day (unless approved for take-home doses after long-term treatment compliance).

Naltrexone Alternatives for Alcohol Use Disorder

The following medications can be part of your MAT program for alcohol use disorder as an alternative to naltrexone:

Acamprosate helps your brain return to normal functioning after long-term and excessive alcohol consumption. This medication doesn’t treat withdrawal symptoms. Instead, it helps your brain work more effectively since long-term alcohol use affects how the brain works.

Disulfiram can help you stay sober during early recovery from alcohol addiction. If you drink while taking disulfiram, you will have unpleasant side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. These unpleasant side effects are similar to a severe hangover and can deter you from drinking alcohol.

End Your Addiction Today

Alcohol and opioid addiction can be challenging to overcome. Both substances cause withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be so distressing that people relapse shortly after quitting to avoid them—which can be deadly. 

If you’re struggling to quit drinking or abusing opioids, you know how difficult withdrawal can be. You might feel like you’re in an endless cycle of addiction, brief cessation, and relapse. Prescription medications as part of an MAT program, like naltrexone, can help you find success and long-term recovery.

Contact Tampa Bay Recovery Center today to learn more about how naltrexone can help you end your addiction.

More About Naltrexone

In addition to treating alcohol and opioid use disorder, naltrexone can treat other medical conditions. In low doses, naltrexone can treat chronic pain, fibromyalgia, immune dysfunction, and psoriasis. 

However, it is important to know what to avoid when taking low-dose naltrexone to treat these conditions. These precautions include being mindful of potential drug interactions and complications due to liver disease and other co-occurring conditions.

Naltrexone doesn’t cause withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it. Regardless, you should talk to your doctor before making any changes or stopping your medication. You could put yourself at risk of relapsing or overdosing if you stop taking naltrexone.

Naltrexone is not addictive—mainly because it inhibits the part of the brain that reinforces addictive behaviors. Thus, you won’t become dependent or addicted to naltrexone. This can be welcome news to those who struggled with the addictive potential of methadone in the past.

There are several things that you can do to support a loved one taking naltrexone for addiction. First and foremost, you can support them throughout their entire recovery process. This can mean encouraging them, celebrating their successes, helping them attend rehab, or listening to their struggles to overcome addiction.

In regards to naltrexone specifically, you could remind your loved one to take their medication or attend their appointments for injections. Alternatively, you can follow up regularly to see if they’ve taken their medications. Or, you can help them by taking them to appointments for Vivitrol injections. You can also cover some of their responsibilities, like watching their children or pets, while they leave for appointments.

Lastly, you can attend support groups for yourself related to loving someone with an addiction. Al-Anon can be a great resource, especially for family members of those with alcohol use disorder. In addition, open meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can provide insight into your loved one’s behaviors.

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