Originally Posted On: Naltrexone for Alcoholism Treatment
Naltrexone for Alcoholism Treatment
Naltrexone was initially used to treat opioid addiction, including heroin addiction. Recovering patients who consume Naltrexone can no longer experience the pleasurable effects of opioids and thus motivate patients to discontinue their drug abuse. Although this medication was initially used during drug addiction treatment, it was later discovered to have the same effects on alcohol treatment. Since the brain interacts with alcohol in a similar manner to that of opioids, Naltrexone can suppress the pleasurable sensations and euphoria of both substances.
Although Naltrexone has a long, successful history of treating alcoholism, it’s not sufficient on its own. The medication doesn’t reduce alcohol cravings and any associated alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Hence, Naltrexone works best when combined with other treatments, such as therapy, counseling, 12-step programs, and other medications. The effectiveness in the treatment of patients who experience relapses is one proven benefit of this medication.
The body absorbs Naltrexone through the liver, leading to possible liver damage at high doses, and lower doses of this medication can decrease its overall effectiveness. Subsequently, this can be dangerous for patients suffering from alcohol-related liver damages.
Proper Use of Naltrexone
Like most other alcoholism treatment medications, Naltrexone is a prescription medication that should only be taken under the strict supervision of a treatment specialist. Even though the medication is not known to react with alcohol adversely, it should only be prescribed to patients after the successful completion of an alcohol detoxification program. Due to specific side effects, Naltrexone should only be recommended after a medical check by a physician to ensure that the patient does not have any liver complications and if the patient is not pregnant.
Generally, Naltrexone is prescribed for a short period in an inpatient rehab setting. Nevertheless, research suggests that prolonged use of the medication (over three months) is the most effective for maintaining sobriety in patients. Subsequently, Naltrexone is considered a safe medication during indefinite treatment.
Before being prescribed, Naltrexone patients must inform their physician of any medications currently being used as Naltrexone can have adverse reactions to certain medications. A single Naltrexone tablet is usually taken once a day with or without food.
It may also be prescribed as:
- Once every other day
- Once every third day
- Once every day except for one designated day of the week
A patient can take a missed dose if it’s not close to the next dose, as the doubling of doses remains unsafe, even if the patient has missed their previous dose.
Side Effects of Naltrexone
Naltrexone’s side effects are well studied and documented due to its long history. Thus, the very few and mild side effects are among the prime reasons for its wide use in alcoholism treatment. However, similar to most alcoholism medications, it too poses a possibility to cause severe and fatal adverse side effects in certain patients, and hence Naltrexone is only prescribed at rehab settings to ensure the patient’s safety.
Common side effects of Naltrexone include:
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased or decreased energy
- Ringing in the ears
Less common but more severe Naltrexone’s side effects include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Blurred vision
- Liver toxicity and failure
- Hypersensitivity to the drug
- Swelling in the face, feet, and legs
- Shortness of breath
Benefits of Naltrexone
- Reduces the motivation to drink, especially among patients who are highly likely to relapse.
- Comparatively fewer and mild side effects than alternative alcoholism medications.
- Helps improve the outcome of other treatment methods like counseling and therapy.
- Therapeutic advantages are widely accepted to surpass the potential side effects.