What Is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone (Vivitrol) is a prescription medication that is sometimes used in the treatment of drug or alcohol dependence. There are also some types of naltrexone that have shown to help cigarette addiction, impulse control disorders, and developmental disorders such as autism. It is not considered a cure for addiction, but it is used to help prevent relapse in the recovery process.

How Does Naltrexone Work?

Naltrexone is used for both alcohol and opioid addiction.

It obstructs the effects of opioids, so patients who take it do not experience any pain relief or feelings of euphoria. Naltrexone helps vanquish the need to use opioids in individuals who have become dependent on them.

When used for alcohol addiction, naltrexone reduces the impulse and desire to drink. It has shown to be effective for alcohol addiction by helping people drink less or stop drinking altogether.

What Are the Side-Effects of Naltrexone?

There are several side effects associated with naltrexone. Some of the most common side effects to be aware of include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Rash
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Decreased or increased energy

Serious Side Effects of Naltrexone

There are also more serious side effects of naltrexone that some patients experience. An adverse reaction to the medication can cause:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, throat, or tongue
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe diarrhoea

Patients experiencing any of these more serious side effects should stop taking naltrexone immediately and contact their doctor or emergency medical services.

Warnings of Naltrexone Use

Naltrexone is part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan and is intended to be used once a person has stopped taking opioids or drinking alcohol. Taking large doses of opioids while taking naltrexone can cause serious health risks including coma or death. It is recommended a person has sustained from opioid use for at least 7-10 days before starting naltrexone.

When taken in dosages larger than recommended, naltrexone can cause liver damage. Signs of dangerous levels of naltrexone include:

  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Light coloured bowel movements
  • Pain in the upper right part of the stomach
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Bruising
  • Unusual bleeding

Anyone taking naltrexone who experiences any of these symptoms should contact their doctor or health care practitioner immediately.

Using naltrexone while pregnant is only suggested in serious cases of addiction in the mother where the benefits of using the medication offset the risks to the developing foetus. There haven’t been any studies conducted in pregnant mothers however, to provide sufficient data of any risks.

Naltrexone Frequently Asked Questions

How long does naltrexone take to work?

Naltrexone has shown to work within the first few hours after taking the medication for both opioid and alcohol use.

Is there anyone who should not take naltrexone?

People with liver or kidney disease should avoid taking naltrexone. It should not be used by pregnant women, except in severe cases of opioid or alcohol addiction. People who use opioids or heroin should wait at least 7-10 days before starting naltrexone.

If I take naltrexone for alcohol addiction do I need further treatment?

Yes. Naltrexone is not considered an all-inclusive treatment for alcohol addiction. It only helps to stop the urge to drink.

Will naltrexone make a person sober if they take it while drinking?

No. Naltrexone does not reduce the effects of alcohol when taken while drinking.

Is naltrexone addictive?

No. Naltrexone is non-habit forming and does not cause physical or psychological dependency.

External Links

Answers to Frequently Asked Medication Questions2, 5.1. Naltrexone, NIH

Long-Acting Injectable Naltrexone Induction: A Randomized Trial of Outpatient Opioid Detoxification With Naltrexone Versus Buprenorphine, Maria Sullivan, M.D., Ph.D. et al, American Psychiatric AssociationPowered, 2017

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