Naltrexone is a medication primarily prescribed for:
- The management of alcohol dependence
- Management of opiod addiction such as methadone, heroin and morphine and to remain drug-free after detoxification from opiod.
Naltrexone is FDA-approved in the US since 1984 to treat opiod addiction. It’s used along with complete treatment program for drug abuse such as counseling, compliance monitoring, lifestyle changes, behavioral contract and social support to help them stop using street drugs, stop drinking alcohol. It’s also FDA-approved to treat alcohol use disorder since 1994.
Naltrexone is a type of opiod antagonist that is used as part of the long-term treatment for drug and alcohol dependence. It works by blocking the opiod receptors in the brain. While you are taking this medication, it won’t be able to stimulate the opiod receptor so it won’t have any effect.
For alcoholism, Naltrexone can help quell one’s desire to drink. It reduces the craving for alcohol that many alcohol dependent people experiences when they quit drinking. Although it is not fully understood how it actually reduces alcohol cravings, it is believed that it decreases the reinforcing effects of alcohol in the neural pathways in the brain. The brain interacts with alcohol in a very similar manner to how it reacts with opioids. It suppresses the pleasurable sensations of alcohol so alcoholics no longer receive a reward for drinking once they take Naltrexone, thus making them less likely to continue consuming alcohol. However, Naltrexone is not sufficient enough when taken alone. It’s most effective when taken along with other forms of medication such as counseling, therapy and 12-step programs.
How to Use Naltrexone
Naltrexone comes in a tablet form for you take orally at home or treatment center or under supervision in a clinic. It is prescribed only after you have stopped taking opiod or drinking alcohols for 7 to 10 days as it can cause serious withdrawal symptoms.
The recommended dose is one tablet once a day. Your first dose is usually half a tablet. After this your doctor will increase your dose to one tablet a day.
You may take it with or without food. You may also take it once every other day, once every third day or once every day except Sunday. Your doctor may also give you a higher dose on just three days each week. Make sure you take the medicine exactly as your doctor has instructed. For a missed dose, take it as soon as you remember. Do not double up your dose to make up for the missed one.
Possible Side Effects of Naltrexone HCL
Naltrexone may cause unwanted side effects aside from its intended effects. You should tell your doctor if any of the following side effects become severe or don’t go away:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle or joint pain
- Stomach pain
- Mild discomfort at injection site
- Decreased or increased energy
- Nausea and vomiting
Serious side effects include:
- Severe diarrhea or vomiting
- Signs of allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth or chest tightness
In case of serious side effects call your doctor immediately.
What should I know before taking Naltrexone HCL?
- Take Naltrexone only under the supervision of a physician. It should only be prescribed if the patient’s liver is functioning properly.
- Use this medication in managing opiod dependence only if patient has undergone detoxification.
- Do not use Naltrexone to treat people who are still using street drugs. Doing this can cause sudden withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor will carry out a test to show that you are completely drug-free before starting with your treatment.
- Do not use Naltrexone to treat people who are still drinking large amount of alcohol.
- Naltrexone is absorbed by the body through the liver. At high dose, this can cause damage to the liver.
- Naltrexone doesn’t cure addiction. It doesn’t stop psychological cravings for opiod. It just stops you from getting a high from the drug if you give in to your cravings. It’s best to use it in combination with other forms of treatment such as therapy and social support.
- People with liver disease, acute hepatitis or kidney disease should not take this drug.
- Do not take this if:
- You are using narcotic painkillers
- You are allergic to any of its ingredients
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- This medicine can cause drowsiness which can affect your ability to drive or operate machinery.
- You may need to take a regular blood test to monitor the function of your liver before starting with your treatment.
Getting the Best Result from Naltrexone HCL
- Naltrexone is a comparatively safe medication and treatment for alcoholics may be indefinite. Treatment of more than three months is the most effective for keeping alcoholics in recovery.
- Do not stop taking your medication unless you are told to do so. Continue taking this for as long as instructed by your doctor. The length of time it takes to recover from alcoholism and opiod addiction varies from person to person.