Naltrexone is an evidence-based medication used to treat opioid use disorders. This drug prevents an individual from experiencing the euphoria that is associated with opioid drug abuse. Used properly this medication, along with therapy, can help to prevent relapse and ensure continued sobriety for those with a history of opioid dependence.
By abusing opioids you are risking your life. The CDC puts this danger in perspective, cautioning that “since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled.” Theses deaths are preventable. A good rehab program is a key component in protecting a person’s life. Naltrexone can be a valuable part of this treatment, both during and after.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs which include heroin and prescription painkillers. Opioid drugs change the way a person thinks and actually alters the way their brain functions. When a person abuses an opioid drug, it is most commonly to self-medicate or to create a high or euphoric state. These feelings of pleasure occur when the drug attaches to opioid receptors within your brain. This connection creates a rush of dopamine, a chemical that creates a sense of reward and pleasure.
Due to these intense effects, the potential for opioid abuse and addiction is high. Opioid drug abuse can lead to intense withdrawals and multiple risks, including respiratory depression, various diseases, coma, overdose, and death. To counter the many dangers associated with abuse and addiction, it is important a person take the proper steps towards treatment and sobriety. Medications can be a good defense against opioid addiction.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment combines a medication to treat substance abuse with behavioral therapies. For most individuals, this combined approach yields better results. As addiction and cravings are largely psychological, various therapies are important in addressing these concerns.
What Is Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is a long-acting opioid receptor antagonist. What this means is that the drug occupies opioid receptor sites and prevents the abused opioid from doing so. Due to this, euphoria and other effects are blocked, regardless of how the user administers the abused drug. This works to prevent relapse and decrease the potential for addiction. Instead, if a person takes an opioid while naltrexone is in their system, it could precipitate prolonged opioid withdrawal. For this reason, an individual needs to complete detox prior to taking this medication.
Naltrexone, like every drug, does have side effects. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), these include:
- Joint or muscle pain
- Sleep problems/tiredness
- Upset stomach or vomiting
Despite these adverse effects, for many, the benefits of naltrexone outweigh the negatives. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) elaborates on the positives, noting that “naltrexone itself has no subjective effects following detoxification (that is, a person does not perceive any particular drug effect), it has no potential for abuse, and it is not addictive.”
How Is Naltrexone Used?
This drug may be administered during rehab and also during recovery as a way to support a sober life. When used orally (ReVia), a person can take naltrexone daily or three times a week, depending on their unique needs. In addition, naltrexone may be injected in a long-acting form once a month. This preparation is called Vivitrol. Naltrexone can be used to reverse an opioid overdose, however some experts believe that naloxone (Narcan) is safer for this purpose. While a naltrexone implant does exist, it is not yet proven to be a safe or effective method of treatment. Also, it is not approved by the FDA. Some programs use naltrexone for ultrarapid detox, however this method can be highly risky.
How Is Naltrexone Used For Relapse Prevention?
The main reasons why drug abusers use a drug is to self-medicate, to experience the sense of reward and pleasure we spoke about, or to relieve a craving. If a user can’t fulfill these, it would make sense to think they would stop abusing the drug. Clarifying this, NIDA writes that “the theory behind this treatment is that the repeated absence of the desired effects and the perceived futility of abusing opioids will gradually diminish craving and addiction.”
As triggers and cravings are two of the primary reasons why a person relapses, addressing these concerns is crucial. Informing us how naltrexone benefits these goals, SAMHSA states that “research has shown that naltrexone decreases reactivity to drug-conditioned cues and decreases craving.”
One downfall to the oral route is that some individuals are not compliant. This means that they do not properly adhere to taking the medication. For a former opioid drug abuser this might mean that they stop taking naltrexone so that they can abuse an opioid. In addition to the risks of relapse, this can be very dangerous should prolonged withdrawal occur. In order to better protect a person from these risks, naltrexone should be used adjacent to other relapse prevention techniques.
What Other Techniques Are Used For Opioid Relapse Prevention?
Both opioid addiction treatment and relapse prevention require an individualized approach for optimal results. Both may include:
- Practicing self-care
- Creating a relapse prevention plan
- Learning what your triggers are and how to avoid them
- Practice saying “no” for when you can’t
- Behavioral therapies
- Treatment co-occurring disorders
- Peer support groups (i.e. Narcotics Anonymous)
- Stress management techniques
- Enhancing interpersonal skills
- Mindfulness techniques
- Family support and therapy
While these modalities and pharmacologies like naltrexone can play a crucial role within recovery, it’s important you look after yourself in other ways too. Relapse prevention can also include:
- Staying close to people who are positive influences
- Maintaining a support network
- Positive goal-setting
- Staying involved in treatment aftercare programs (if available)
Getting involved in local aftercare services
Recovery can be hard. But don’t forget—even in these difficult moments it’s still far better, more healthy, and offers you far more potential than a return to drug abuse ever could. Protect your life and happiness; take the steps to stay sober.
Don’t Let Opioids Rule Your Life
No matter where you are within the treatment and recovery process, it’s important to make sure you’re doing everything you can to build a sober life. Recovery is a journey. Though this road can be hard at times, medications like naltrexone can make it more bearable and successful. If you’re interested in learning more about how naltrexone might help you or a loved one, reach out. DrugRehab.org can provide you with resources on treatment, relapse prevention, and aftercare support. Contact us today.
For More Information Related to “Using Naltrexone To Treat Opioid Addiction” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From DrugRehab.org:
- The Importance of Aftercare When Leaving A Drug And/Or Alcohol Rehab Program
- Suboxone (Buprenorphine/Naloxone) Withdrawal Symptoms
- The Dangers of Using Heroin with Crack Cocaine
- What Helps With Heroin Withdrawal?
- What is Heroin Cut With?
MedlinePlus — Naltrexone
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Naltrexone