Naltrexone 101: Addiction Treatment, Effects & Side Effects

Naltrexone is a prescription drug that is used to help people attempting to de-addict themselves from alcohol and opioid dependencies. It's known as an opioid receptor antagonist and sold under several trade names. Naltrexone street names include Vivitrol, Depade and Revia. Vivitrol is the trade name of the extended release form of naltrexone. Depade and Revia are street names of Naltrexone hydrochloride.

How Naltrexone works

For people that have stopped taking opioids such as cocaine or heroin and are attempting to treat their addiction, Naltrexone blocks the effect in the brain, and therefore reduces craving. It does this by blocking the brain's normal reaction to these opioids.

For alcohol addicts undergoing de-addiction treatments, the drug reduces craving for alcohol. It's not completely known how the drug works. However it is believed that Naltroxene may affect the neural pathways where dopamine is released.

Naloxone Challenge Test

Once an individual has been able to stay off opioids for as long as seven to ten days, and their urine test results show no presence of opioids, the doctor often takes a Naloxone Challenge Test (NCT). The test involves a naloxone injection, after which the patient is monitored for any withdrawal symptoms for a period of twenty minutes. The test is performed in order to find out the levels of dependence on the opioids.

Forms of the Drug

Naltroxene may be taken as a pill, and a daily dose is usually prescribed for this form. The usual prescription is for twelve weeks at the initial stages of alcohol de-addiction, when the chances of a relapse are the most. In the case of opioid addiction, the drug is usually prescribed for twelve months.

The injectible form of the drug is approved by the FDA for a monthly dose, in the form of Vivitrol. It is believed that this form of medication is the most effective, since it does away with the problem of medical capacitance or how effectively patients follow the medical prescriptions.

Implant Form of the Drug

A controversial form of the drug is involved in a process of rapid detoxification for opoid addictions. The process is controversial, and involves placing the patient under anesthesia and inserting a Naltrexone implant in the posterior or the lower abdomen. After this process, daily doses of the drug are administered for a period of up to twelve months. This is not a FDA-approved process and while it is believed that the process may be a permanent cure for opioid addictions, it may only be more effective as an early treatment as part of a long de-addiction program and rehabilitation.

Side Effects of Naltroxene

While Naltroxene is generally tolerated, it is important to remember that there is no safe level of drug usage, and prescriptions must be strictly followed. For some people, the drug can cause anxiety, nervousness, stomach upsets, joint and muscle pain. These symptoms are usually temporary and mild, but in some cases they can be more severe.

In rare cases, the drug can cause more serious side effects such as hallucinations, drowsiness, stomach pain and vomiting, rashes, blurred vision or diarrhea. Such symptoms should be reported immediately for professional treatment.

Naltroxene overdose can result in liver failure. Symptoms of this include exhaustion, unusual bruising or bleeding, lack of appetite, yellowing of eyes or the skin, darkened urine etc, which are all mentioned as warning notes on drug packaging. If any of these symptoms persist, it may be a sign of liver failure.

Risk of Overdose While On Naltroxene

Since Naltroxene reduces tolerance to heroin, there is a severe chance of an overdose on heroin during Naltroxene rehabilitation. This can happen either when a Naltroxene dose has been skipped or the medication has been stopped altogether.

Effect With Painkillers

Naltroxene inhibits the effect of painkillers for some. Many strong painkillers are also opioids and therefore the opioid antagonist blocks their effects. There are several alternative kinds of drugs that can be used as painkillers effectively, if a person is on Naltroxene. Medical staff must be informed if the patient is under Naltroxene medication, in which case they will be able to prescribe these alternative painkillers.

For individuals hoping to be able to control their addictions and maintain their control during and after a de-addiction program, Naltroxene along with regular counseling, as well as the individual's level of commitment may be effective in complete rehabilitation.