July 11, 2022

What Is Naltrexone and How Is It Used In Treatment?

What Is Naltrexone?

Primarily used to treat opioid substance use disorders but also effective in treating extreme cases of alcohol use disorders, Naltrexone is a synthetic drug and opioid antagonist that blocks the opiate receptors in the nervous system. You may have heard of methadone as a medication taken to help overcome opioid addiction, and Naltrexone is similar but has a few key differences. 

While methadone activates the receptors that suppress opioid cravings and can have symptoms similar to euphoric opioid withdrawal, Naltrexone binds and blocks the receptors to reduce cravings. Naltrexone is also not addictive, with minimal withdrawal symptoms compared to methadone and illicit opioid medications or products. 

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How Is Naltrexone Used in Addiction Treatment?

Because Naltrexone blocks the opioid receptors in the central nervous system, it can trigger opioid withdrawal symptoms if taken by those actively physically dependent on opioids. Therefore, those in recovery do not start Naltrexone during the initial detox stage of addiction treatment. Naltrexone is best used after the withdrawal stage has been completed during medication-assisted treatment. 

This opioid antagonist medication is available as a tablet, injectable Naltrexone, and an implantable device form, with tablet administration being the most common. Known brand names for the tablet are ReVia and Depade, and the injectable extended-release form of the drug is often sold under the generic name Vivitrol. 

Tablet-form doses of Naltrexone can be taken by oral administration during treatment at a recovery facility and home. It is taken multiple times daily on a schedule that must be followed closely. The dose of Naltrexone can vary from person to person, with lower doses available as the medication’s treatment nears its end. Naltrexone is usually taken for three months, but it’s not uncommon for individuals to take it up to a year following detox to help prevent relapse. This is why the injectable and implanted device form is gaining popularity over oral Naltrexone.

The Naltrexone implant device is shaped like a small pellet and inserted into the lower abdominal wall through a short procedure using a local anesthetic. The device releases a consistent amount of Naltrexone into the body for three to six months. However, it is still being monitored for potential side effects, so it is only available during inpatient treatment for opioid addiction programs. 

Finally, the last form is an intramuscular injection that is administered once a month either in a rehab or clinic setting so that individuals can be enrolled in outpatient treatment and receive this form of Naltrexone. 

Side Effects of Naltrexone

Naltrexone is promoted for its effectiveness and the minimal withdrawal symptoms and side effects associated with taking it. Any side effects caused generally disappear once your body adjusts to the medicine. Some side effects that have been reported include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Mild abdominal pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mild joint or muscle pain

If you experience any side effects, suspect you have a missed dose, or begin to feel cravings, call your doctor or seek clinical care as soon as possible. 

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Does Naltrexone Help With Anxiety?

While it is not yet approved as one of the prescribed medications used to treat these conditions, low-dose Naltrexone is being studied as an effective, non-addiction forming, and affordable treatment for patients with specific pain and mental health disorders.

Common medications prescribed for mental health conditions like anxiety or pain disorders like fibromyalgia are often habit-forming, and few of those who take them avoid experiencing an adverse effect of the prescribed medication, especially after the long-term use required of these conditions. On the other hand, there has been no evidence that long-term use of Naltrexone is harmful. 

The complication of using Naltrexone to treat certain mental health illnesses is the contrary effect it can have from person to person. Those who have taken it have reported a significant decrease in anxiety, while others have actually experienced an increase in anxiety and depression. It is not yet known if these symptoms are relevant to other factors the individual is influenced by while taking Naltrexone, especially during the treatment of opioid dependency, or the cause of taking the medication itself. Further research will be necessary to determine effective use outside opioid and alcohol dependency treatment. 

What Does Taking Naltrexone Feel Like?

Naltrexone contains no euphoric properties and is actually designed to block these feelings as an opioid receptor antagonist, lessening the desire to use narcotics or alcohol. Naltrexone may cause side effects, although not very common, with some users reporting initial feelings of dizziness or drowsiness when they first begin taking Naltrexone regularly and only 10% of people experiencing nausea after taking it. 

Due to the mechanisms of naltrexone treatment that inhibit the receptors of opioid molecules, the way you feel on the medication might differ from how you felt while under the influence of opioids or alcohol. Some individuals describe this as a “weird” or “odd” feeling compared to their “normal” state, and this is temporary, just like any side effects that may be felt. Otherwise, after the initial adjustment phase, naltrexone therapy does not produce any noticeable “feeling,” which aligns with the goal of the medication. 

What Is the Success Rate of Naltrexone in Addiction Treatment?

During a study where Naltrexone was used to treat alcohol use disorder, 54% of subjects completed a full 12 weeks of treatment, with 39% of the patients abstaining from alcohol entirely and 86% consuming measurably less alcohol by their final visit. Most of the research regarding Naltrexone as a medication used during addiction treatment has been done in individuals attempting to overcome alcoholism, with much less research available for cases where treatment with Naltrexone is used for heroin addiction and other opioid substance use disorders. 

What has been confirmed is that participants who are highly motivated to recover from opioid use disorders have demonstrated the highest retention and completion rates using the medication. There is also a reported trend of success in older individuals and those with more previous treatment attempts. When used in conjunction with psychosocial therapy, Naltrexone generally improves the effectiveness versus just undergoing psychosocial therapy or naltrexone therapy alone. Lastly, in all cases compared against placebos and standard treatment programs, the use of Naltrexone proved more effective in improving post-treatment outcomes. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment at Muse in Los Angeles

Muse Treatment’s recovery center is an extensive network of sober living homes, intensive outpatient services, drug detox programs, and round-the-clock inpatient care. Our location in Los Angeles aims to provide safety and security, so patients of each facility have the best chance at recovery. 

The focus of Muse Treatment is to provide a healing community of recovery to help residents achieve emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical health and well-being. They accomplish this by offering a combination of advanced clinical services and holistic treatments administered under the highest professional and ethical standards in recovery and addiction treatment. 

Each client at Muse Treatment begins with a medical and psychiatric assessment upon admission to determine the best course of treatment according to their needs. Muse Treatment is well equipped with the medications, supplies, and medically trained staff to provide medically assisted detox, which includes continuous assessment, monitoring, and the administration of FDA-approved drugs to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. 

Once detox is completed, or if it is not needed, most patients at Muse Treatment undergo the first stage of recovery. In this inpatient treatment stage, individuals will stay on-site at the facility throughout their stay. They will also receive dual diagnosis-focused treatment to target and identify underlying mental health issues often co-occurring with substance use disorders. We offer both traditional and alternative therapies so those who do not feel they have benefited from past methods can experiment with other approaches to find what best progresses them towards long-term recovery. 

Following the completion of inpatient treatment are outpatient and sober living programs to help with the transition to a healthy everyday life and to continue implementing the skills learned during inpatient treatment. Outpatient programs are also offered as an alternative to inpatient treatment if a patient has other work, school, or life responsibilities that cannot be missed to undergo full-time treatment. Outpatient programs can consist of attending treatment at a facility for several hours each day to attend therapy and receive medications, or it can look like an individual staying for a few days during the week or over the weekend where their schedule allows. 

Those who complete inpatient treatment may also continue with treatment through an outpatient program to benefit from the elements of inpatient treatment but start to practice how they may continue life after treatment. Another option to receive additional support and accountability after completing an inpatient program is to move to one of the sober living facilities associated with Muse Treatment so you can move further in your recovery journey under conditions that best facilitate relapse prevention and trigger avoidance. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment is a service that can be offered during every phase and program available at Muse Treatment, according to each individual’s needs. During your initial intake and assessment, medication options will be discussed, and you’ll be made aware of what each type can do to help with your recovery and path towards a life free from drugs and addiction. 

Muse Treatment has expert sober living specialists standing by 24/7, ready to speak with you confidentially about your recovery journey, no matter what stage you are at. Call (800) 426-1818 or fill out the online contact form on our addiction treatment website anytime. 

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