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Naltrexone as a Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT)

Naltrexone is a prescription drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating opioid use disorder (OUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD).1 Naltrexone is considered a medication for addiction treatment, and is usually prescribed as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan alongside behavioral therapies and counseling.1 Understanding what naltrexone is, how it can help one achieve recovery from opioids or alcohol, and how to find naltrexone treatment can be important in order to navigate the addiction treatment sphere.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a long acting opioid receptor antagonist primarily used in the treatment of OUD and AUD.1 Due to its non-addictive nature, Naltrexone is often integrated  into comprehensive addiction treatment programs.1 The medication can help individuals reduce opioid cravings in a safe and effective way, when taken as prescribed.1

Naltrexone is sold under the brand names Vivitrol and Revia.2

How Does Naltrexone Work?

Naltrexone blocks and binds the opioid receptors in the brain, which decreases cravings for opioids. Since naltrexone blocks the binding of opioids to their receptors, if opioids are in the bloodstream when an individual is taking naltrexone, they will likely undergo immediate opioid withdrawals, and as a result, naltrexone is usually not given until the individual has completed the detox process.2(HOW does Nal work) When naltrexone is prescribed for treating an OUD, it is usually prescribed as an injectable drug, which typically controls opioid cravings for four weeks, and is given monthly.3(3-37) Naltrexone peaks in the bloodstream about 2 hours after administration and, after 14 days, will start to decline slowly.4(15)

The tablet form of naltrexone is not FDA-approved as a form of MAT for treating an OUD.2(Nal for OUD section) Naltrexone tablets have to be taken daily and are not usually prescribed for an OUD due to poor adherence to taking it regularly.3(3-37)

Naltrexone for alcohol use disorder may be given by monthly injection.1(Nal for AUD) The naltrexone pill is taken daily.1(what is) Naltrexone works by binding to endorphin receptors in the brain, and blocks the effects of alcohol.1

What are the Side Effects of Naltrexone?

Naltrexone does have some side effects that can include:1

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Headaches.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Problems with sleeping.
  • Painful joints.

On occasion, more serious side effects can occur, such as trouble breathing, rashes from a serious allergic reaction, or liver damage.1

Naltrexone for Addiction Treatment

Naltrexone can be an integral medication for addiction treatment (MAT), and is usually paired with behavioral therapy and counseling as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.1 Naltrexone has been shown to be effective in reducing both opioid and alcohol use.3, 4 Because naltrexone is effective in treating alcohol use disorders, it is helpful to use with people who have both an OUD and an alcohol use disorder.3

Naltrexone is not used during withdrawal from opioids. 3(3-38) In fact, if people have opioids in their system during detox and they are given naltrexone, it can cause precipitated withdrawal.3 Similarly, if people are given naltrexone before completing alcohol detox, they are likely to experience such symptoms as nausea and vomiting.1 Naltrexone is ideally for people who can abstain from alcohol for a few days before beginning MAT programs.4

How to Find Addiction Treatment

In searching for a treatment program that uses MAT, including naltrexone for alcohol use disorder or for treating opioid addiction, a good place to start is with your doctor. Your doctor can likely refer you to a treatment provider after discussing your needs for treatment. Another great tool is the SAMHSA treatment locator, which allows you to search providers by zip code.

You can also discuss your treatment options by calling an addiction helpline. American Addiction Centers (AAC) can be a resource for helping you locate naltrexone treatment and other types of rehab programs. In addition, if you call the AAC helpline, a compassionate professional can help you verify your insurance coverage and benefits to help you pay for rehab. Don’t delay, call today for more information about addiction treatment.

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