Naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol, is a medication that falls under the category of drugs known as opioid antagonists. It works in the brain to prevent opioid effects (e.g., feelings of well-being, pain relief) and the desire to take opioids. 

You’re probably wondering how a drug that counters the effects of opioids could be helpful for alcohol use disorder (AUD). This Innovo Detox article explains what naltrexone is, how it works, and why it’s a useful tool for overcoming alcohol addiction

How Does Naltrexone Work in the Body?

Naltrexone, AKA Vivitrol, is a powerful tool in the battle against alcohol addiction. To understand how it works, it’s helpful first to understand more about how the brain works. Addiction begins in the brain and it’s also where naltrexone can help people overcome alcoholism. 

How Alcoholism Hijacks the Brain

The brain has a reward system that releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals like dopamine when we do something pleasurable, like eating or sex. The problem is that substances like alcohol or opioids can hijack this system. When this happens,  the brain releases these pleasure chemicals more frequently and in higher amounts. This throws the brain out of balance and can strongly reinforce the behavior that caused the excessive ‘pleasure response’ — this is drug or alcohol addiction. 

How Naltrexone Helps Fight Alcohol Addiction

Here’s where naltrexone steps in. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. In plain language, that means it blocks the ‘pleasure’ receptors in the brain. Preventing the rush of ‘feel-good’ chemicals typically triggered by consuming alcohol helps in two ways. 

  1. The blocking effect of naltrexone helps reduce the initial cravings for alcohol.
  2. If someone does drink on naltrexone, they won’t feel most of the pleasurable effects, which helps discourage them from drinking again. 

Why is Naltrexone Used to Treat Alcohol Addiction?

Naltrexone has some key advantages compared to other medications for alcohol addiction. First, naltrexone is not addictive, and it doesn’t cause physical dependence. That means you won’t experience withdrawal discomfort if and when you stop taking it. 

Research has shown that naltrexone can be a helpful tool in your recovery from alcohol dependence. Especially in early sobriety, cravings for alcohol can be a serious hazard. Anything that can help someone avoid picking up a drink and that doesn’t harm them is worth considering.

Remember that naltrexone is not a foolproof solution to alcoholism. This medication can reduce cravings and make it less likely that a person will drink — but it cannot guarantee that. Naltrexone can’t change the obsession with alcohol. It cannot resolve the underlying psychological pain, trauma, or disorders that so often underlie alcohol addiction. 

Remember: Tools Like Vivitrol Are Only Part of the Solution

It is important to remember that no medication, including naltrexone, is a “cure” for alcoholism or addiction. It may be more useful to think of naltrexone as one tool, in your recovery toolbox which you may use to help you. But no single tool can give you everything you need to recover from an alcohol use disorder.

The best, most effective approach to tackling addiction is to make use of multiple tools. Any tool that works for you, should be part of your toolbox. Naltrexone, for example, should be used along with other tools like therapy or counseling and working a 12-step program, like Alcoholics Anonymous for the best chance of successful, long-term recovery. 

Possible Risks and Side Effects of Naltrexone

Before beginning a regimen of naltrexone for alcohol abuse, be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications or drugs you are taking, legal or otherwise. You should also share your medical history, especially any allergies, past surgeries, or conditions you have. 

Naltrexone Side Effects

Like all medications, naltrexone has potential side effects, which can include nausea, headache, dizziness, anxiety, and sleep problems. It’s also important to note that naltrexone isn’t necessarily right for everyone. 

Some people who are especially sensitive to medication or who aren’t in the best physical health may not tolerate it well. By and large though, we have found that most alcohol use disorder patients find Vivitrol (naloxone) helpful and the side effects minimal. 

Possible Risks of Using Vivitrol for Alcohol Use Disorder

One major risk associated with Vivitrol (naltrexone) is that it can cause withdrawal symptoms in people who are physically dependent on opioids. For this reason, individuals need to be opioid-free for a minimum of 7-10 days before starting naltrexone. 

People with serious health problems that may or may not be related to alcoholism may not be good candidates for Vivitrol treatment for alcohol abuse. For example, people with certain liver conditions should not use this medicine.

Learn More About Naloxone

Don’t let the side effects or potential risks discourage you from exploring the use of medicines like Vivitrol for alcohol addiction though. The most practical approach is to share your medical history and other medicines you are prescribed with the doctor or nurse before beginning any treatment with naloxone. If you have specific questions about alcohol detox or naloxone, please give Innovo Detox a call.

Innovo Detox Has Solutions For Alcohol Abuse

Finding the courage to admit yourself for alcohol treatment will be one of the best decisions you will ever make for yourself. Innovo Detox is ready to help you or your loved one take the next step toward a better life. If you have any questions about Vivitrol, naltrexone, or alcoholism treatment in PA — we have answers. 

You can reach Innovo Detox anytime by calling (717) 359-3233 or through our contact page here.