Naltrexone Limits Drug Cravings, Urges
It can feel overwhelming to make the necessary decisions regarding drug rehab treatment. You likely have many questions, from how long treatment will last to whether rehab will work. One of the decisions you may need to make is whether the medication naltrexone is the right therapy for you or an addicted loved one.
Naltrexone is a prescription drug used to treat both alcoholism and opioid addiction. Common brand names include Depade and ReVia. A once-a-month injectable form, called Vivitrol, is also available. This drug is often prescribed for a period of time ranging from a few months to a year. It may also be prescribed if a recovering drug addict starts experiencing cravings again or will be exposed to an environment where the urge to use will be intense.
How Naltrexone Helps Drug Cravings
Opioids, like heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone, are drugs that slow the body’s central nervous system activity and induce feelings of pleasure. Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist, which blocks the effects these drugs have on the brain. In other words, the drug takes away the intense high. The medication does not stop a person from doing drugs when he or she is actively using. It also will not stop or relieve withdrawal symptoms. However, its ability to block the euphoric high makes substance abuse less attractive to the addict.
Some studies have shown naltrexone to be effective at helping addicts prevent relapse. However, it’s important to note that the medication was used in conjunction with other addiction treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy. In one study, naltrexone was combined with counseling and addiction education for significant others to increase the addicts’ success rates.
Naltrexone is sometimes used in a process called rapid detoxification, which, as the name implies, is a method of speeding up detox. This must be done under strict medical supervision due to the risks involved. It is performed while the addict is under general anesthesia or sedation.
Before Taking Naltrexone
The drug’s primary use, however, is to prevent recovering addicts from experiencing the high that reinforces their continued use. This effective drug rehab treatment medication cannot be taken if a person is still using opioid drugs. As a general rule, an addict needs to be clean for at least seven to 10 days before starting naltrexone therapy. It’s common for the prescribing physician to order blood tests to ensure that there’s been no recent drug use.
Before taking this medication, addicts must go through detoxification if they haven’t already stopped using. Once they are clear of opioids, a physician will prescribe a low dose that will then be adjusted as necessary. Naltrexone should be taken on the prescribed schedule: daily, every other day, or every third day. It is often delivered in a clinical setting, but some addicts may be able to take it at home if supervised by a responsible family member.
Like any prescription medication, naltrexone does carry the risk of side effects. Most of the potential side effects are relatively mild. Users have reported headaches, drowsiness, upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle aches. The prescribing physician will provide a complete list of side effects and may be able to offer tips for reducing them. Naltrexone should not be taken by those with liver disease, acute hepatitis, or kidney disease, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Because this medication for drug addiction prevents opioids from working, it’s important to let your physician and any other health care providers know that you cannot take any opioid-containing medications. These include certain pain medicines, diarrhea medications and cough syrups.
Disadvantages of Naltrexone
While naltrexone can be an effective tool for drug rehab treatment, there are drawbacks. For instance, it works only when taken exactly as prescribed. Addicts with the urge to use often stop taking the drug or skip doses so they can use again. Others forget to take it. One study showed that heroin addicts who were supervised almost daily while taking the medication had better recovery rates than those who were supervised only three or four days a week.
Some addicts are hesitant to take it because they prefer to be entirely drug free. However, it’s important to remember that naltrexone is not a narcotic; nor is it a drug substitute therapy, like methadone. You can’t become addicted to naltrexone or get high from it. Using this medication is much like using a prescription to control other chronic disorders, such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
There’s another potential danger linked to the use of naltrexone. Since the drug blocks the high that comes from opioid drugs, some addicts may try to “get around” the medication and attempt to get high by taking larger-than-typical hits of their drug of choice. This is extremely dangerous because it can lead to overdose and, potentially, death.
Naltrexone And Addiction Treatment
This use of naltrexone as part of drug rehab treatment is not a magical cure; it can’t eliminate your addiction by itself. Rather, it’s just one more tool in a long-term strategy for recovery. Think of this medication as a way to clear your mind so you can build the healthy physical, emotional and cognitive foundation needed to maintain an addiction-free life.
As part of your treatment, you will be required to participate in individual or group addiction counseling. A trained therapist will help identify the factors that have contributed to your addictive behavior. Once those triggers are established, you will work to find healthier ways to cope with those emotions and behaviors.
Addiction professionals may recommend other tools as well. A support group, often in the form of a 12-step program, can be a powerful treatment strategy. By working with others who have experienced the same struggles, you will learn new ways to maintain recovery. Just as importantly, a good support group provides connections with others who understand exactly the challenges you are experiencing.
Finding support from family and friends is also crucial to recovery. Your addiction treatment team may recommend family or couples therapy to address relationship issues that contribute to your drug abuse. You’ll learn to identify sources of conflict as well as develop strategies for resolving them in a healthy and constructive way.
Naltrexone can be one part of a successful drug rehab treatment strategy. Talk to an addictions specialist to determine if this medication will help you on your road to recovery. It may be the extra tool you need to build a life free from the strain and dangers of addiction.