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Naltrexone for Opioid Withdrawal: Everything You Need To Know

By Manjari Bansal
Naltrexone is a medication that helps you stop opioid misuse. Find out more about naltrexone and how it treats opioid withdrawal and addiction.

Naltrexone helps people stop misusing opioids and can be an important part of an opioid use disorder treatment plan. The drug works by blocking the effects of opioids in your brain and reducing your cravings. Learn more about naltrexone and its potential role in opioid withdrawal.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a prescription drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorder and alcohol addiction,  the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes. It is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks the body's opioid receptors, thereby reducing and blocking opioid cravings. The drug also blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids like heroin, morphine, and codeine.

“Naltrexone is often utilized as a medication-assisted treatment to treat opioid use disorder as well as alcohol use disorder,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

However, naltrexone should not be the only thing used to treat an alcohol or opioid addiction, Mayo Clinic notes. A comprehensive approach, also called medication-assisted treatment (MAT), is often the best choice. These treatment programs combine counseling, behavioral therapy, and group meetings with medication-based therapy. 

“The medication comes in pill form that needs to be taken daily, or as a monthly extended-release injectable,” Sternlicht says.

Naltrexone in pill form is usually used for treating alcohol addiction, while extended-release intramuscular injectable is used for both alcohol and opioid use disorder, reports SAMHSA. Since naltrexone is not an opioid, it is not addictive and does not cause withdrawal symptoms after stoppage. It also does not come with the risk of being diverted and misused. 

Naltrexone and Opioid Use Disorder

Naltrexone reduces your dependence on opioids through its actions in the brain, states the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). It blocks the brain's opioid receptors, which helps reduce urges and cravings for opioids and promotes abstinence.

There are few things you should know while using naltrexone for opioid use disorder:

  • “An individual must abstain from opioids for approximately 7 to 10 days before beginning a naltrexone regimen, which can be challenging as this is when most severe opioid withdrawal symptoms can occur,” Sternlicht says.
  • You should not abruptly stop taking naltrexone, even if you feel better. Instead, you should follow the timeline determined by your healthcare provider, NAMI notes.
  • “An individual withdrawing from opioids should do so under supervised medical care with a professional who can help ease discomfort,” Sternlicht says.
  • When using naltrexone, you should stay away from alcohol, sedatives, tranquilizers, or other illicit drugs, according to SAMHSA.
  • Also, you should inform your doctor about all other medications you are taking while being treated with naltrexone.
  • “Naltrexone should be prescribed in tandem with a comprehensive plan that also includes therapy and behavioral counseling,” Sternlicht adds.

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