A growing body of evidence indicates that certain prescription medications are valuable in the fight against addiction. One such drug is Naltrexone, which has been around since first approved by the FDA in 1984 for the treatment of heroin addiction. The drug was approved for the treatment of alcoholism in 1994, and is now used primarily as an aid to overcome alcoholism and narcotic dependence.
Also known by its brand name labels, such as ReVia or Depade, Naltrexone is classified as an opioid receptor antagonist. It is intended to inhibit cravings for alcohol and other chemical substances and can eliminate the sense of desperation that addicts experience when they need a drink or other fix. Naltrexone works in the brain by blocking receptors that release endorphins and yield feelings of pleasure. When alcohol or narcotics like codeine or heroin elicit disproportionately intense responses in the brain of an individual, drugs like Naltrexone work to control the effects.
Naltrexone is best known for its contribution to the fight against alcoholism. By subduing the euphoric effects of alcohol, the drug can help alcoholics quit altogether. And, for those whose aim is complete sobriety, it can lower the likelihood of relapse. While other medications prescribed for fighting alcohol abuse, such as Disulfiram, cause nausea when taken with alcohol, Naltrexone is free from such side effects. So it can be used to facilitate moderate drinking as it restrains the desire for another drink. Some critics of the drug, however, contend that no amount of alcohol is acceptable for the recovering alcoholic and that attempts to promote moderate drinking will only result in relapse.
Despite its success in laboratory studies, many addiction treatment centers are still reluctant to embrace Naltrexone. Alcoholism is a remarkably complex disease, and while it undoubtedly relates to brain chemistry and genetics, addiction’s long roots also intertwine with an individual’s psychological behavior and circumstantial environment. Supporters of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, focus on the emotional and spiritual factors in a patient’s life, and refuse to treat the disease as purely neurological. Since addiction has both mental and physical components, Naltrexone is usually prescribed as a supplement to traditional forms of therapy. When taken in combination with psychosocial forms of treatment, Naltrexone has been shown to help recovering alcoholics stay sober longer.
In recent years, clinical trials have reported that a low dose of Naltrexone can also support immune health and benefit those suffering from a variety of autoimmune diseases. Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) has even been touted as a wonder drug in battles against HIV, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, and many other related illnesses. However, Naltrexone has not yet been approved by the FDA to treat anything other than addiction.
In 2006, the FDA approved an injection-based application of Naltrexone, of which a single dose can last 30 days. The side effects of Naltrexone are generally mild and short lived — the most frequent being nausea, which affects about 10 percent of users. Other symptoms that have been reported include headache, dizziness, and fatigue, and, in rare cases, liver toxicity. Suddenly discontinuing use of Naltrexone does not cause withdrawals, but, like with any prescription medication, dosages should be planned carefully with a healthcare professional.
By Colin Gilbert