Naltrexone is a prescription drug. It belongs to a group of drugs known as opioid antagonists. These block the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs. Naltrexone is used in pharmacotherapy, in which a drug of dependence is replaced with a prescribed drug. Pharmacotherapy helps to stabilize people's lives and reduce the harms related to drug use. Naltrexone may be used:
• To help people who have withdrawn (detoxified) from opioids such as heroin to stay off those drugs through the awareness that the effects of naltrexone will stop them achieving a 'high'
• As an experimental treatment during rapid withdrawal from opioids
Naltrexone can also be prescribed to people with alcohol dependence.
How is it used?
Naltrexone is administered via an implant. It can also be taken as a tablet.
To be eligible for the treatment for opioid dependence, a person must:
• Be free of heroin and other opioids for 7–10 days (or 10 days for methadone) before starting naltrexone treatment; otherwise they may experience acute, instant withdrawal. People who intend to start naltrexone treatment can expect to be tested in order to confirm that they are clear of opioid drugs.
• Have no existing liver conditions, such as acute hepatitis
Alcohol and naltrexone
Naltrexone is prescribed to people with alcohol dependence. Its use in this context works in several ways:
• It can reduce the craving for alcohol
• It can reduce the 'reward' effects of alcohol use
• It can help people remain abstinent from alcohol
• It can reduce the tendency to want to drink more if a person consumes alcohol
If a person consumes alcohol while using naltrexone, they will still experience the effects of alcohol, so their judgement, coordination and ability to perform tasks such as driving and operating machinery will still be affected.
Regular blood tests to monitor liver function both before and during naltrexone treatment are recommended.
How effective is it?
Naltrexone treatment is more likely to be successful if it is part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes counselling, alternative therapies and the development of a positive network of peers, friends and a support group.
In terms of its use to treat alcohol dependence, naltrexone is effective for preventing relapse to heavy or problem drinking and reducing high levels of alcohol consumption. Its effectiveness in maintaining abstinence from alcohol is reliant on the client following the steps of their treatment program.
People can stop taking naltrexone at any time. They will not experience withdrawal symptoms.
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