Naltrexone is a type of drug that is prescribed to alcohol dependent people to help them reduce cravings, control or abstain from drinking. The drug is an opioid receptor antagonist that primarily treats alcoholism and opioid dependence. It is not a cure for alcoholism as has been claimed, but it has proven to be an effective anti-addiction drug for many people. Used in conjunction with other medications, Naltrexone can greatly improve the outcomes for alcoholics and alcohol dependants.
Naltrexone is an Opiate Antagonist
Antagonists bind to receptors in the brain but instead of activating them, they block them. Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist and effectively blocks the effect of opiates such as heroin or morphine. Although Naltrexone is not chemically an alcohol antagonist, but it has been found to have significant impacts on alcohol addiction. Naltrexone effectively reverses the physical effects of alcohol so that users will not feel the rush or comfort when they consume alcohol.
How Naltrexone Works
Naltrexone interrupts the pathways in the brain that release endorphins when alcohol is consumed. This means that a patient will feel less pleasure when drinking alcohol and less desire to be intoxicated. Naltrexone does not make a person feel ill when alcohol is drunk when taking it, rather you may get drunk but not feel the rush or comfort in being drunk. It has also proved to be effective in reducing the frequency & severity of relapse.
Side Effects And Precautions
Naltrexone users have reported a number of side effects when using this medication. These include nasuea, headaches, insomnia, dizziness and anxiety or nervousness. If these side effects are experienced, the patient should discuss these with a doctor before continuing with the medication.
Naltrexone should not be taken by pregnant or breast feeding women, people who have liver or kidney disease or are effected by hepatitis.
Benefits of Naltrexone
Naltrexone offers a number of benefits to patients. It is relatively cheap and proved to be safe in low doses. It is not addictive nor does it require a patient to detox before using it. It is a medication that is endorsed for treating alcoholism by the World Health Organisation and the US Food and Drug Administration. It does not have severe reactions with other medications. Naltrexone is also effective in treating opiate addictions.
Naltrexone and other Treatments
Research has shown that Naltrexone works best when combined with other forms of treatments for alcoholism. Counselling sessions, cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation have all proved beneficial to users of Naltrexone. Studies have found that when patients received both Naltrexone and cognitive-behavioural therapy, they were more likely to stay abstinent if receiving both treatments than just one.
Scientist David Sinclair discovered Naltrexone in the 1970’s in Finland after extensive research into alcoholism. It was found that this drug had excellent results when working with alcohol dependent people who had not succeeded in giving up or abstaining from alcohol. Sinclair and other supporters claim there is a success rate of 76 per cent when this medication is used by alcohol dependent people. The measure of the success of the medication is based on the ability to abstain or control drinking.
Criticism of Naltrexone is wide and varied. Some researchers raise questions around the ethics of prescribing a drug to an alcoholic when they are not already abstaining from drinking. The medication only works if an individual continues to drink.
Others claim that the research is flawed and discourage doctors from prescribing Naltrexone. In fact, despite the effectiveness of the drug, there are very few doctors or rehabilitation centres prescribe the medication, instead preferring to prescribe therapy or counselling. Many patients have described issues in getting medication prescribed and some have purchased it over the internet. Supporters have raised the issue that the medication is a generic and thus pharmaceutical companies put pressure on doctors and hospitals to not prescribe it.
Sinclair Method and Naltrexone
The Sinclair Method prescribes patients to only take Naltrexone when they indend to drink alcohol. It is believed when the medication is taken in this way that nearly 90 per cent of patients have success in abstaining from drinking. Using this method, patients should take the recommended 50mg of Naltrexone one hour before drinking alcohol, every time. According to professionals, this method is safe for even heavily physically dependent alcoholics. Patients gradually drink less every day thus weaning off alcohol with no withdrawal symptoms.