Naltrexone Side Effects: Is It Worth the Risk?
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
What if willpower isn’t enough to help you stop using drugs and alcohol? Medications might help to shore up your resolve and keep you sober. Naltrexone is one such medication.
Naltrexone is an opioid agonist, meaning that it can block opioids from latching to receptors inside your brain. Your next sip of alcohol or hit of drugs won’t produce the same rush of reward. And if you abuse a strong drug like heroin, naltrexone could save your life, as it could block an overdose.
Oral forms of naltrexone have been used for opioid use disorders for years. Doctors started using the medication for alcohol use disorders in 1994. If you’re struggling to quit, adding naltrexone to your treatment regime could be smart.
Like all medications, naltrexone does come with some side effects, including plenty of medication interactions. You should always ask your doctor before starting regular naltrexone use, just to be safe.
Naltrexone & Addiction Treatment
Think back to your first drink or your first drug experience. Remember that feel-good sensation that took hold? The high (or the memory of it) keeps you returning to drugs. Naltrexone can break the cycle.
Researchers say naltrexone can accomplish three things:
- Reduce cravings: You won’t feel compelled to return to using or drinking.
- Sobriety: Since you can resist your cravings, you’re less likely to relapse.
- Blocking: Naltrexone can stop a high if you slip and drink or use drugs.
Most people take naltrexone for 12 weeks or more. Your doctor might give you pills you take every day. Or if you’re worried you’ll skip pills so you can relapse, a long-lasting injection may be a better option.
4 Common Naltrexone Side Effects
Powerful medications like naltrexone work on several systems in your body, and they can cause unintended consequences.
Side effects most people feel while taking naltrexone include the following:
- Sleep changes: You might sleep too much or feel tired but unable to fall asleep.
- Mental changes: You might feel nervous, jittery, or anxious.
- Pain: Headaches, muscle cramps, or tight joints could leave you feeling uncomfortable.
- Digestive disorders: Stomachaches are common, as are abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
Changing your dosage could make some problems fade. Your body might also grow accustomed to naltrexone, and the issues could resolve naturally.
4 Uncommon Naltrexone Side Effects
Some people have unusual or unexpected responses to medications, and they struggle with naltrexone.
Uncommon side effects some people feel include the following:
- Reactions: If your naltrexone dose is injected, you could develop wounds, sores, or irritation where the needle entered.
- Liver damage: Deep pain in your stomach, dark urine, or yellowing eyes are all signs of this serious complication.
- Allergic responses: Rashes, swelling, chest pain, and breathing problems could all indicate a reaction.
- Mood changes: You may experience some negative mood changes as you adjust to the medication. However, naltrexone has been associated with a lessening in symptoms of depression overall.
Stay in close contact with your doctor during your naltrexone treatment and bring up any concerns as they appear. They may be able to adjust your dosage or tweak the treatment approach to make it work better for you.
Naltrexone Drug Interactions: What You Should Know
How many drugs, medications, and supplements do you use every day? Each one could connect with, block, or augment your naltrexone dose.
Naltrexone can interact with the following substances:
- Opioids: Do you take painkillers for a chronic condition? Your next dose of naltrexone will block them from their receptors, pushing you into immediate withdrawal. Naltrexone will also (obviously) keep your next dose of illicit drugs from working too.
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications: Your liver processes naltrexone and many other drugs. More than 315 drugs are known to interact with naltrexone, and most involve liver damage.
- Alcohol: Some experts encourage people to take naltrexone only on “drinking days” to motivate people to sip and have a bad experience. This approach is an easy way to slip back into addiction.
If you stop taking naltrexone for several days and then drink, your sip could overpower your changed brain. That big response could be so rewarding that you start drinking again.
Do not drink or use drugs while taking naltrexone. And talk to your doctor about all the other supplements, vitamins, and prescriptions you take before your therapy begins.
Is Naltrexone Worth the Risk?
Experts say using naltrexone is safe and effective even over the long term. If you’re using drugs or alcohol and can’t stop, this medication could be critical for you.
But remember that naltrexone is a prescription medication that should be used with care. Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, and never start taking the drug without consulting a professional first.
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