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When many people realize they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, they delay treatment because they’re not ready to give up drinking.
Treatment for alcohol dependence often involves abstinence-based approaches, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). At Ria Health, we realize that different treatments work for different people. Sometimes, the treatments that work best are not abstinence-based. One such treatment involves a medication called naltrexone.
Before you consider this approach, you’ll probably need some answers to your questions. Many patients are curious about how drinking feels different while taking naltrexone. In this post, you’ll learn how the medication can change the way you drink by targeting the buzz you get from drinking.
What is Naltrexone?
If you’ve surfed through our website, you may know that naltrexone is one of the medications our doctors may prescribe to help treat alcohol dependence. It’s also sold under brand names ReVia and Vivitrol.
The drug was originally used to treat opioid addictions. This is because naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, which means it blocks the body from responding to opioids and endorphins. When a person uses drugs like heroin, oxycodone or morphine, naltrexone stops the “pleasure” effects created by the drug.
Researchers learned that the drug can help in a similar way to treat alcohol dependence. A 2013 review of research found that naltrexone was effective at reducing heavy drinking and cravings.
When you have a drink while taking naltrexone, you don’t feel the same familiar buzz. This helps break the connection your brain has made between drinking and pleasure. When this learned connection stops being reinforced, it can eventually make it easier to cut down or stop drinking.
Research has compared those who take naltrexone to those who just take a placebo (an inactive substance, like a sugar pill). Patients who take naltrexone have fewer drinks and fewer relapse episodes. If naltrexone is so effective, you’re probably wondering why you haven’t heard much about it until now. It was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1994 for its use in treating alcohol use disorder—but it isn’t as widely talked about as abstinence-based treatments.
Unfortunately, medication-assisted treatment (or MAT) is substantially underused to treat alcohol dependence, according to a 2017 review of research. In fact, researchers concluded that more effort is needed to remove barriers to treatment—which is our goal at Ria Health.
Related Post: Naltrexone Uses and Side Effects: Is it Right for You?
How Do You Take Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is the generic name of the drug, and in tablet form, it’s sold under the brand ReVia.
There is also an extended-release version called Vivitrol that’s injected once a month. But in this section, we’ll be focusing on the oral form.
Naltrexone tablets are prescribed, and the way they are taken may vary by patient, depending on the physician’s instructions. However, people typically take the medication in anticipation of drinking. For example, if you know you’ll be going out for dinner and will want a glass of wine, you’d take a tablet an hour before. If you drink daily, you’ll likely be prescribed one tablet once a day.
If you are abstinent, naltrexone can also help you remain sober.
Your doctor will supervise your treatment to determine how long you should take the medication. Typically, patients see the best results when they take naltrexone as needed for a few months or longer.
How Does It Feel To Drink After Taking Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is not addictive or psychoactive, meaning that it won’t give you any type of high. This is one of the reasons why it can be a great treatment option. Similar to a vitamin or a supplement, you won’t feel anything when you take it. And if you stop treatment, you won’t suffer any withdrawal symptoms.
Since naltrexone blocks the body from responding to endorphins, you may notice more subdued effects after drinking. For example, after taking a tablet and having your first drink, you may not feel the typical “buzz.” Because you don’t get the “reward” for drinking, your craving for another drink may diminish. Many people say naltrexone lessens their enjoyment around drinking.
Although over time it can help reduce cravings and drinking, when you take the first tablet, it may not banish cravings immediately. It usually works best over the long term.
Careful, You May Still Be Drunk
It’s important to note that naltrexone doesn’t stop impairment. Just because you don’t feel drunk doesn’t mean you’re not. If you continue drinking despite reduced cravings, you need to be aware of alcohol’s effects. Naltrexone doesn’t block the traditional physical or psychological responses to drinking, such as bad coordination or judgment.
Some medications cannot be taken while drinking because they don’t interact well with alcohol. However, doctors prescribe naltrexone to use when you anticipate drinking, so it will not cause any negative effects when combined. In terms of drug interactions, however, naltrexone should not be taken if you are prescribed opioid pain medication, as it will block that medication from working.
A 2017 review of research concluded that there were only a few safety concerns with using medication to treat alcohol dependence. The main issue to be aware of is whether or not you have liver disease. Since naltrexone is processed through the liver, other medications such as baclofen may be a better choice in that case.
Otherwise, side effects of taking naltrexone are relatively rare. According to research, the number of people who experience side effects or stop treatment due to them is about the same number as those who are given a placebo.
The most commonly reported side effects include nausea and headaches.
Although less common, you may experience:
In most cases, these effects are mild and only occur before your body gets used to the medication.
Many Ria members are able to reduce their drinking after treatment with naltrexone. If you’d like to learn more about our program, schedule a call to learn more.
Ria Health combines medicine and technology to provide a personalized and complete treatment program. After a consultation with a physician, you’ll receive a prescription, and with the Ria Health app, you’ll be able to set goals and monitor progress. As the months go by, your treatment will be adjusted if needed, and you’ll learn healthy habits. You can learn more here.
To learn more about how naltrexone can help you overcome alcohol addiction, check out our full guide to naltrexone.
Riannon Westall is a health writer based in Toronto, Canada. Her work has been featured in the Toronto Star, on CBC.ca and on various blogs. She writes articles and website copy that further her clients’ goal of helping people create healthier and more fulfilling lives.