Last Updated on March 1, 2021
Many people ask us whether very low doses of naltrexone can be used to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD). And it’s a good question. Early research has shown low-dose naltrexone (LDN) to be a promising treatment for multiple chronic disorders. Studies also suggest it could be effective for other substance dependencies. Still, the answer isn’t cut-and-dried.
In this post, we’ll discuss what LDN is, and whether it’s as effective as a full dose of naltrexone for AUD.
What is Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN)?
Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist used to treat a variety of conditions, including problem drinking. Doctors typically prescribe 50 mg tablets of naltrexone for AUD patients. But there are also tablets that contain only a few milligrams of naltrexone. That’s “low-dose naltrexone,” and it’s used to treat a different set of conditions.
Although not specifically approved by the FDA for these purposes, LDN can be used off-label to treat chronic pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis1, and other inflammatory diseases. It may also benefit2 people with immune disorders and even cancer.
Although further research is needed to pinpoint exactly why patients experience relief, it’s believed that LDN works by increasing endorphins.
LDN is typically3 prescribed in starting doses of 0.5 mg to 1.5 mg, increasing to 4.5 mg or higher over the course of several weeks. Compare that to the typical starting dose of 25 mg for alcohol use disorder, ultimately increasing to 50 mg. That’s the dose we typically prescribe Ria Health members. It’s also what the Sinclair Method recommends to treat problem drinking.
What’s the Difference Between LDN and Naltrexone for AUD?
Can low-dose naltrexone work to treat alcohol dependence, even though it’s more than 10 times less than a typical dose?
Since most studies on naltrexone and AUD evaluate 50 mg doses, there isn’t enough research to conclusively determine whether LDN can also treat AUD. The research that has been done has focused on low doses of naltrexone combined with other drugs or other substance dependencies, like this 2017 study on LDN and the antidepressant bupropion4.
A 2011 study5 investigated the effects of very low-dose naltrexone on opioid detox patients who were also problem drinkers—as heavy drinking can make opioid withdrawal worse. Researchers found that those who took very lose doses of naltrexone showed fewer withdrawal symptoms. They were also more likely to continue treatment, and drank less in the days after leaving treatment.
Another study6 by researchers at the University of Maryland showed that LDN combined with the dopamine antagonist 1-THP may improve relapse behavior more than naltrexone alone—at least in cocaine-addicted rodents.
Can Low-Dose Naltrexone Treat Alcohol Use Disorder?
The jury’s still out. There simply hasn’t been enough research to determine whether low-dose naltrexone can help with AUD. And since 50 mg doses have already been proven extremely effective, most doctors will recommend a full dose instead. Side effects are relatively rare, mild, and tend to go away after your body has adjusted to the medication. If you’re worried about potential side effects, ask your doctor about starting at a 25 mg dose and slowly increasing it.
Ria Health combines medication and counseling for effective and compassionate treatment. You don’t even need to leave your home. Start mending your relationship with alcohol today.