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Naltrexone for Alcoholism. Can It Help You Quit Drinking?

Updated on December 29, 2008

If you go to your doctor to ask for help with an alcohol problem, one course of action that she might suggest is a period of treatment on the drug Naltrexone.

There are very few medical treatments for the long term management of alcoholism. One medication that is sometimes used to help people quit drinking is Naltrexone. Here is some basic information on a medication that you may have heard about or that your doctor may be recommending. Links to more comprehensive and in-depth readings on the medication are provided at the bottom of the page.

This is not medical advice by the way, cause I aint' no Doctor!! It's just a summary of my research and understanding on the medication. I hope it helps you to understand your treatment options, but you should always rely on your doctor for best advice.

What Does Naltrexone Do?

Naltrexone is sometimes confused with disulfiram (Antabuse) which is an older medication for the treatment of alcoholism. If you drink while taking disulfiram you will get violently ill. Naltrexone does not work in this way, and if you drink alcohol after having taken Naltrexone you will not get sick.

What the medication does is change the way parts of your brain respond to alcohol.

People drink alcohol in part because it makes them feel good. Alcohol stimulates pleasure centers of the brain. Naltrexone stops alcohol from stimulating these pleasure centers.

If you drink alcohol while on Naltrexone, you won’t get sick, but you also won't feel any of the pleasures of drinking.

The medication also seems to reduce the experience of alcohol cravings, although it is not entirely understood how it does this.

So in summary, Naltrexone will reduce your urges to drink, and if you do drink alcohol, you won’t feel any pleasure from it – and will likely drink much less.

Is Naltrexone Effective?

There are no magic solutions for alcoholism and Naltrexone is certainly not a guaranteed cure. It does seem to offer some help though.

In the Federal Govt. Combine Study of substance abuse treatment effectiveness's, Naltrexone was shown to be about equally effective to 20 sessions of alcohol abuse counseling in reducing consumption.

Other studies have shown that Naltrexone increases abstinence rates over non treated abstainers by about 20%.

So - it does work and it does help, but it is probably best used in conjunction with other behavioral treatments for addiction, such as counseling or AA etc. and not as a stand-alone treatment.

Side Effects?

Naltrexone seems to be a pretty well tolerated medication. Some side effects sometimes experienced include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigues
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

In one study of the medication, negative side effects were severe enough to cause 10% of users to stop taking the drug.

Naltrexone may cause liver damage, and your doctor will probably want to take some blood tests before initiating treatment (to make sure your liver is OK) and periodically throughout the course of treatment, to make sure it stays OK.

Some anecdotal reports have indicated that while naltrexone can remove the pleasure from drinking, it may also remove some of the pleasure from other otherwise pleasurable activities. (Food, Sex, Fun etc.)

How Long Is Naltrexone Taken For?

A normal course of treatment is 3 months


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    • profile image

      PearlofaGirl 5 years ago

      @ToxicGirl - where are you doing treatment? I have been curious about the sinclair method, but am not sure where to find a practicioner that can help...

    • profile image

      zacharythax 6 years ago

      Heck yeah Toxicgirl!! I was a chronic alcoholic. Drank alone and in the morning. I'd spend my non-working days drunk 24 hours a day until things got so bad at home I told my wife I'd do whatever it took to do something about my drinking. There was no denial there.

      After doing a load of research it turned out AA didn't have a single shred of clinical evidence that it was any more effective than no treatment at all. All the evidence was anecdotal and any failures were blamed on the patient and not the treatment.

      I heard a radio program about Naltrexone, got Roy Eskapa's book and emailed one of the researchers. (Some was done at the Medical University of South Carolina, right near where I live!?)

      I got an open-minded young resident to prescribe me 'Trex and now I'm completely sober. My drinking just suddenly stopped with no effort on my part at all. Now I keep a pill inside a key fob just in case.

    • profile image

      Failfailfail 6 years ago

      I don't think any of this is right. Ive been taking naltrexone forever for an opiate problem. I drink a ton everyday and i now get violent and insanely depressed and barely can make sense of any of my decisions. Im getting off of it soon. This is hell.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      This sounds like a treatment that is potentially really useful--the initial statistics given in the comment above are quite impressive in terms of success rates. The drug is too new for side effects and problems to be accurately measured and only time will tell whether this is a real breakthrough or not, but in the meantime, anything that gives alcoholics hope is wonderful. Voting this up and useful.

    • ToxicGirl profile image

      ToxicGirl 8 years ago from The Subconscious Mind

      I have to respectfully say that this article contains misinformation. I am currently taking naltrexone for alcohol addiction and applying the Sinclair Method: Naltrexone+Drinking=Cure. It is brilliant and it is working; it has saved my life. Now I'd like to clarify the inaccurate things in this article: 1. Naltrexone has been found to cause liver damage ONLY in very high doses (300mg or more) and not with the usual 50mg dosage for alcohol treatment. 2. Naltrexone has a 78% success rate and has cured over 70,000 alcoholics long term in Finland and the number is growing (Florida has an 80% success rate). The normal course of treatment is 3 to 4 months and a few cases take longer.

      If you are a struggling alcoholic I strongly recommend you buy Roy Eskapa's book, The Cure for Alcoholism that gives you a very clear and informative understanding of the Sinclair Method. You should try it, it might just save your life.