What is naltrexone and how does it work?
Naltrexone is a medication used to help people reduce or quit drinking. The use of naltrexone to reduce drinking does not require that you go cold turkey, or give up drinking altogether.
Naltrexone is not designed to make you feel sick if you drink. Instead, naltrexone can help reduce cravings for alcohol and prevent the pleasurable feelings or “buzz” that accompanies drinking. In doing so, your brain learns to stop associating alcohol with pleasure.
Naltrexone is approved as a daily use medication for the use of alcohol use disorder. Naltrexone is also available through Confidant for the treatment of opioid use disorder.
How it works
Overtime, naltrexone can reduce the association of alcohol and pleasure in your brain. This changes the brain’s reward pathways so that you can moderate or stop drinking altogether.
If you’ve had pleasurable experiences drinking alcohol in the past, your brain can associate those pleasurable experiences with alcohol. Similar associations occur when eating food or having sex. This motivates us to continue these behaviors for survival. The same area of the brain responsible for associating pleasure with these activities is responsible for forming habits. Repeated activation of this region of the brain through alcohol creates a “positive reinforcement,” which results in the brain forming an intense desire, or craving, for these substances.
Naltrexone blocks the receptors in your brain that trigger the pleasurable feeling that drinking brings. You’ll still feel the effects of alcohol such as bad coordination and judgment, but you won’t experience the “buzz.” This reduces the desire to keep drinking. For many people, this translates into having fewer drinks and subsequently drinking less overall. Overtime, the desire to drink and cravings for alcohol can be eliminated.
Naltrexone has been shown to be effective by many studies, but it’s not a magic pill and it doesn’t work for everyone. Medication adherence, or taking the medications as prescribed, is extremely important for naltrexone to work as intended. Even missing a single dose by accident or to feel the effects of alcohol can make it less effective. Confidant providers and recovery coaches can help you develop strategies to stick to your naltrexone plan. This can sometimes involve support from a loved one.
While naltrexone can be very effective in reducing the craving or desire to drink or keep drinking, it doesn’t necessarily address underlying reasons for drinking heavily on a regular basis. If you feel like you’re unable to control your drinking, it may be helpful to start behavioral therapy as well. At Confidant, we leverage person-centered care, meaning we’ll help you reach your goals with solutions tailored to your needs - there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.