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  • Writer's pictureKim May

Naltrexone for Alcohol Use Disorder

You may have recognized that the way you drink is causing you some problems. Perhaps you want to change your drinking patterns, but you aren’t sure how. You're not alone.

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), only 4.6% of people received any alcohol use treatment in the past year.

Most people are unaware that there is a medication-based approach to help with alcohol use disorder. While no medication and no treatment approach is right for every person, everyone should be aware of the options available to them.

Before continuing, I must make a key clarification. I am not a medical professional. I do not have a license to practice medicine. The information here is general and NOT a substitute for consultation with a medical doctor. Only you and your doctor can determine if Naltrexone is appropriate for you.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is an FDA approved medication to help treat both alcohol dependence and opioid use disorder. Naltrexone can be prescribed orally and taken in pill form or given via intramuscular injection at monthly intervals.

How does Naltrexone work?

According to SAMSHA, “Naltrexone binds to the endorphin receptors in the body and blocks the effects and feelings of alcohol. Naltrexone reduces alcohol cravings and the amount of alcohol consumed. Once a patient stops drinking, taking naltrexone helps patients maintain their sobriety.”

It is not a narcotic or a controlled substance. It is an opioid receptor antagonist that blocks opioid receptors. Naltrexone does not cause physical dependence.

What are the potential benefits of taking Naltrexone for alcohol dependence?

  • Reduce cravings for alcohol.

  • Help reduce the quantity of alcohol consumed.

  • Lower the reward effects of alcohol.

It is important to note that although the reward effects may be lessened, a person will still experience the intoxicating effects of alcohol, such as diminished judgment, reduced coordination and impairment that may make driving unsafe.

What is the Sinclair Method?

The Sinclair method involves taking Naltrexone when you plan to drink, a few hours before. According to Dr. John Sinclair, “The Sinclair Method allows you to participate in the normal customs of our culture that involve alcohol. As long as you take Naltrexone one to two hours prior to your first drink, you will eventually be able to maintain control over your drinking.”

When comparing this approach to traditional abstinence-based models, Sinclair states, “In order to fix the problem, you have to actively teach your brain that alcohol use does not result in pleasure. Time alone does not change the addicted brain.”

Are there risks with taking Naltrexone?

Yes, no drug is without risks, especially depending on your specific needs and health concerns. Naltrexone does not cause you to feel sick the way that Antabuse (disulfiram) does when taken in combination with consuming alcohol. The more common side effects tend to be rare and go away after a few days as your body adjusts to the medication.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the most common:

  • abdominal or stomach cramping or pain (mild or moderate)

  • anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, or trouble sleeping

  • headache

  • joint or muscle pain

  • nausea or vomiting

  • unusual tiredness

Support if you need it

Substance Use Therapy is here for you. As therapists, we can’t prescribe medications, but we will be happy to provide you with referrals to physicians. The effectiveness of any medication used to treat substance use disorder is almost always improved by participating in concurrent therapy. Whether your goal is to abstain, moderate, or simply be able to discuss your drinking without judgment or pressure, feel free to contact us. Whatever you are facing, you don’t have to face it alone.


About the Author:

Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is the founder of Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples, and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30-minute consultation.

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