Naltrexone for Alcoholism

Is alcoholism a disease?

Yes. Most experts agree that alcoholism is a disease just as high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis are diseases. Like these other diseases, alcoholism tends to run in families. Alcoholism is a chronic disease. “Chronic” means that it lasts for a long time or it causes problems again and again. The main treatment for alcoholism is to stop drinking alcohol. This can be difficult, because most people who are alcoholics feel a strong desire for alcohol after they stop drinking.

How is naltrexone used to treat alcoholism?

Naltrexone (brand names: ReVia, Depade) is a medicine that reduces your desire for alcohol after you stop drinking. Naltrexone may help you stay sober for a long time. Although your doctor has prescribed naltrexone to help you stop drinking, this medicine is not a complete cure for alcoholism. It can help you stop drinking while you get other treatments that your doctor will talk about with you.

How does naltrexone work?

Naltrexone blocks the parts of your brain that “feel” pleasure when you use alcohol and narcotics. When these areas of the brain are blocked, you feel less need to drink alcohol, and you can stop drinking more easily. Unlike disulfiram (brand name: Antabuse), another medicine that is sometimes used to treat alcoholism, naltrexone does not make you feel sick if you drink alcohol while taking it.

What are the side effects of naltrexone?

Some people have side effects like nausea, headache, constipation, dizziness, nervousness, insomnia, drowsiness, or anxiety. Up to 10% of people who take naltrexone have nausea, but most of the possible side effects don’t happen very often. If you get any of these side effects, tell your doctor. He or she may change your treatment or suggest ways you can deal with the side effects.

What should I do when I take naltrexone?

Because naltrexone blocks the brain areas where narcotics and alcohol work, you should be careful not to take any narcotics, such as codeine, morphine or heroin, while you are taking naltrexone. Don’t even take any cough medicine with codeine in it while you are taking naltrexone. You must stop taking all narcotics 7 to 10 days before you start taking naltrexone. If you don’t, you could get withdrawal symptoms.

You shouldn’t take naltrexone if you’re pregnant, so talk about birth control options with your doctor. It’s not known if naltrexone goes into breast milk, so it’s best not to breast-feed while you’re taking it.

How long will I take naltrexone?

You and your doctor will decide this. Most people take the medicine for 12 weeks or more. Be sure to take naltrexone just the way your doctor tells you to. Don’t take extra pills, don’t skip pills and don’t stop taking the pills until you talk to your doctor.

Will I need other treatments for alcoholism?

Like many other diseases, alcoholism affects you physically and mentally. Both your body and your mind have to be treated. In addition to medicine, your doctor will probably recommend some psychosocial treatments. These treatments can help you change your behavior and cope with your problems without using alcohol. Examples of psychosocial treatments include Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, counseling, family therapy, group therapy, hospital treatment and other similar programs. There may be special centers in your area that offer this kind of treatment. Your doctor can refer you to the psychosocial treatment that is right for you.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.


Written by editorial staff.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Reviewed/Updated: 12/06
Created: 09/00