How Does Naltrexone Work?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2022

Naltrexone is a medication that is FDA-approved as a medication to treat opioid use disorder and alcohol dependence. By blocking the effects of alcohol and opioids in the brain, naltrexone can effectively reduce cravings and prevent a drug high.

How Does Naltrexone Work?

Naltrexone is a non-addictive medication that is commonly used for the treatment of alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder as a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) option.

As an opioid antagonist, naltrexone—also known as Vivitrol or ReVia—can effectively block the euphoric effects of opiates and alcohol in the brain.

Naltrexone is commonly prescribed as one component of a comprehensive treatment program involving medication, behavioral therapy, and substance abuse counseling.

Learn more about taking Naltrexone during addiction treatment

How Does Naltrexone Work For Alcohol Use Disorder?

Naltrexone is a drug that binds to the same endorphin receptors in the body as alcohol. Unlike alcohol, it doesn’t activate these receptors, only occupies them.

What this does:

  • blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol
  • can reduce alcohol cravings
  • can help individuals maintain sobriety

Naltrexone has shown to help ease cravings for alcohol and reduces alcohol consumption.

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How Does Naltrexone Work For Opioid Use Disorder?

Naltrexone belongs to a class of drugs known as opioid antagonists and works similarly to the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone (Narcan).

When taken, naltrexone (Vivitrol) binds to the same opioid receptors in the brain as opioid drugs—without activating them.

What this can do:

  • block the euphoric and sedative effects of opioid drugs
  • help ease cravings for opioids (including heroin)
  • helps prevent opioid cravings

Unlike other medications for opioid use disorder, such as methadone and buprenorphine, naltrexone is not an opioid-based medication and it doesn’t cause physical dependence.

Find Naltrexone Treatment For Substance Abuse Today

Naltrexone is one of several medications that are approved for the treatment of alcohol and opioid addiction.

If you’re looking for naltrexone treatment for yourself or a loved one, call our helpline today to speak to a specialist about finding treatment options near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2022
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