Alcoholism can steal everything good in a person’s life. It can also steal life itself. About 7% of the adult population, or approximately 15 million people struggle with alcohol addiction or dependency, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Those who are included in these statistics have likely suffered numerous negative consequences due to the alcohol problem. Although many may desire to stop drinking, their efforts may have been unsuccessful.
Naltrexone alcoholism treatment has been shown to offer hope to individuals committed to overcoming their alcohol dependence. Naltrexone is included in a collection of drugs referred to as medication-assisted treatment, which provides recovery support through the use of the drug along with adjunctive psychotherapy and medication management. For someone who is motivated to achieve a life of sustained sobriety, naltrexone may be an essential tool in obtaining this goal.
About Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcoholism starts off as alcohol abuse, excessive alcohol consumption that can precede the development of a chemical dependence on alcohol. If heeding the warning signs of a developing alcohol addiction, the individual can proactively take the steps necessary to change their drinking behaviors before addiction and dependence set in.
In fact, someone with an emerging or mild AUD may still have some control over the substance. These motivated individuals may be able to incrementally cut back on alcohol over a period of time until they are fully abstinent. To support this effort, attending 12-step meetings, embracing a sober lifestyle, and receiving outpatient therapy may result in a positive outcome.
When alcohol use becomes problematic, even in the early stages, it is called an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Depending on how many of the diagnostic symptoms are experienced in a one-year period, the AUD is assessed as mild, moderate, or severe. Generally, the longer the alcohol abuse has lasted the greater the chance that brain pathways have been altered and the more difficult the road to recovery.
The 11 criteria for identifying an AUD include the following questions:
- Have you had occasions where you drank more or longer than intended?
- Have you attempted to cut back or stop drinking, on more than one occasion, but couldn’t?
- Do you spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from its aftereffects?
- Do you experience alcohol cravings?
- Has your alcohol use caused you to neglect family obligations, or caused problems at work or in school?
- Have you continued to consume alcohol regardless of these problems?
- Have you lost interest in, or discontinued, activities or hobbies you once enjoyed?
- Have you engaged in high risk behaviors due to alcohol consumption?
- Do you continue to drink even with it causing mental health or medical problems or a blackout?
- Have you increased your alcohol consumption to achieve the initial effects once experienced?
- Do you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the alcohol are wearing off?
Answering yes to 2 or 3 questions indicates a mild AUD, 4 or 5 yes answers indicates a moderate AUD, and 6 or more indicates a severe AUD.
Naltrexone was FDA approved in 1994 to help treat alcohol dependency, and in 2010 it was approved for treating opioid dependency. Naltrexone is sold under the brand names Vivitrol and ReVia, and Depade, each with its own delivery method. As an opioid antagonist, naltrexone can block the pleasurable effects of alcohol in the reward center of the brain. As a result, the desire or temptation to use the substance is greatly diminished, reducing the risk of relapse. Naltrexone is available in a daily pill form, as a monthly time-release injection, and as a pellet implant that can last for months.
MAT is a short-term intervention, designed to help the individual during the early stages of recovery avoid relapse, with scheduled tapering off of the naltrexone about three to six months into recovery, although some may continue on naltrexone for longer periods. Over this period the MAT helps manage cravings until there is no real motivation for the individual to drink alcohol. Naltrexone is generally well tolerated with no potential for addiction, as it is not a narcotic.
Naltrexone Clinical Trials Demonstrate Efficacy
When the American Psychiatric Association developed clinical practice guidelines regarding the use of naltrexone for treating AUD their discernment was based on clinical trial data, as well as researching the balance of benefits versus harm. The APA concluded that the drug is a suitable intervention for treating moderate to severe AUD in patients who had been unable to avoid relapse following a period of abstinence.
Clinical evidence of efficacy is available through a large number of randomized controlled trials that studied the effects of naltrexone on study participants. A multisite study called COMBINE enrolled 1,383 participants with AUD and concluded that, when combined with ongoing counseling and good compliance that naltrexone reduced consumption and increased abstinence.
Naltrexone Side Effects
Over the years that naltrexone has been in use it has been studied carefully through clinical trials. In general, naltrexone is considered to be a safe treatment element for moderate to severe AUD with relatively minor side effects. Common side effects include:
- Ringing in the ears
- Poor appetite
- Muscle or joint pain
- Difficulty sleeping
Medical Detox for Alcoholism
A medical detox is the first step in the recovery journey, and can be one of the biggest obstacles to initiating treatment for an alcohol use disorder. This is due to the harsh, sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can arise during alcohol detox. For this reason, individuals are cautioned never to approach detox without obtaining medical supervision. During detox the detox specialists will provide the necessary medications to minimize many of the withdrawal symptoms, and guide the individual safely through the process. In addition, the detox professionals offer important psychological support to encourage the individual to persevere.
Detox and withdrawal is usually completed within one week, although the severity of symptoms and length of detox duration depends on the length of history of chronic alcohol consumption, levels of consumption, age of the individual, general health status of the individual, and whether there are other substance use disorders present.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin to emerge within 6-12 hours after the last drink:
- Stage 1: The first stage of detox lasts about one day and includes such symptoms as shaking, headache, nausea and vomiting, irritability, sweating, and insomnia.
- Stage 2: The second stage of detox lasts about 2 days and includes more acute symptoms, such as hand tremors, anxiety, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, seizures. There is a small risk of the individual developing the delirium tremens (the DTs) on days 3-4, which may necessitate emergency medical intervention.
- Stage 3: The final stage of detox lasts several days and features subsiding withdrawal symptoms, lingering depression, and fatigue.
Professional treatment for alcohol dependence should be a multi-disciplinary program that integrates therapy, 12-step participation, and naltrexone for qualified candidates. This three-part approach to treating alcoholism, combined with a highly motivated individual, can be very effective in breaking free from the addiction. Here is how the treatment elements work together:
- Psychotherapy. This mainstay component of alcoholism recovery helps the individual resolve underlying issues including life traumas, a co-occurring mental health condition, or unresolved emotional pain revolving around a failed relationship, death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, or any significant negative event. An evidence-based therapy that has been shown to be effective in addiction treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT addresses the kneejerk actions by the client after experiencing a stressful event or trigger, resulting in drinking. CBT helps them to adopt a more positive mindset and new healthy solutions and responses.
- 12-step program (or similar non 12-step program). Peer recovery communities have been found to be an important resource for clients in recovery from alcoholism. The meetings provide a safe and supportive space for sharing and learning amongst the members. A sponsor can help the client by providing a backstop support resource during times of weakness. Both the sponsor and the peer group increase accountability, where the client feels beholden to work the steps and become stronger.
- Naltrexone alcohol therapy. Naltrexone alcohol recovery support helps develop new brain pathways that no longer associate alcohol with pleasure. Cravings are reduced or eliminated through ongoing naltrexone therapy, and if the client slips up they will not experience the pleasurable high they had anticipated. Over time, the client will lose the desire to drink, which reduces the risk of relapse.
- Aftercare. Recovery from alcoholism is an ongoing process therefore aftercare planning is an important aspect of the overall outcome. Aftercare measures can include sober housing for several months following treatment while the new sober lifestyle takes root. Other continuing care efforts should include continued participation in recovery meetings and attending weekly therapy sessions.
Naltrexone can improve the recovery success results for the individual seeking to live a life of sobriety and wellness.
Ken Seeley Communities Offers Naltrexone Alcoholism Recovery Support
Ken Seeley Communities provides a wide range of addiction treatment services, including intervention services, medical detox, outpatient programming, residential rehab, and sober living housing. Nestled in a beautiful and serene desert setting in Palm Springs, California, Ken Seeley Communities offers an effective blend of evidence-based psychotherapies, complementary holistic therapies, and a sense of community that helps foster a new healthy life in recovery. Ken Seeley has a long career in the field of addiction recovery, and is well known for his appearances on A&E’s Intervention series. For more information about our alcohol addiction treatment services, please reach out to us today at (877) 744-0502.