Naltrexone is not a drug that is new on the scene. This substance was first approved in 1994 by the FDA to help alcohol abusers safely detox from alcohol. Recently however, naltrexone is being used to treat other conditions. The uses range from its original purpose of alcohol use treatment, to stopping nicotine use decreasing the possibility of kleptomania, heroin use and morphine use and even for relief from symptoms of fibromyalgia.
A recent study explores the use of naltrexone in preventing kleptomania. Kleptomania is defined as an inpidual’s incessant need to steal. It’s often not an issue of what is getting stolen, as kleptomania really has to do with the thrill or excitement an inpidual feels when stealing. Examples of famous people who have exhibited kleptomaniac tendencies includes actress Winona Ryder.
The study was conducted at the University of Minnesota and included 25 participants, 23 of which completed the study. The study lasted for two months and participants were assessed every two weeks through self report. Variables measured included:
- Psychosocial functioning
As a scale specifically for kleptomania. After eight weeks of treatment for those in the experimental group (those receiving medication) there was a significant decline in the desire to shoplift and actually stealing as well as a decrease in scores of kleptomaniac scales.
Researchers attribute the affect of the drug to the fact that it blocks pleasure centers of the brain which means when an inpidual steals, he or she will not feel the high associated with stealing. Though other therapy should be incorporated into kleptomania treatment, this was an important finding.
Another study examined the use of naltrexone for alcohol abusers who also smoked. The same principles are in play here, as again, naltrexone’s purpose is to block pleasure receptors in the brain that are activated which substances are used. We already know that naltrexone works to help in alcohol abuse. Many alcoholics, or heavy social drinkers, concurrently are heavy smokers. Often, the smoking is triggered by alcohol use. Both of these substances put the user at significant risk of damaging their health permanently. An inpidual who smokes and drinks alcohol is at a higher risk of dying prematurely from tobacco related complications than alcohol related complications. Since naltrexone is well tolerated, this finding could really assist in long term abstinence from these two very serious substance abuse problems.
In terms of heroin abuse, naltrexone use has reduced detoxification from heroin from two weeks, to one day. With further study, heroin detoxification was even reduced to just four to six hours. The implications of this are many.
- It makes it easier for the user, which means he or she will be more likely to try to try to detox.
- The cost of detoxification may be greatly reduced if an inpidual only needs to be inpatient for one or two days.
It is suggested that uses of naltrexone is best in highly motivated populations as stopping the drug does not have any negative side effects and may result in reduced long term abstinence for those having difficulty abstaining. However, if naltrexone is used for detoxification in conjunction with supportive therapy the results should last longer.
Low Dose Naltrexone?
In the case of smoking cessation, naltrexone is prescribed at a dose of 50mg daily. What happens if the dose is reduced to only 5 mg? Well, in the case of a substance abuser, chances are nothing would happen. The naltrexone may not procure any notable change. However, as a researcher at Stanford University recently noted in a study published in Pain Medicine, low dose naltrexone may be useful in the treatment of fibromyalgia, as well as other autoimmune disease including Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.
Firbromyalgia is defined as chronic pain in the muscles of the body. These inpiduals are chronically fatigued and have difficulty sleeping. The discomfort from fibromyalgia which also includes headaches, stomach problems among other things, often prevent these inpiduals from living full and meaningful lives. The number of people suffering from the disease in the U.S. reaches the millions. Though there are three FDA approved medications for the disorder, they do not work for everyone.
The study was small, conducted with ten women participants. The study participants received the medication for a total of ten weeks. Two weeks they received a placebo pill and eight weeks of low dose naltrexone (LDN). They reported their symptoms on a hand held computer. In six of the ten participants, the LDN given was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing symptoms. Sleep problems, GI symptoms and headaches were also reduced. More research needs to be done, and Stanford is currently organizing to run another larger study on the use of LDN for autoimmune illness. At this point, all the possible uses of naltrexone are not known, however, the studies already conducted and those underway give a sense of hope for assistance in other areas.
Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN
Naltrexone Can Help Heavy Social Drinkers Quit Smoking. Published 21 March 2009. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/143161.php Accessed 23 April 2009
Naltrexone: New Drug - New Hope For Kleptomaniacs http://www.enotalone.com/article/19488.html Published. Published 15th April 2009. Accessed 23 April 2009
Younger, J. & Mackey, S.C. (2009) Fibromyalgia Symptoms are reduced by low-dose naltrexone: A pilot study. Journal of Pain Medicine.