Naltrexone: A Pan-Addiction Treatment?

Elias Aboujaoude, Wael O Salame
CNS Drugs 2016, 30 (8): 719-33
Addiction is a major public health problem with few efficacious and safe treatments. The goal of this review is to provide an evidence-based assessment of the therapeutic role of the opioid antagonist naltrexone across the addiction spectrum-substance-based and behavioral. The PubMed database was searched for randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials that investigated the oral or intramuscular long-acting formulation of naltrexone in substance use disorders or behavioral addictions such as pathological gambling, kleptomania, and trichotillomania. Thirty-nine efficacy studies were retrieved, covering alcohol use disorder (n = 22), opioid use disorder (n = 6), nicotine use disorder (n = 5), stimulant use disorder (n = 2), gambling disorder (n = 2), trichotillomania (n = 1), and kleptomania (n = 1). Despite the very different presentations within and between both addiction categories, the data, as a whole, show consistency in favor of naltrexone's relative efficacy and safety. Given the potential benefit and good tolerability revealed in the studies, the high morbidity associated with addiction, and the dearth of alternate treatments, naltrexone would seem like an underutilized treatment option. Further, naltrexone's seemingly broad anti-addiction efficacy supports a shared role for brain opioid pathways in the pathophysiology of addiction, broadly defined. More studies investigating the efficacy and tolerability of naltrexone and other opioid modulators are warranted. Studies should also further examine the effect of combining psychotherapy with naltrexone, as well as the potential role of naltrexone in treating comorbid addictions.


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