naltrexone vs suboxone

Naltrexone vs Suboxone – What is The Difference?

Opioid addiction is a major health problem that affects many people. It’s a condition where someone can’t stop using opioid drugs, even when these drugs cause harm. To help people with this addiction, doctors use different treatments. Two important treatments are medicines called Naltrexone and Suboxone.

Naltrexone and Suboxone help people recover from opioid addiction, but they work in different ways. This article will compare these two medicines. We will look at how they work, their benefits, and their side effects. This information will help people, doctors, and others make better choices in treating opioid addiction.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is a medicine used to help people who are addicted to opioids. Opioids are drugs like heroin or certain pain medicines. Naltrexone works by blocking the effects of opioids. Here’s how:

  • Blocking Opioid Receptors: Our brain has special spots called opioid receptors where opioids usually attach. When opioids attach to these spots, they make a person feel a high. Naltrexone blocks these spots. This means if someone takes opioids, they don’t attach to the receptors, so the person doesn’t feel the high.
  • Reducing Cravings: By blocking these effects, Naltrexone can also help reduce the craving or desire to use opioids.
  • Preventing Relapse: Because it reduces the pleasure from opioids, Naltrexone can help prevent a person from going back to using opioids.

How is Naltrexone Used in Treating Opioid Addiction?

Naltrexone is used for treating both opioid and alcohol addiction and comes in two forms:

  • Pill Form (ReVia or Depade): This is a tablet taken orally every day. It requires the patient to remember to take the medication regularly.
  • Shot Form (Vivitrol): This is an extended-release injection given once a month. It is often chosen for its convenience and because it helps with ensuring that the medication is taken consistently.

The choice between the pill and the injection depends on several factors:

  • Patient Preference: Some people prefer taking a daily pill, while others find a monthly shot more convenient.
  • Lifestyle and Compliance: For those who might forget daily pills, the monthly shot can be more effective.
  • Medical History and Health Conditions: A doctor will consider the patient’s overall health, including any liver issues or other medical conditions, to determine the most suitable form.

Benefits of Using Naltrexone

One of the big benefits of Naltrexone is that it doesn’t make people feel high or addicted. It just stops the effects of opioids. It’s also safe when taken as the doctor advises.

Common Side Effects of Naltrexone

Even though Naltrexone is helpful, it can have minor side effects. Here are some of them:

  • Feeling tired
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Rash or itching

When Naltrexone Might Not Be the Best Choice

Naltrexone isn’t for everyone. It’s not suitable for people who are still using opioids or have severe liver problems. The doctor can help decide if Naltrexone is a good choice for each individual.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a medicine used to treat opioid addiction. It is different from Naltrexone. Suboxone contains two drugs: Buprenorphine and Naloxone.

  • Buprenorphine is a type of opioid, but it works differently. It helps by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Naloxone is added to help prevent misuse. If Suboxone is taken as instructed, Naloxone has little effect. But if someone tries to misuse Suboxone, Naloxone will block the high from opioids.

How is Suboxone Used in Treating Opioid Addiction?

Suboxone is usually given as a film or strip that dissolves under the tongue. Sometimes it comes as a pill. It is often started when a person begins to stop using opioids and is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The doctor will decide the right amount and how often it should be taken.

Benefits of Using Suboxone

Suboxone is effective because it reduces cravings and withdrawal without causing a strong high. It can be a good choice for long-term treatment. Also, the risk of overdose with Suboxone is lower compared to other opioids.

Side Effects of Suboxone

Suboxone can also have side effects. Some common ones are:

  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Sweating.
  • Numb mouth.
  • Red eyes.
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping).
  • Constipation.

Serious side effects are rare but can happen. It’s important to talk with a doctor about any side effects.

When Suboxone Might Not Be the Best Choice

Suboxone might not be right for everyone. For example, people with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain other medicines might need a different treatment. The doctor will help make the best choice for each person.

Comparison of Naltrexone and Suboxone

Naltrexone and Suboxone are both used in treating opioid addiction, but they have different characteristics and uses. Here’s how they compare on key aspects:

Treatment for Opioid and Alcohol Addiction

  • Naltrexone: Can be used for both opioid and alcohol addiction. It helps reduce cravings and the pleasure associated with these substances.
  • Suboxone: Primarily used for opioid addiction. It’s not typically used for alcohol addiction.

How They Reduce Cravings

  • Naltrexone: Works by completely blocking opioid receptors in the brain, which reduces cravings and the rewarding effects of opioids and alcohol.
  • Suboxone: Buprenorphine partially activates opioid receptors, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while Naloxone prevents misuse.

Stage of Treatment

  • Naltrexone: Often used after a person has detoxed completely from opioids, as it can cause withdrawal symptoms if opioids are still in the body.
  • Suboxone: Can be started during or immediately after opioid withdrawal, making it useful early in the treatment process.

FDA Approval and Prescription Status

  • Both Naltrexone and Suboxone: Are FDA-approved medications for the treatment of opioid addiction.
  • Prescription Status: Both medications require a doctor’s prescription and are not available over the counter.

Potential for Addiction

  • Naltrexone: Is not addictive. It doesn’t cause a high or have abuse potential.
  • Suboxone: Has a lower potential for addiction compared to other opioids but can be misused. The presence of Naloxone in Suboxone helps reduce this risk.

Understanding these differences is crucial in choosing the right medication for opioid addiction treatment. The decision should always be made in consultation with a healthcare provider, considering the individual’s specific situation and needs.

Considerations in Choosing Between Naltrexone and Suboxone

Personal Health and Medical History

The choice between Naltrexone and Suboxone heavily depends on an individual’s health and addiction history. For instance, a person who has experienced severe opioid withdrawal symptoms might find Suboxone more beneficial due to its effectiveness in easing these symptoms. Additionally, those with certain health conditions, particularly liver issues, need to carefully consider their options, as these medications can have different impacts on liver health.

Treatment Goals and Preferences

Individual treatment goals and preferences also play a crucial role in this decision. If a person is determined to avoid any opioid use, Naltrexone might be the preferred option since it doesn’t contain opioid components. Moreover, the method of administration is a significant factor; some might prefer the convenience of a monthly Naltrexone injection over the daily pill regimen required by Suboxone.

Lifestyle and Compliance

Lifestyle factors, such as a person’s ability to stick to a medication schedule, are crucial in this choice. For those who might find daily medication adherence challenging, the once-a-month injection of Naltrexone could be more appealing. Additionally, the availability of support systems and access to healthcare facilities can influence the decision, as consistent medical follow-up is vital for successful treatment.

Interaction with Other Medications

It’s essential to consider the interactions of Naltrexone and Suboxone with other medications a person might be taking. These interactions can significantly impact the effectiveness and safety of the addiction treatment. A healthcare provider can offer valuable insights into potential drug interactions, ensuring that the chosen medication aligns with the individual’s overall treatment plan.

Doctor’s Recommendation

Ultimately, a doctor’s recommendation is crucial. This recommendation is based on a comprehensive evaluation of the individual’s specific situation, including their history with addiction, overall health, and other medications. An open and honest discussion with a healthcare provider is imperative in making an informed decision about which medication to choose for opioid addiction treatment.


In the journey to overcome opioid addiction, choosing the right medication is a critical step. Both Naltrexone and Suboxone offer valuable options, but they cater to different needs and situations. Naltrexone, available as a daily pill or monthly injection, is effective for both opioid and alcohol addiction and is an excellent choice for those who have completed detoxification. Its non-addictive nature and ability to block the effects of opioids make it a safe option for long-term recovery.

On the other hand, Suboxone, primarily used for opioid addiction, is particularly useful in the early stages of recovery, including the management of withdrawal symptoms. Its combination of Buprenorphine and Naloxone provides a balance between reducing cravings and minimizing the potential for misuse.

The decision between these two medications should be based on a thorough assessment of personal health, medical history, treatment goals, lifestyle, and potential interactions with other medications. It’s a decision that should be made in close consultation with a healthcare provider, considering all the individual factors that can influence treatment success.

Ultimately, the goal is to find a treatment plan that offers the best chance for a successful and sustainable recovery. Whether it’s Naltrexone or Suboxone, the right choice varies from person to person, and it marks an essential step forward in the path to overcoming addiction. Contact us at The Hope Institute if you have further questions on seeking treatment for alcohol or opioid addiction.