Alcohol may have psychomotor stimulant properties during the rising limb of the blood alcohol curve at commonly self-administered doses. Increased heart rate (HR) immediately after alcohol consumption may serve as an indicator or marker of such properties, which appear to be potentially opiate-mediated and dopamine-dependent. Naltrexone, an opiate antagonist, has been used successfully in the treatment of alcoholism and may produce its therapeutic effects through its effects on alcohol metabolism or by blocking alcohol's rewarding effects. We hypothesized that, if naltrexone blocks the psychomotor stimulant properties of ethanol, then it would decrease or eliminate the HR increase associated with acute alcohol intoxication and that this would be independent of any effect on alcohol metabolism.
Twenty male subjects were administered placebo and alcohol (1.0 mL 95% USP ethanol/kg body weight) in a laboratory setting on one day and naltrexone (50 mg) and alcohol on another (counterbalanced). We assessed all subjects for a change in HR and for a subjective and behavioural response from 35 to 170 minutes after drug or alcohol administration.
The placebo and alcohol mix produced a significant mean HR increase from baseline (F1,95 = 46.01, p < 0.0001, Cohen's d = 0.62), while naltrexone and alcohol did not (nonsignificant). The significant effects of naltrexone on blood alcohol level did not account for the effect of naltrexone on alcohol-induced HR change but did account for alterations in subjective and behavioural response to alcohol.
Naltrexone appears to substantially reduce the HR increase that is characteristic of alcohol intoxication. This finding appears to lend moderate support to the notions that, first, naltrexone has differential effects on alcohol reactions and, second, that it specifically blocks the acute psychomotor stimulant properties of alcohol.