The Opioid System and Food Intake: Use of Opiate Antagonists in Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder and Abnormal Eating Behavior

Leon P. Valbrun, Valeriy Zvonarev


Eating disorders (EDs) and substance use disorders (SUDs) commonly co-occur, especially in conjunction with affective syndromes, yet little is known about opiate abuse and ED symptoms in patients on naltrexone-bupropion therapy. Moreover, evidence suggests that the opioid system can also be regarded as one of the major systems regulating the anticipatory processes preceding binge eating episodes. The lack of evidence in the effectiveness of psychotherapy treatment in addition to psychotropic mediations compounds the difficulties in stabilizing individuals with EDs. This article aims to exhaustively review literature relating to the use of opioid antagonists in the management of binge eating disorder (BED) and other abnormal eating habits and how this can be augmented by the use of psychological approaches to come up with the most effective therapy or combination of therapies to manage these conditions. Although this approach is promising, it has not been evaluated. A review of the literature pertaining to the use of naltrexone in patients with EDs was performed through PubMed, PsycINFO and MEDLINE. We selected 63 relevant articles published between 1981 and 2018 and those written in English. Search terms included Opioid antagonists, naltrexone, bupropion and Psychotherapy each combined with Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, Eating Disorder, EDNOS and Obesity. While working with these articles, we also identified several problems related to use of these methods in real clinical practice. Seventy-seven articles were reviewed, and 63 were selected for inclusion. Data obtained from these sources confirmed that the blockade of opioid receptors diminishes food intake. More recent findings also indicate that the combination of bupropion and naltrexone can induce weight loss. Augmentation of this by introducing psychotherapy may lead to better outcomes. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was the most frequently recommended psychotherapy intervention, showing efficacy for EDs and chemical addictions as documented by most of the studies, but with uncertain efficacy when utilized as augmentation strategy. There are limited data supporting the use of psychotherapy in augmentation of standard therapy in ED; however, there is evidence to support that psychotherapy is safe in this population and has been effective in cases of patients with opiate addiction with and without psychiatric comorbidities as well as BED. More research is needed to establish treatment guidelines. Combining pharmacotherapeutic and psychotherapeutic interventions leads to the achievement of a better outcome in managing patients with EDs. Involving families or the use of support groups increases chances of adherence to the prescribed interventions resulting in higher rates of remission. However, it is clear that all of these interventions must occur in the context of a comprehensive treatment program. We believe that patient-specific psychotherapy may not only facilitate the treatment process, but also cause significant alterations in eating pattern. This approach for BED may lead to more significant treatment outcomes, but this possibility must be tested in larger samples.

J Clin Med Res. 2020;12(2):41-63


Opiates; Binge eating; Naltrexone; Psychotherapy

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