The noradrenergic alpha-2 receptor agonist, clonidine, suppresses many of the effects of opiate withdrawal in both humans and other animals and this is consistent with the data indicating important interactions of opiate and noradrenergic systems in brain. This evidence supports the hypothesis that central noradrenergic hyperactivity is involved in the expression of major signs and symptoms of the opiate withdrawal syndrome, but to date clinical studies have not provided biochemical data consistent with this idea. In order to assess whether naltrexone precipitated opiate withdrawal in methadone addicted human subjects is associated with changes in noradrenergic function, a double-blind study was completed in which 15 methadone-dependent subjects received naltrexone and 8 subjects received placebo. Signs and symptoms of the opiate abstinence syndrome increased significantly in the 15 subjects who received naltrexone compared with the 8 who received placebo. Plasma concentrations of free MHPG also increased significantly in those subjects who took naltrexone compared to the placebo treated subjects. In addition, withdrawal signs and symptoms were significantly correlated with plasma MHPG concentration. Since several compounds which suppress central noradrenergic activity also reduce the severity of the withdrawal syndrome, the noradrenergic hyperactivity suggested by the present clinical study may be a functional mechanism for at least part of the opiate withdrawal syndrome.