People who have developed an addiction to alcohol or opioids know how challenging it can be to stop using those substances and live a sober life. Different forms of therapy, as well as peer support groups, can help, but there have also been breakthroughs in medications to help stop cravings for drugs or alcohol. Vivitrol, also known as naltrexone, helps by blocking the receptors that interact with alcohol or opioids. This stops the euphoric effects that alcohol and opioids cause in the brain, reducing cravings and making it easier for individuals in recovery to avoid relapse.
A study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed that of the study participants who took either Vivitrol or Suboxone, half had not suffered a relapse within six months after taking the medication.
The original form of Vivitrol was developed in 1963 to help treat addiction to opioids. More than 20 years later, in 1984, the medication was approved by the FDA. Subsequently, naltrexone has been used to help those with addiction to drugs such as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone.
A Continuing Epidemic
The use of opioids continues to ravage the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that in 2019 about 10 million people misused opioids, including abusing prescription pain reliever medications and illegal street drugs like heroin.
About 1.27 million people currently take part in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). These treatments include opioid treatment programs (OTPs) that consist of behavioral therapy and medications, including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
Fewer individuals have taken advantage of medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder, despite the fact that alcohol use disorder affects almost 15 million people in America, aged 12 and up. According to NIDA, only about 7% of people with AUD seek treatment for their alcohol abuse and less than 4% have been prescribed any FDA-approved medication to help with their treatment.
How Does Vivitrol Work?
Vivitrol can only be taken when someone has already completed detox. An injection received once a month begins to affect the brain and body as soon as the shot is received. This means the person should not have used any opioid medicine, including buprenorphine, methadone, or even medicine that treats a cold, cough, diarrhea, or pain, within the last week to two weeks prior to receiving the Vivitrol injection. There can be dangerous side effects if Vivitrol is taken with any opioid medication, heroin, or other street drugs, including a risk of coma and death.
The same holds true for someone taking Vivitrol for alcohol addiction. The individual must have no alcohol in their body when they receive an injection of Vivitrol.
Vivitrol diminishes cravings for alcohol and opioids by blocking the sensation of pleasure they experience while drinking or consuming drugs. If someone takes an opioid or drinks alcohol after their Vivitrol shot, they shouldn’t feel sick, dizzy, or confused.
Whether an individual takes Vivitrol for alcohol or drug dependence, the medication stops the feelings of happiness and sedation that are associated with alcohol and opioids. Typically, those substances depress, or slow, the central nervous system. With Vivitrol, the receptor sites in the central nervous system are blocked and won’t allow the opioid or the alcohol to bind to them, reducing these effects.
Side Effects of Vivitrol
Taking Vivitrol can be very helpful for individuals who need to control their cravings for opioids or alcohol. There are some potential side effects, however. Some are relatively minor, such as dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, as well as painful joints and tiredness. Others can be more severe. They include:
- Allergic reactions, such as hives, rashes, facial swelling
- Feeling depressed
- Liver damage
- Reactions at the injection site, which can be severe and may require surgical intervention
If the person stops or misses a dose of Vivitrol and returns to misusing opioids or alcohol, they may be at a higher risk of fatal side effects. They are also likely to be more sensitive to smaller doses of opioids or alcohol than they previously consumed.
Pros and Cons of Vivitrol
Vivitrol is a non-addictive prescription that can aid someone in reducing their cravings for alcohol or opioids, once they have fully detoxed from either substance. This medication works best when paired with an overall treatment plan that includes therapy. It is not a cure for addiction and is only given under the guidance of a physician.
Unlike other medications to treat cravings, Vivitrol is taken monthly rather than daily, as methadone requires. This makes it a more convenient option for many. In a study, participants who took Vivitrol for alcohol use disorder reduced their number of heavy drinking days by 25%.
Vivitrol can interact with other medications, so it is important to discuss all other prescriptions as well as other conditions and allergies with the prescribing doctor before receiving the injection.
Bridges of Hope’s treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, Bridges of Hope provides superior patient care in Indiana through our all-inclusive treatment services.
We’re not medical professionals. If you’re considering taking Vivitrol or any other type of medication, consult your doctor first.