Vivitrol for Alcohol and Opioid Addiction Treatment
Vivitrol is the brand name for extended-release naltrexone, an injectable treatment for alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder. Addiction to a substance, or a substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic, lifelong disorder.1
Long-term medication regimes can help you manage symptoms, urges, and cravings and regain control of your life. Alongside behavioral interventions, naltrexone is one of many medications that have proven to be effective in the treatment of both alcohol and other substance use disorders.1
This page will explore what Vivitrol is, how it works, and when you should use it. Depending on your background, Vivitrol could be an important part of your recovery.
What Is Vivitrol Used For?
Vivitrol is one form of the drug known as naltrexone.2 It is an “extended-release injectable” that has been approved since 1984.2 When using Vivitrol, you receive one opiate blocker shot once a month, rather than taking a daily pill.2 It is used as maintenance treatment for alcohol and opioid use disorders alongside behavioral therapy.2 If you take Vivitrol as prescribed, without missing doses, it can help to prevent relapse.2
How Does Vivitrol Work?
Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist that acts on the opioid receptors in your brain.2 The opioid receptors are responsible for your brain’s reward circuit and the “high” you might get when you use alcohol or opioids.3 However, instead of activating those receptors, Vivitrol attaches to the receptors and prevents opioids or other molecules such as alcohol from activating them.2
If opioids or alcohol are still in the bloodstream, Vivitrol will cause individuals to experience opioid withdrawals. Therefore, Vivitrol is usually not given during the initial detoxification phase of treatment, but it is instead used for long-term treatment once the individual is no longer actively using alcohol or opioids.
Vivitrol helps with long-term opioid and alcohol treatment by decreasing the reinforcing reward of the continued use of opioids and alcohol. It also helps to reduce cravings associated with alcohol and opioids.
Even though Vivitrol can reduce cravings and discourage relapse, it is not a cure for substance use disorders.4 It works best in combination with a comprehensive treatment plan, which often involves different types of therapy.4
The Benefits of Vivitrol Use
There are many medications that can help ease your road to addiction recovery. Some can assist you in the initial stages of detox, while others, like Vivitrol, provide more long-term support.1 There are now several medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that are proven to be helpful for many individuals recovering from substance use disorders.
- No potential for misuse or addiction: Unlike some other medications used in maintenance for substance use disorders, Vivitrol (naltrexone) doesn’t produce a high, regardless of how much you take. This means you don’t have to worry about the temptation to misuse it.4
- No physical dependence: Vivitrol blocks the opioid receptors and does not carry any risk for physical dependence.2 If you decide to stop using it, you can stop immediately without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.4
- Extended-release: As an extended-release injection, Vivitrol allows you to be diligent about recovery without adding to your daily routine, since you only need an injection every 4 weeks.2
- Easy access: Any licensed prescriber can prescribe Vivitrol. So, getting started can be as easy as talking to your primary care provider.4
Side Effects of Vivitrol Use
The side effects of Vivitrol use are similar to those of many other medications. Though they do not occur for everyone, some of the most frequent are:2
- Injection site reactions (pain, itchiness, swelling, bumps).
- Muscle cramps.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Decreased appetite.
Naltrexone vs. Vivitrol: What’s the Difference?
Vivitrol is a particular brand of naltrexone that is given as a shot once a month. Other forms of naltrexone have to be taken every day as a pill. So, any time someone mentions Vivitrol, they are also talking about the injectable formulation of naltrexone.
Who Should Use Vivitrol?
Vivitrol is intended to help people who have alcohol or opioid dependence, or substance use disorder.1 You cannot start taking Vivitrol until you have stopped using alcohol or opioids for at least 7–10 days in order to avoid strong side effects.4 The drug is particularly useful for people who have intense cravings, a family history of alcohol use disorder, or certain genetic codes for their opioid receptors.1
Taking medication in addition to other treatment approaches such as behavioral therapy for your substance use disorder allows you to approach the addiction from multiple directions. It can give you the advantage you need to continue toward long-term maintenance. Depending on your background and other health conditions, Vivitrol may or may not be the right medication to accompany your treatment plan. But, even if you think you should start taking it, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional first.
Who Should Not Use Vivitrol?
Vivitrol can be a good option for many people, but it is not for everyone. It can interact with your body and other medications. Your healthcare provider can help you decide the best course of action. However, you should not take Vivitrol if you:2
- Have hepatitis or liver failure.
- Are currently taking opioids or still have opioids in your system. This includes if you are currently withdrawing, have a current physiologic dependency, test positive on a urine test, or fail the naloxone challenge test.
- Had a previous allergic reaction to naltrexone or any of Vivitrol’s ingredients.
- Are currently using alcohol.
Toxicity to the liver is a severe side effect of taking naltrexone in larger-than-intended doses, and Vivitrol should not be taken by people with poor liver function.2 Also, anyone who currently has opioids in their system should not take Vivitrol.2 This is why there is a 7- to 10–day recommendation to be opioid-free before starting Vivitrol.2
As an opioid antagonist, Vivitrol will block your opioid receptors and cause withdrawal symptoms if your body is used to functioning with a higher level of opioids in your blood.2 For some, this can happen with such a small amount of opioids in the body that it is not picked up on a urine drug test, but the individual can still experience withdrawal symptoms.2 Likewise, if you are currently using alcohol, Vivitrol may cause uncomfortable symptoms and will not benefit you, though it does not cause alcohol withdrawal symptoms.2
In addition, consult your doctor if you are:2
- Pregnant or nursing.
- Over 65 years old.
- Diagnosed with kidney disease.
- Diagnosed with mild liver disease.
What Drugs Interact With Vivitrol?
Vivitrol, or naltrexone, works specifically on opioid receptors. So, any medicine that contains a type of opioid may not work as intended.2 This includes:2
- Some cough and cold solutions.
- Antidiarrheal remedies.
- Opioid pain medicines.
If you intend to take any of these medications while on Vivitrol, it is important to notify your prescribing doctor or pharmacist.
Find Treatment Programs Near Me
There are many rehab centers that offer medications for addiction treatment. Because of its long-standing efficacy, Vivitrol is often used successfully. If you are struggling with alcohol or opioid addiction, Vivitrol could be the key to your sobriety. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and many can cater to individual needs.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted facilities across the country. You can contact us free at to find a local AAC rehab facility that offers medication-assisted treatment. You can also instantly check your insurance coverage to verify what addiction treatment services are covered by your health insurance.
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