• Addiction & recovery

Vivitrol Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction

Nzinga Harrison

May 20, 2021


Vivitrol is an extended-release version of naltrexone that is approved by the US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD). It helps people in recovery avoid relapses and maintain abstinence by reducing cravings for these substances. Vivitrol contains naltrexone as the active ingredient and falls into the opioid antagonist class of drugs. It is non-addictive and is administered as an intramuscular injection once per month by practitioners in healthcare settings. 

How Does Vivitrol Work?

Vivitrol works by blocking the euphoria and sedation generated by central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and opioids. It attaches itself to certain receptor sites in the brain over a certain period to block drugs such as opioids or alcohol from attaching to them. This action prevents the drugs from generating a high, which in turn motivates the user to stop or reduce use of the said substance.

However, Vivitrol is not a complete cure for opioid or alcohol dependence. It is simply a medication that helps patients reduce the risk of relapse while in recovery by reducing cravings. For effective recovery of AUD or OUD, patients will require a comprehensive treatment program that involves the use of medications in conjunction with therapies and counseling.

Side Effects of Vivitrol

Vivitrol can cause adverse physical reactions in certain patients that can range from mild to severe. Some of such common side effects are:

  •  Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Chest pain 
  • Depression
  • Joint pain
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Symptoms of pneumonia
  • Symptoms of jaundice 

Depression caused by Vivitrol can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in certain patients. If symptoms of depression do persist when you’re on this medication, consult your doctor immediately.

Patients may also develop injection site reactions after receiving Vivitrol. This can include injection site pain, swelling, or bruising. According to the US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there were around 196 reports of injection site reactions after receiving Vivitrol that included: 

  • Cellulitis
  • Induration
  • Hematoma
  • Abscess
  • Sterile abscess
  • Necrosis

Such injection site reactions are usually mild and tend to disappear on their own. However, severe Injection site reactions may sometimes require surgeries.

Talk to your healthcare provider right away if you face any allergic reaction or the above-mentioned symptoms during treatment so that your doctor can take the necessary measures to stop it from worsening. 

Vivitrol Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction - Eleanor Health

Vivitrol for Alcoholism

The FDA approved the use of Vivitrol for the treatment of alcoholism in 2006. And has since been proven to be an effective aid in treating alcohol use disorder.

Vivitrol uses a different mechanism to reduce cravings for alcohol. Unlike disulfiram that makes you sick when you drink alcohol, Vivitrol changes the way your brain reacts to the alcohol in your system. It blocks the endorphins from attaching to their receptors and thus blocking the effects of alcohol. 

Vivitrol for alcohol addiction treatment takes time. It does not eliminate cravings for alcohol almost immediately. To reap the benefits of Vivitrol, it is important that you take it exactly as prescribed. Skipping or forgetting even one injection can reduce the effectiveness of the next dose significantly. Vivitrol is most effective during alcohol addiction treatment when combined with a comprehensive treatment program that includes therapy, counseling, and 12-step programs.

Vivitrol for Opioid Addiction

The FDA approved Vivitrol as relapse prevention to opioid use disorder following  an opioid detoxification program. This approval came after studies indicated prolonged recovery due to its use.  

Vivitrol is a more effective treatment option for opioid use disorder than for alcoholism. It directly attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the effects of exogenous opioids from interacting with them to reduce opioid cravings. People with OUD who use Vivitrol along with counseling have a 90% chance of achieving abstinence. Individuals on Vivitrol during rehabilitation are also 17 times less likely to have a relapse.

However, Vivitrol should only be used after a period of complete abstinence since the presence of opioids in the system while on Vivitrol can cause opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

Benefits of Vivitrol Treatment

One of the main benefits of Vivitrol is that it is non-addictive and non-narcotic. Requiring a dose just once a month and the administration of medication through a healthcare practitioner significantly controls the risk of a missed dose and increases the chances of staying in recovery. The Vivitrol treatment gives people  the mental freedom they deserve. Individuals  may find it easier to focus on the other elements of treatment as they no longer experience cravings.

Disadvantages of Vivitrol Treatment

The disadvantage of Vivitrol treatment is that patients are unable to receive medications to alleviate cravings during the early and most difficult process of addiction treatment. As patients only receive these medications after the successful completion of detox.  

The other disadvantage of Vivitrol is the possibility of Sudden Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (SOWS). When patients do not sufficiently complete opioid detoxification program prior to taking Vivitrol, they may experience SOWS that includes symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Shaking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures

Unlike other medications such as methadone and Suboxone, patients cannot override the effects of Vivitrol by using large amounts of opioids or opioid-containing medicines. In fact, taking large doses of opioids to overcome Vivitrol’s effects will only increase the risk of opioid overdose, stroke, or even death.

You should also avoid using opioid-containing drugs after completing Vivitrol treatment as the body’s tolerance to opioids decreases during the recovery period and increases the risk of an overdose if you relapse.

Vivitrol is a very effective medication in the treatment of alcohol dependence and opioid dependence when combined with other elements of a treatment  program. It helps significantly reduce cravings and prevent relapses during recovery.

If you are seeking help with your loved one’s addiction, contact us today or complete our quick contact form below, to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in LouisianaMassachusettsNew JerseyNorth CarolinaOhio, Texas, and Washington.

Eleanor Health

Recovery for life.

Our mission at Eleanor Health is to help people affected by alcoholism and opioid addiction live amazing lives. We deliver whole-person, comprehensive care and are passionate about transforming the quality, delivery, and accessibility of alcoholism and opioid addiction treatment. Our actions are rooted in respect for each member's values, culture, and life experiences, and our commitment to their wellbeing is unwavering and without judgement.

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