Alcohol & Opioid Treatment & Support Program
What is Vivitrol?
The active ingredient in Vivitrol is a medication called naltrexone, which has been formulated into an extended-release solution for intramuscular (IM) injection by a qualified medical provider.
The FDA approved naltrexone for use in three different routes: in pill form, in an implant device, and, in the case of Vivitrol, as a once-a-month physician-administered injection.
Vivitrol is specifically designed to be used in conjunction with a comprehensive drug and alcohol addiction recovery program and should only be administered by a healthcare professional.
What are the advantages of Vivitrol?
The main reason Vivitrol is so effective is due to its ability to deliver a very effective medication for alcoholism and opioid addiction uninterrupted for one full month.
Patients taking naltrexone orally (by mouth) need to remember take it every day for it to be effective. As with any patient who has a chronic illness and has to take medications daily, it is possible to simply forget or stop taking the medication for a variety of reasons.
Another reason people stop taking oral naltrexone every day has to do with how effective the medication can be. Patients often take it for a few weeks or months and feel as though they are in control of their drinking or drug use. This can lead them to stop taking the medication.
Unfortunately, oral naltrexone’s positive “anti-alcohol” effects wear off after about three days, after which the cravings return, making them vulnerable to relapse.
The breakthrough at the heart of Vivitrol’s success is that, in addition to delivering the same benefits as oral naltrexone, it also remedies the critical issue of compliance because it continues to work even during a “weak” moment.
How does Vivitrol work?
Vivitrol is what’s known as a non-addictive opioid antagonist. Vivitrol makes it easier for patients to stop abusing alcohol and opioids by blocking certain receptors in the brain that, when stimulated by these substances, give users a “high” or “rush” by releasing feel-good chemicals like dopamine into their system.
In other words, if someone taking Vivitrol drinks alcohol or uses an opioid, they can’t get drunk or high.
This makes alcohol and opioids less alluring and prevents relapse by causing several things to occur:
- Vivitrol decreases cravings for alcohol and opioid drugs by up to 90%.
- If a patient drinks alcohol while on Vivitrol, it blocks the euphoria they would normally get from drinking, which helps in two ways:
- It prevents the brain from positively reinforcing alcohol use, which contributes to their compulsion to drink.
- It prevents patients from “priming the pump” for more alcohol and going on a binge. Because of their compulsion to drink, many people who relapse in recovery find it hard to stop drinking once they’ve started, but Vivitrol helps break this compulsion.
*Note that drinking on Vivitrol will still produce symptoms of intoxication, like slurred words or poor balance, but patients don’t benefit from any of the positive (pleasant) effects of alcohol.
- Because Vivitrol binds with opioid receptors, it prevents opiates like heroin from taking effect at all. Therefore, when the patient is on Vivitrol, they can’t get high.
Unlike treatments such as disulfiram (Antabuse) that deter people from continuing to drink by making them sick if they consume alcohol, Vivitrol discourages people from wanting to drink or use opioids in the first place.
By preventing patients from getting drunk or high, Vivitrol is a powerful tool for preventing relapse and helping patients stay committed to their treatment so they can learn the appropriate coping skills to allow them to live in their normal environments and deal with stress in healthy ways rather than using alcohol or drugs as their primary coping mechanism.
How long does Vivitrol last?
Vivitrol is typically given as a once-a-month extended-release injection. Most patients begin to feel the effects of the medication within the first 2-3 days of starting their first injection.
Injections are typically administered every four weeks for the medication to continue working.
How long do you need to take Vivitrol?
This depends largely on the individual. Factors such as how long the patient was using alcohol or opioids, whether there are any co-occurring mental issues or cross-addiction risks, as well as other factors, need to be considered before discontinuing Vivitrol treatment.
The good news is that Vivitrol can be safe and effective when used either short- or long-term. Most patients benefit most from at least one year of Vivitrol injections.
What are the side effects of Vivitrol?
Another benefit to Vivitrol is that it has very few side effects, and when they do occur, they are typically minor. These effects also tend to get less intense once the body begins to adjust to the medicine.
Side effects that have been reported include:
- Mild abdominal pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Joint or muscle pain
Most of these, if they occur, will diminish within a few days or weeks of starting the medication. There are also chances of experiencing less common but more serious side effects – including possible liver swelling or changes in liver function, pneumonia, allergic reaction, or symptoms of depression.
Is Vivitrol Safe?
The active ingredient in Vivitrol is naltrexone. The FDA approved oral naltrexone for treating alcoholism in 1994 and for the treatment of opiate addiction in the 1970s. The medication has been the subject of many studies and proven safe and effective.
The primary side effects are nausea (which occurs in a small number of cases and usually only lasts 2-3 days after the first injection), occasional headache, and some tenderness at the injection site for a short time.
All of these symptoms are mild in most cases and much less toxic or evident than the side effects of opioid addiction or alcoholism. Consequently, Vivitrol is very safe, well tolerated, and non-addictive.
Intramuscular injection delivery method
One of the reasons Vivitrol has few side effects is its intramuscular injection delivery method. By being injected into the muscle where it can slowly release into the bloodstream, the medication initially avoids going through the liver before it goes into the rest of the body.
One of the liver’s main functions is to break down different substances, including medications. When any medication is able to bypass the liver initially, less of it is destroyed, which means more of it is available. Therefore, a patient needs a much lower dose to be effective (in the case of Vivitrol, 70% less).
The fact that a smaller dose of naltrexone is needed in the patient’s body each month may account for the minimal side effects experienced by most patients on it. As an added bonus, because of the way that Vivitrol gets into the bloodstream, not only does it require less than 25% of the oral dose, but it also provides four times the brain levels of the oral dose, so more medication is available to help the brain.
As with any medication, it’s important to discuss any concerns with your doctor and determine if it’s right for you.
Vivitrol’s Positive Impact and the Family of an Alcoholic
Another critical success factor for the use of Vivitrol for the treatment of alcoholism and opiate addiction is that the patient’s family and overall support system can significantly benefit from their loved one’s usage of the drug.
Once a loved one has received the injection, the family now knows that for the next 30 days, the patient will not be able to experience any intoxication from alcohol or opioid use. Additionally, cravings will decrease by 90%, in general, which helps with mood and irritability issues that can accompany stopping these substances.
In the extensive research and clinical use of Vivitrol in addiction treatment practices, physicians have found that once a family understands the significant benefits of Vivitrol, they begin to feel some “control” returning to very chaotic, “out-of-control” home environments.
Vivitrol is the first anti-addiction medication for alcoholism and opiate addiction that provides this sense of control for the family members, as the patient cannot change the effects of the medication once the injection is received.
Family members and others in the patient’s support system quickly realize that if they help the alcoholic or opiate addict to just get to treatment every 30 days, Vivitrol can make a tremendous difference in all of their lives.
Treatment with Vivitrol at Enterhealth
At Enterhealth, we offer medically supervised alcohol and opioid treatment programs for qualified patients at our inpatient rehab facility, Enterhealth Ranch, and through The Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence.
Our programs provide patients a safe and comfortable detox from alcohol and drugs using anti-addiction medications like Vivitrol to reduce cravings and reduce the chances of a relapse so patients can participate in comprehensive treatment and achieve a sustained recovery.
Call Enterhealth at 1-800-388-4601 now and take charge of your recovery. We’re here every day at any time to take your call.