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Vivitrol for Alcohol: How Does It Work?

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Certain medications have proved to be very helpful for people who are trying to end their compulsive abuse of alcohol. Research indicates that Vivitrol for alcohol addiction is one of the most effective options.

What Is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is the brand name of a prescription medication that can be used to treat people who have developed alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction) and opioid use disorder (a category that includes addictions to heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers).

Vivitrol is an extended-release form of the drug naltrexone. Patients who take naltrexone in pill form must take the medication every day. Those who use Vivitrol receive it once a month via an intramuscular injection. 

Who Can Benefit from Vivitrol for Alcohol Addiction?

Deciding if a patient is a good candidate for medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and then determining if Vivitrol is the right medication for them, are choices that should only be made by a qualified healthcare provider after thoroughly reviewing the full scope of the patient’s needs.

In general, Vivitrol for alcohol addiction may be beneficial for patients who meet the following criteria:

  • Are age 18 or above
  • Have developed alcohol use disorder
  • Are not currently abusing alcohol or opioids
  • Are willing and able to fully engage in all aspects of the MAT program

The following are examples of the criteria that may disqualify a person from receiving Vivitrol for alcohol addiction:

  • Have developed acute hepatitis or experienced liver failure
  • Are currently taking opioid-based medications
  • Are addicted to or in withdrawal from opioids
  • Are allergic to naltrexone, polylactide-co-glycolide (PLG), or other ingredients in Vivitrol
  • Are pregnant or nursing

Also, studies on the effectiveness and safety of Vivitrol for alcohol addiction and opioid addiction have not included enough subjects over the age of 65 to conclusively determine if people in this age group can use the medication without significant risk.

How Does Vivitrol for Alcohol Addiction Work?

When a person receives a Vivitrol injection, the medication binds with receptors in their central nervous system that are also activated by alcohol. If the person drinks while they have Vivitrol in their system, the alcohol will be blocked from interacting with these receptors. This will prevent the person from feeling the pleasurable effects that alcohol would have otherwise caused.

In this way, Vivitrol begins to retrain the person’s brain regarding alcohol. If drinking no longer elicits the disorienting high that the individual was expecting, their cravings for this substance will begin to wane.

In a December 2022 article in The American Journal of Psychiatry, Johnathan Avery, MD, highlighted the effectiveness of this approach. 

“Among approved medications, daily naltrexone and long-acting injectable naltrexone [Vivitrol] have perhaps the strongest evidence for their use,” Avery wrote.

Is Vivitrol Safe?

Considerable research has documented that Vivitrol for alcohol or opioid addiction is both safe and effective. As we will discuss in the next section, some people who have received Vivitrol have developed various side effects, but the vast majority of these effects have been relatively minor.

Also, since Vivitrol is required to be administered by a doctor or another qualified healthcare professional in an appropriate medical setting, there is minimal risk that this medication will be abused. 

Does Vivitrol Have Side Effects?

Like virtually every other prescription medication, Vivitrol can cause side effects in some people. The most common Vivitrol side effects include:

  • Swelling or pain at the injection site
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Diminished appetite

Some patients have also experienced more serious side effects after receiving Vivitrol, such as:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Pneumonia
  • Depression 
  • Suicidal thoughts

Anyone who develops any side effects when using Vivitrol for alcohol addiction should report these problems to the doctor who prescribed the medication or notify another member of their treatment team.

Can Vivitrol Cure Alcohol Addiction?

Most reputable treatment professionals view addiction as a chronic, progressive disease. This means that, as with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes, addiction is not a curable condition. However, with proper care a person can learn to manage their symptoms and remain in recovery.

In the case of people who receive Vivitrol for alcohol addiction, it is important to note that this medication should be just one component of a comprehensive treatment program. Vivitrol’s ability to reduce cravings can be extremely valuable – but cravings are just one symptom of addiction.

To best prepare a person for successful, long-term recovery from alcohol addiction, their care should also include therapy. The many potential benefits of therapy include:

  • Identifying triggers, which are the events or circumstances that could push a person back into alcohol abuse
  • Developing effective strategies for either avoiding triggers or responding to them in a healthy manner, without resorting to alcohol abuse
  • Receiving care for co-occurring mental health disorders that may have contributed to the person’s struggles with alcohol
  • Putting together a personal support network
  • Exploring ways of repairing relationships that were harmed by compulsive alcohol use
  • Sharing support with others who have struggled with alcoholism and who are also working to build a foundation for long-term recovery
  • Connecting with community-based resources that can support the patient’s continued progress after they have completed their time in treatment

Receive Vivitrol for Alcohol Addiction in Nashville

Nashville Treatment Solutions offers a variety of customizable treatment options for adults whose lives have been disrupted by alcohol addiction and certain co-occurring mental health concerns. With the guidance and close personal support of our experienced caregivers, adults who choose our center can end their alcohol abuse and gain a solid foothold in early recovery. 

If you or someone that you care about has been struggling with compulsive alcohol abuse, the Nashville Treatment Solutions team is here to help. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call our center today.