Substance use disorders can seriously affect an individual’s quality of life and health. Unfortunately, a person may find it difficult or impossible to quit using substances, even if they want to, due to painful withdrawal symptoms. Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is an effective treatment option for those who struggle with a substance use disorder, as it helps manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms to facilitate a long-term recovery.
Medicated assisted treatment uses a combination of evidence-based mental health intervention (such as cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling) and FDA-approved medication. One of the most popular medications in the administration of MAT is Vivitrol.
What Is Vivitrol?
Vivitrol is an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of withdrawal and cravings related to alcohol use or opioid addiction. It comes as an injection specifically formulated to provide extended release of its active ingredient, naltrexone. Its main use is as an opioid antagonist, which means that it helps block the euphoric effects of opioid drugs, effectively stopping the body from reacting to it. Once in recovery, patients can receive a Vivitrol shot once a month to effectively maintain their sobriety in tandem with psychosocial therapy.
Vivitrol can be an effective tool for preventing relapse by mitigating the worst aspects of withdrawal and controlling the psychological cravings that may occur after detox. However, it can have some side effects. Some of the most commonly reported adverse effects after receiving a Vivitrol injection include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst
- Muscle and joint aches
Providers recommend Vivitrol because they believe the benefits of taking the medication outweigh the risks. However, it is important to know how the medication works, who may be eligible to take it, and the advantages and disadvantages of taking Vivitrol.
How Is Vivitrol Used for Addiction Treatment?
In order to understand the role Vivitrol plays in facilitating long term recovery, it is important to know how the cycle of addiction makes it difficult for people to quit using substances on their own. Often, opioid addiction begins with a legitimate prescription following a surgery or other event requiring pain relief.
Opioids work by blocking the receptors that tell the body to perceive pain. It also tends to produce a euphoric effect, which makes the person feel good. Often, the drive to experience pain relief and euphoria leads the person to misuse the drug. Over time, people can develop a dependence on opioids because their brains stop producing essential on their own, leading to painful withdrawal symptoms when opioids leave the body.
As people become accustomed to using the opioid regularly, it takes more to achieve the same effect, and they will have to take more to avoid withdrawal. This becomes a cycle of addiction that is difficult to break.
Opioid antagonists such as Vivitrol help break the cycle and significantly reduce the chance of relapse. It helps curb the worst of the withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings. It gives patients the time and focus required to develop compensatory strategies, such as other forms of pain relief, in mental health therapies.
Vivitrol is primarily used for opioid addiction, but it is also FDA-approved to treat alcohol dependence. It may help patients who drink too much by helping them drink less, or not at all. Studies show that MAT therapies like naltrexone are more effective that behavioral interventions alone.
Who Can Take Vivitrol?
Not everyone will qualify for Vivitrol injections. Like some other forms of MAT, Vivitrol requires a detoxification period before a person can begin a maintenance program. Vivitrol doctors recommend that people in treatment completely detox for a period of 7-10 days before starting their first injection of Vivitrol. Without a detox period, Vivitrol can make withdrawal symptoms worse or more pronounced.
Taking Vivitrol can carry a slight risk of more serious complications such as eosinophilic pneumonia or liver toxicity. It may not be suitable for those who have a pre-existing liver disease (such as cirrhosis or Hepatitis C) or a history of medication allergies. Vivitrol doctors will assess a patient’s suitability for taking the medication based on health history and other factors.
Once a patient receives a Vivitrol injection, it typically takes effect within 2 days. As part of a medication assisted treatment program, a person typically receives shots once every 30 days.
How Long Does a Vivitrol Maintenance Program Last?
Once patients are on the road to a long-term recovery, they can consider tapering off their use of Vivitrol. There is no standard course of treatment for opioid or alcohol dependence; each person is unique and will follow his or her own recovery timeline. Ultimately, a team of providers will help each patient decide when and if weaning of Vivitrol is right for him or her.
Fortunately, tapering off Vivitrol rarely produces symptoms or side effects. In some cases, people report fatigue, nausea, or an upset stomach when weaning off Vivitrol. However, these side effects are temporary and do not usually lead to other complications.
Pros, Cons, and Myths of Using Vivitrol
A robust body of evidence exists that supports the use of medication assisted treatment, including Vivitrol, but myths abound regarding the use of medications for opioid and alcohol use disorders. Perhaps the most prevalent is that a person struggling with a substance use disorder is simply switching one addiction for another. However, since Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist, it does not present a risk of addiction or dependence.
Vivitrol has several notable benefits compared to other forms of medication assisted treatment. For example, patients only have to receive a Vivitrol injection once a month, within the comfort and privacy of a doctor’s office. This is more convenient than some other forms of medication assisted treatments, such as suboxone or methadone, which require a specialized provider and compliance to more frequent clinic visits. Additionally, research shows that Vivitrol is similarly effective as other treatments like methadone and Suboxone.
The primary disadvantage of Vivitrol is that patients must complete the detoxification process before taking their first Vivitrol shot. Taking a shot too early could interfere with medically assisted detox and may even make withdrawal symptoms worse. Some people may also experience mild side effects as their bodies adjust to Vivitrol. For most, the benefits outweigh any risks or discomfort.
The FDA has only approved three drugs for the use of medically assisted treatment and opioid use disorder. Vivitrol is approved for both OUD and alcohol dependence and has the convenient extended-release formulation. Unlike some other MAT medications, people who take Vivitrol do not have to stay on the maintenance program indefinitely. Since it is similarly effective to other medications in the treatment of substance use disorders, Vivitrol is a good option for individuals who want to achieve long-term recovery but find it difficult to quit opioids or alcohol without inside intervention. Coupled with psychosocial treatments, Vivitrol can help support recovery from opioids or alcohol with few side effects.
Fifth Avenue Psychiatry provides comprehensive treatment services for addiction, alcoholism, and underlying contributing factors for substance use such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Our licensed professionals provide evidence-based care tailored to the individual and their unique circumstances.