A Complete Guide To Vivitrol 

Vivitrol is often referred to by the generic name of naltrexone. Both alcohol and opioid addiction are treated with this medication. The injectable drug is extended-release and was created to suppress and decrease cravings for alcohol and opiates. Health care professionals will prescribe for individuals currently detoxing. The generic form is available in a monthly injection, tablet, implant, and transdermal patch. The FDA has approved both the oral and injectable versions of the medication. 

The drug does not have any potential for abuse or create physical dependence. According to the manufacturer, the medication should only be used with a drug or alcohol recovery program. The user should not use alcohol or opioids while taking Vivitrol. The medication does not guarantee abstinence. Individuals seeking drug experience symptoms similar to alcohol use, including decreased response and coordination. The ability to reason and think may also decrease. 

Clinical Studies

The medication can reduce the need for alcohol to limit intake effectively. According to clinical trials, the drug effectively treated individuals with a dependence on both opioids and alcohol. In another clinical trial, individually given the approved dosage decreased days of heavy drinking by 25 percent as opposed to participants receiving a placebo. A heavy-drinking day is classified as a man consuming a minimum of five alcoholic drinks and women a minimum of four. 

Vivitrol (Naltrexone)

During a study conducted for 24 weeks, 36 percent of the participants did not use opioids. Only 23 percent receiving the placebo did not use opioids during this time. In 2010, the FDA approved Vivitrol for the treatment of opioid addiction. In addition to helping individuals with an addiction to alcohol, the medication received approval for the prevention of opioid relapse after a study was completed. The study revealed individuals using the drug remained in rehabilitation programs longer, avoided relapse, and had a better chance of staying abstinent. 

How Vivitrol Works

Despite helping prevent relapse, the individual should no longer be experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, have any opioids remaining in the body, and complete a detox program before taking the medication. The reason is opioids are removed from the opioid receptors by the medication. If the individual is being given medications, including buprenorphine, Vivitrol will worsen the symptoms of withdrawal and prevent the medication from working. 

The medication is classified as an opiate antagonist. This means other drugs will be unable to bind to the receptor cells. In addition to preventing the binding of endorphins to the opioid receptors in individuals consuming alcohol, opioid drugs are prevented from binding to the brain’s opioid receptors. The result is often a significantly more effective treatment for individuals addicted to opioids in addition to helping prevent a relapse. 

Individuals using a combination of Vivitrol and counseling for the treatment of opioid addiction experience 90 percent more weeks free of opioids as opposed to the 35 percent not receiving medication. Individuals receiving a combination of rehabilitation, therapy, and Vivitrol decrease the risk of relapse by seventeen percent as opposed to those not receiving the medication. The medication can help prevent relapse for individuals addicted to opioids. 

Ensuring the individual is not experiencing any symptoms of withdrawal, has no opioids remaining in their system, and completes a rehabilitation program successfully are critical for the success of the medication. Ongoing therapy is recommended by the manufacturer to help prevent relapse. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

While an individual is using Vivitrol, no opioid medications must be used. Before beginning the treatment, the individual should not use opioids for a period of seven to 10 days. If the individual uses any medications containing opioids during this time, they may experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. An individual in withdrawal from opioids can experience mild or severe symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms are mild. 

If the individual has taken medications containing opioids before being treated with Vivitrol, the withdrawal symptoms can begin quickly. In this instance, the individual may need to be monitored or remain in a hospital to monitor the symptoms. This may include high blood pressure and a fast heart rate. There are cases where a physician may give the individual injection of Vivitrol even if opioids have been used within the last seven to 10 days. 

In this situation, the individual must be in a medical facility before receiving the injection to ensure physicians and nurses can monitor withdrawal symptoms if any severe symptoms of withdrawal should develop. Immediate treatment is available. Participants in Vivitrol clinical trials were not allowed to continue if any opioid medications were used. For this reason, statistics regarding how many individuals experienced symptoms of withdrawal are unavailable. 

According to the FDA, there have been individuals experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal after using opioid medications while taking Vivitrol. The manufacturer strongly recommends against using any opioids while taking the medication. Before taking the medication, all drugs should be checked for opioids, including drugs for pain, cough, cold, and diarrhea. Some of these medications may contain opioids. If the individual has any concerns, the best option is speaking with a physician. 

Vivitrol and Mood Changes

The medication can cause mood changes. Clinical trials were conducted with the participants being treated for alcohol addiction. Approximately 10 percent of the participants using the medication showed a depressed mood as opposed to the five percent receiving a placebo. Only one percent of the individuals using Vivitrol reported thoughts of suicide as opposed to zero percent of the participants being given a placebo. 

Another clinical trial was conducted for 24 weeks for individuals addicted to opioids. None of the participants reported suicidal thoughts or a depressed mood. This includes the participants receiving the medication and the placebo. 

Side Effects of Vivitrol

There are important considerations for anyone taking the medication while consuming alcohol. In this instance, liver damage or hepatitis can result from the active ingredient in the medication. One of the frequent causes of liver damage is alcohol consumption. The combination of alcohol and Vivitrol may increase the consequences of alcohol consumption, including liver damage. Any individual using the medication while consuming alcohol should look for the symptoms of potential liver damage, including: 

  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • The whites of the eyes become yellow
  • Stomach pain continuing for more than three days

The medication does have side effects. These can be compounded by the use of alcohol or opioids, including: 

  • Allergic reactions
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Decreased or loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, mouth or tongue
  • Skin rash
  • Difficulty sleeping or poor quality sleep
  • Cold symptoms
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Painful joints
  • Difficulty breathing

How do Physicians prescribe Vivitrol?

Physicians prescribing any medication approved by the FDA for treating substance abuse, including Vivitrol, must complete specialized training. The physician is unable to administer these types of drugs until training has been completed. Unfortunately, the majority of physicians do not complete specialized training due to the false perception medications for the treatment of alcohol and opioid abuse such as Vivitrol are not sufficient. 

The reason may be studies conducted regarding the use of this medication for treating addictions to heroin or opioids without the use of rehab, mental health treatment, and counseling. There is no magic wand capable of putting an end to any addiction, including alcohol and opioids. There are effective medications for treatment, but they must be used in conjunction with psychotherapy. Therapy ensures the individual receives treatment for problematic behaviors, social support, and a much better understanding of why the addition initially occurred.