Vivitrol: Opioid Antagonist That Prevents a High

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Vivitrol is a branded formulation of naloxone that counters the effects of opioid medications without delivering a euphoric high.

This medication is available as a long-acting injectable and is FDA-approved for the treatment of opioid dependence and alcohol dependence. If the Vivitrol injection is used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, it may help prevent those addicted to alcohol or opioids from craving those substances.

What is Vivitrol and what is Vivitrol used for? Learn this and more in today’s guide to this opioid antagonist.

What is a Vivitrol Shot?

Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist that blocks the rewarding effects associated with alcohol or opioids. The medication is typically indicated to manage the cravings that present during the alcohol or opioid withdrawal phase.

An injectable formulation of extended-release naltrexone, Vivitrol gained FDA approval to treat alcohol dependence in 2006 and to treat opioid dependence in 2010. This medication is the first non-addictive, non-narcotic treatment for opioid addiction.

What Does Vivitrol Do, then?

When Vivitrol is injected, the medication attaches to MOR (mu-opioid receptors) located in the brain, preventing other opioids from activating those receptors. This mechanism of action means that if you ingest opioids while taking this medication, you will not experience the euphoric high associated with opioid use.

Before this medication was approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder, addiction to opioid-based painkillers or illicit heroin was typically treated using either suboxone (a combination medication containing buprenorphine and naloxone) or methadone (a long-acting synthetic opioid). Unlike methadone or suboxone, This medication has no abuse potential and no barrier to daily administration either due to the extended-release delivery system of the medication. 

How Long Does Vivitrol Last?

Vivitrol is available as a monthly injectable. The effects of the medication diminish over the course of one month. You will then receive another shot.

How Does Vivitrol Work?

A medical professional administers Vivitrol by intramuscular injection in the form of a monthly shot. This extended-release formulation improves treatment compliance because there is no possibility of missing a dose, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

By tightly attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, this medication disrupts the rewarding effects of heroin, fentanyl, prescription opioids, or alcohol. The way in which Vivitrol blocks the euphoric opioid high renders it pointless to abuse opioids when taking this medication. In this way, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) with this medication may inhibit subsequent substance abuse.

Each month, 380mg of Vivitrol is administered by intramuscular injection. These shots must be delivered by medical professionals.

When Vivitrol is in your system, the medication is delivered gradually and continuously over one month.

Before beginning treatment with Vivitrol, you need to be opioid-free for a minimum of one week. As such, this medication is normally administered after the detox phase of recovery is complete.

Vivitrol for Alcohol

Data from NSDUH 2021 – the most recent report from SAMHSA’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health – 29.5 million U.S. adults reported a diagnosable alcohol use disorder in 2021. This is a significant increase from the 14.5 million with alcohol use disorder reported by SAMHSA in 2019.

Although rates of alcoholism are rising in the United States, there is still a significant treatment gap. The same data show that just 2.5 million people engaged in any form of alcohol addiction treatment in the same year.

MAT is a core component of alcohol addiction treatment for many of those who connect with professional treatment. Vivitrol is one medication approved by the FDA to treat alcohol dependence. Unlike abstinence-based medications such as disulfiram, Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist that blocks opioid receptors in the brain, preventing alcohol from activating those receptors. As a result, you should experience fewer cravings for alcohol while taking this medication.

When used to treat alcohol dependence, Vivitrol is safe and effective. The medication has no potential for abuse and does not cause physical dependence to form.

Vivitrol for Opioids

Opioid use disorder is the clinical term for opioid addiction. This chronic and relapsing brain condition is associated with physical and psychological side effects when use is moderated or discontinued. Opioid withdrawal can be physically painful and emotionally challenging without the benefit of MAT.

Research shows that Vivitrol (naltrexone) is equally as effective as suboxone, another medication frequently indicated to treat opioid use disorder.

Vivitrol was approved by the FDA on the basis of a double-blind trial that showed more than half of those addicted to heroin remained opioid-free during the six-month study. Researchers found that the Vivitrol shot was three times more efficient at preventing relapse than naltrexone in daily doses. Study participants reported a reduction in cravings. Among those taking this medication, treatment retention was improved.

Although this medication is not a cure for opioid use disorder, the medication may effectively reduce cravings and prevent relapse if utilized as one part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Side Effects

Medications like Vivitrol may produce severe physical responses in some individuals, while others may experience no unpleasant symptoms whatsoever. Some minor side effects associated with Vivitrol include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Appetite loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased thirst
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Infection at the injection site

Vivitrol may also cause liver damage. If you have a history of hepatitis or liver disease, you should not take this medication.

If you take Vivitrol and there are still traces of opioids in your system, this may trigger withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Severe vomiting
  • Explosive diarrhea
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Hallucinations

You should consult your prescribing physician if you experience any of the above severe complications when taking this medication.

Taking Vivitrol will also reduce your tolerance to opioids, even following the discontinuation of this medication.

Taking opioids while being treated with Vivitrol can be life-threatening. You will be at increased risk of opioid overdose which can trigger respiratory depression, coma, and death.

Medication-Assisted Treatment at Ohio Community Health

All treatment programs at Ohio Community Health offer access to medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction or alcoholism as a central component of programming.  MAT at our treatment facility is combined with behavioral interventions like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and counseling.

We also provide treatment programs for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD co-occurring with drug addiction or alcoholism. Again, medications will play a role in treatment.

You can engage with dual diagnosis treatment that involves MAT without needing to head to residential rehab. We offer both PHPs (partial hospitalization programs) and IOPs (intensive outpatient programs), allowing you to connect with the care you need while remaining anchored to your everyday commitments.When you are ready to move beyond a life constrained by drug addiction, call 513-757-5000 for immediate assistance.

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