Vivitrol is the latest medication used to help those in early recovery stay away from drugs and alcohol. Learn more about how Vivitrol can help you remain clean and sober.

Early recovery is a trying time for every addict and alcoholic. Learning to deal with emotions after using drugs and alcohol to cope for any length of time is difficult. The sudden rush of feelings is overwhelming and proves difficult for many who are just starting to get clean and sober.

Relapse is most common in early sobriety, within the first few months of separating from drugs and alcohol. Navigating life without your most commonly-used coping mechanism is tough. The temptation to use looms like a devil on your shoulder. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Thankfully there are prescription medications that help addicts and alcoholics stay sober during early recovery. Naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) is one of these types of medications. By blocking the effects of opioids and opiates, Naltrexone provides a protective layer between those with substance dependence issues and their substance of choice.

What exactly is Vivitrol and how does it help keep those with substance dependence problems clean and sober?

What is Vivitrol? Is It the Same Thing as Naltrexone?

Vivitrol is the brand name for a medication called Naltrexone. Medical professionals prescribe Vivitrol for opiate addiction and alcohol abuse. It is an opioid antagonist (also called an opioid blocker), meaning it attaches to the same opioid receptors that many other drugs do. The main difference between opioid antagonists and narcotics, though, is that opioid antagonists do not release dopamine once they attach to the opioid receptors.

By interacting with these receptors, the medication blocks the effects of any ingested opioids, such as pain relievers or heroin. Using Naltrexone to block the opioid receptors keeps the user from getting high. Additionally, using Naltrexone significantly diminishes the euphoric effects produced by alcohol. When you cannot get high or enjoyably drunk, you are less likely to seek out substances and relapse.

Effectiveness of Treating Addiction and Alcoholism with Opiate Blockers

How effective is Vivitrol in keeping addicts and alcoholics sober? Studies have shown the use of Naltrexone to significantly reduce the rates of relapse. Additionally, it is shown to prolong the amount of time without relapse compared to those who took a placebo.  Cravings for opioids and alcohol are also reduced when using the assistance of an opiate antagonist.

Since the effects of opioids are negated and the effects of alcohol are diminished, there is little pleasure in using either. Additionally, the dangers of combining drugs or alcohol with Naltrexone can keep addicts and alcoholics from trying to get drunk or high.

Combining Naltrexone and Behavioral Therapy

While it is effective in reducing relapse rates, naltrexone is less effective when used by itself. Combining the use of opioid blockers with behavioral therapy returns the best results. By participating in some type of therapy with a certified counselor, addicts and alcoholics learn more about what drives their addictive behaviors.

During therapy, you will dive into past traumas that often contribute to addictive behaviors. Meeting with a therapist provides the opportunity to process events you may have never worked through before. You will also learn how to handle situations that trigger your cravings, such as family gatherings or being in old stomping grounds.

Various Methods of Delivery for Vivitrol

Like other opioid antagonist medications, Vivitrol is available to take in pill form on a daily basis. However, one of the reasons this specific medication has such high success rates is due to its availability as a monthly injection. Rather than taking a pill every day, you can receive a shot of Naltrexone once a month at your doctor’s office.

Monthly Vivitrol shots prove to be an effective form of opioid replacement therapy. When taking a daily pill, it is absolutely necessary to remember to take it every single day. However, many people forget to take their medication which diminishes its success in blocking the effects of opioids and alcohol. By foregoing a daily pill in favor of a monthly shot, you avoid the complications that take place if you forget to take your medication.

How Long Does Naltrexone Treatment Last?

It is absolutely necessary that you be entirely detoxed from your substance of choice before beginning treatment with Naltrexone. The combination of drugs in your system can lead to complications and should be avoided at all costs. Since Naltrexone impacts the effects of opioids and alcohol, it can end up being dangerous to take too early in the recovery process.

Once you have detoxed, though, introducing Vivitrol into your treatment plan can be incredibly helpful. It can be used both on a short- and long-term basis. Naltrexone is effective for whatever length of time it is taken but effects diminish once the medication begins to exit your system. Certain researchers suggest the use of the opioid blocker for a minimum of six months in order to establish new habits.

However, you cannot look at addiction treatment with a “one size fits all” approach. Each person, along with their recovery, is different. Blanketing every addict and alcoholic with a single method to achieve sobriety does a disservice both to the individual and to their care team. Ultimately your doctor will make the final decision regarding the length of treatment.

Side Effects of Naltrexone

As with every medication, Naltrexone is not without its side effects. You may not experience every side effect on the list or you may not notice any side effects at all. Regardless, after starting Vivitrol you may notice some common side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pains or cramps in the stomach
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nervousness, irritability, or anger
  • Anxiety
  • Teary eyes
  • Increased or decreased energy
  • Difficulties with falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Drowsiness
  • Rash
  • Pain in muscles or joints
  • Slight discomfort at the injection site (for those who receive Vivitrol shots)

Additionally, there are some serious side effects of Naltrexone like:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction, such as a rash; hives; itchiness; difficulties with breathing; tightness in the chest; or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye problems
  • Coughing, wheezing, or breathing troubles
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea

Side effects that are causes for concern and require immediate medical attention include:

  • Pain in the upper right area of the stomach lasting longer than a few days
  • Jaundice (yellowing in pigmentation of the eyes or skin)
  • Excessive tiredness or fatigue
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored bowel movements

How Does It Differ from Suboxone and Other Types of Opiate Blockers?

You may have heard of other commonly-used opioid blockers such as Suboxone. What is the difference between Naltrexone and Suboxone, though? Both are used effectively to treat alcoholics and addicts in early recovery but there are significant distinctions between the two.

Suboxone is notorious for being nearly as addictive as the drugs it intends to keep people away from. Like Naltrexone, Suboxone acts on your brain’s opioid receptors. The main difference, though, is that it still allows for mild feelings of euphoria, similar to opioids or alcohol. Because of this, some take higher doses than prescribed in order to replicate an opiate high. There is a high chance of becoming not only dependent upon Suboxone but addicted to it.

On the other hand, Naltrexone does not provide the euphoric sensations offered by narcotics and some other opioid antagonist medications. There is little chance of becoming addicted to Vivitrol, especially when administered as a monthly shot. It produces no pleasurable effects; it merely blocks the function of opiates and alcohol.

What Happens If You Drink or Use While on Opiate Blockers?

You should never drink or use while on Naltrexone. They do not function like other drugs that amplify the effects of certain substances. On the contrary, they do quite the opposite. Since opiate blockers like Vivitrol negate the enjoyable effects of opiates and alcohol, there is a high chance of overdose.

People usually gauge the amount that is safe to use based on how they feel. If they feel good, they know they’ve had “enough” for the time being. Because Naltrexone blocks all effects, you might use too much without realizing you are past a safe point. If you have any intention of relapsing, be sure to stop taking your medication before doing so in order to avoid a potentially fatal situation.

Withdrawing from Naltrexone

Naltrexone is not a narcotic. Rather than providing a high, it blocks the effects of drugs that do. Since it produces no psychological or physical effects, it does not cause any withdrawal symptoms. The only effect of cutting Vivitrol out is that opiates and alcohol will once again act on your receptors in your brain. There will be no physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms, just the return of the effects of actual narcotic drugs.

How Long Does Vivitrol Stay in Your System?

The length of time Vivitrol stays in your system depends on the type of administration you choose. If you take it as a daily pill, the effects last around 24 hours until your next dose. This is why it is so important to remember to take your medication daily if your doctor prescribes the pill form of Naltrexone. If you are on a monthly shot, the medication remains active in your system throughout that entire month.

Remember to never drink or use drugs (especially opiates) while Vivitrol is still active in your system. The chance of complications is high and your risk of overdose skyrockets compared to someone on another type of medication.  

How Can You Get Your Doctor to Prescribe Naltrexone?

Finding a doctor to prescribe Vivitrol shots near you is easier than you think. Begin by speaking with your primary care physician about your concern regarding your substance abuse. They will either opt to work with you themselves or refer you to a specialized addiction treatment facility. If your doctor chooses to provide your care, they will assess your particular situation and prescribe as necessary.

If you attend addiction treatment outright, you may also receive Naltrexone as an option for long-term treatment. Programs like inpatient rehab or partial hospitalization programs often offer medication assisted treatment that incorporates opioid antagonists and opioid blockers like Vivitrol.

Addiction treatment will provide both your medication and the therapy sessions that help ensure its success. The goal of treatment is to ensure that you do not have to go through the early recovery process again; as long as you work closely with your providers, you too have a chance at staying sober.

Using Opioid Blockers for Long-Term Recovery

Ultimately, your need for Naltrexone will be determined by whichever medical professional oversees your care. After taking your history into consideration, they will decide which option is best for you and your recovery. Whatever they choose to do, remaining consistent with your treatment course is necessary for you to maintain your sobriety.

Prescription medications like Vivitrol can be the first step in your journey towards long-term recovery. It provides a safer alternative to addictive medications like Suboxone and gives you a better chance at staying sober.