What Is Vivitrol?

Once you’ve decided to live a life free from drugs and alcohol, you may want to consider asking a clinical professional about medication-assisted treatment as a part of your recovery. These medications can’t get you clean on their own but may help to reduce cravings, lessen the adverse side effects of withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse.


One increasingly popular type of MAT is Vivitrol, an opioid antagonist that can help you get over the cravings and urges associated with the early stages of sobriety.


Vivitrol is an extended-release form of the opioid antagonist Naltrexone, and the first and only non-narcotic, non-addictive medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid dependence. Vivitrol works by binding to opioid receptors and blocks them from being activated by opioid use. In other words, Vivitrol prevents users from getting high.


Vivitrol is non-addictive and cannot lead to physical dependence, which differentiates this drug from other MAT options such as Suboxone or Methadone. Vivitrol injections can block opioid receptors in the brain for up to one month at a time, giving patients the time they need to focus entirely on the recovery process and avoid relapse.


At Landmark, we encourage opioid users to take Vivitrol post-discharge, as we believe Vivitrol significantly reduces the chance of relapse. While Suboxone and Methadone can merely replace one addiction with another, the non-addictive nature of Vivitrol allows the patient to live a life that is truly substance-free. At Landmark, we set patients up for their first Vivitrol appointment and ensure follow-ups during our regularly scheduled Alumni calls.


How Does Vivitrol Work?

Vivitrol, like all forms of naltrexone, works by blocking the opioid receptors within the brain. The medicine binds to these receptors like glue and remains on them, ensuring that no high is attainable from taking another opioid.


An image describing what is vivitrol


In contrast to other medications such as Methadone and Buprenorphine, Vivitrol produces no euphoria or high from using. The drug is administered in only one dose, 380 mg, and must be administered by a clinical professional. The shot is taken once a month, and acts on extended-release over that period, continually delivering medication.


Before taking the drug, the patient must be opioid-free for a minimum of 7-10 days, which is why Vivitrol is normally administered after the detoxification process. The concentrations slowly decline over the course of the month until another shot is needed to continue blocking the opioid receptors.


Unlike Methadone, Vivitrol is not a controlled substance, meaning it can’t be abused and there is no black market for it. It wasn’t until researchers created an injectable, long-acting version that clinical studies showed the drug’s promise in treating opioid dependence.


However, this drug can be dangerous if patients still attempt to get high on opioids or consume alcohol, as it can lead to overindulgence in order to try and attain a high, which could result in an overdose.

Side Effects of Taking Vivitrol

While Vivitrol produces no high and is not habit-forming, there are some serious side effects to be aware of. The most serious side effects include:


Risk of Opioid Overdose

You can accidentally overdose in two ways:


  1. Vivitrol blocks the effects of opioids. Patients may try to overcome this blocking effect by taking increased amounts of opioids. This can lead to serious injury, coma, or death.


  1. After you receive a dose of Vivitrol, the blocking effects will slowly decrease and eventually go away completely over time. If individuals have used opioid street drugs or opioid-containing medicines in the past, they may be more susceptible to overdose if they attempt to take the same amount they took before.

Severe Reactions at the Injection Site

Some individuals on Vivitrol have experienced severe injection site reactions. Call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any of the following at any of your injection sites:


  • Acute pain
  • Hardening of the area
  • Large swelling
  • Lumps and blisters
  • Open wound
  • Darkening scabs


Sudden Opioid Withdrawal

Sudden opioid withdrawal can occur when quitting any type of opioid. With Vivitrol, patients must stop taking opioids for at least 7 to 14 days before starting Vivitrol. Starting Vivitrol immediately after using opioids can induce severe withdrawal symptoms and if the withdrawal symptoms are severe enough it may require hospitalization. As such, it is recommended that individuals go through detox before beginning Vivitrol treatment.


Liver Damage or Hepatitis

Naltrexone, the active ingredient in Vivitrol, can cause liver damage or hepatitis. Your healthcare provider may need to stop treating you with VIVITROL if you get signs or symptoms of a serious liver problem. The use of Vivitrol should be discontinued if there are signs or symptoms of acute hepatitis such as yellowing of the whites in the eyes or stomach area pain.


Other Side Effects

There are a number of other side effects that are caused by using Vivitrol. One such side effect is a depressed mood. This change in emotion can lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Telling your family members or loved ones that you are using the medication can help prevent suicidal thoughts from being acted upon. Some people who have received Vivitrol have had some type of pneumonia that is caused by an allergic reaction to the medication. If this happens, it may require hospitalization. Other common side effects include:


  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Painful joints
  • Muscle cramps


Is Vivitrol Effective?

In a six-month double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Vivitrol was proven to be effective in helping to prevent relapse to opioid dependence after detox. The study found that patients of the patients who were given Vivitrol, 90 percent had been opioid-free, compared to 35 percent who were receiving the placebo. Vivitrol users were reported to have a 55 percent decrease in opioid cravings from the baseline compared to 3 percent for patients who were given the placebo. Overall, patients who were injected with Vivitrol were 17 times less likely to relapse to physical dependence compared to those who received the placebo.


A similar study was done to test the effectiveness of the drug when treating alcoholism. The study saw similar results. Patients given Vivitrol demonstrated a 25 percent greater reduction in days spent heavy drinking than those treated with the placebo. Also, patients using Vivitrol spent fewer days drinking and saw more success maintaining continuous abstinence.


Is Vivitrol Right For You?

As with any recovery treatment medication, many scientists and psychiatrists caution against labeling Vivitrol as a magic bullet or overstating its efficacy. It’s not the sole factor that can decide the outcome of treatment. However, taking the shot monthly can be extremely helpful for those facing daily cravings for opioids or alcohol.


Vivitrol vs. Suboxone

The most extensive study comparing the efficacy of both Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) and Vivitrol was conducted from 2014 to 2017 at eight inpatient treatment facilities across the country. 570 opioid-addicted patients were administered either drug, and their progress was tracked. The results showed that both drugs were promising for long-term treatment, with about half of each population reaching and maintaining sobriety for the three years.


Vivitrol (Naltrexone) vs. Narcan (Naloxone)

Naltrexone and Naloxone are both used for the treatment of substance abuse. Both of these medications are opioid antagonists that prevent the user from achieving a high. The only difference lies in the time frame they work. Naloxone, brand name Narcan, is used for short-term relief, generally to help reverse the effects of an overdose. Naltrexone, brand name Vivitrol, is a longer-term opioid antagonist that usually takes a couple of hours to kick in, it is used for patients looking to achieve sobriety.


Who Should Not Take Vivitrol?

Despite its effectiveness, there are some people who should not be using Vivitrol. For example, people who are using and have a physical dependence on opioids or are having withdrawal symptoms should avoid using the medication until they have been through the detoxification process. Similarly, you should discuss the use of Vivitrol with your health care provider if you have liver or kidney problems and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding as the side effects of the drug may be harmful to a child.


How Can I Get More Information?

Call our confidential admissions line at 888-448-0302. We can often arrange for you to begin treatment within a few days.