Recovery Blog What Is Vivitrol?

What Is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is a medication that helps people recover from addiction by preventing opioid highs and overdoses. It can also stop someone from feeling the effects of alcohol.

Vivitrol is the brand name of the drug naltrexone. It is a prescription medication that is FDA-approved to prevent relapses in those who struggle with alcohol or opioids. Due to the spike in overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vivitrol is getting more attention from health care workers to help prevent overdose deaths.

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Vivitrol & the Ohio Opioid Epidemic

Overdose deaths in Ohio are now the third-leading cause of lost life-years in the state. As of 2019, this totaled 38.3 overdose deaths in the state per 100,000 people. Unfortunately, overdose deaths have only worsened during COVID-19. The spike in overdoses in Ohio during the pandemic has led some health leaders to call overdoses an “epidemic within a pandemic.” Health professionals are using all available tools to fight addiction and overdoses. One of these tools is the drug Vivitrol (naltrexone), which has even been used to help people suffering from substance use disorders within the state’s prison system.

How Does Vivitrol Work?

Vivitrol works by blocking the effects of opioids in the body. It is a mu-opioid receptor antagonist, meaning that it stops opioids from working on the opioid receptors. This prevents a person from getting high off opioids, and it also prevents opioid overdose. Vivitrol is also used to combat alcoholism as it can block a person from feeling the effects of alcohol. This makes them less likely to drink since they cannot feel buzzed or drunk. However, even though a person may not feel drunk, Vivitrol does not stop the effects of alcohol in the body. This means a person can still have a high blood alcohol level and should not drive after drinking even if they do not feel drunk. Vivitrol is most commonly given in an injectable form. A health care provider injects the medication, which lasts for a month in the body. Alternatively, an oral form for daily use is also available. However, experts do not recommend the oral form because many people have trouble sticking to treatment plans, making it less effective than the injectable form.

Vivitrol Side Effects

Like any drug, Vivitrol has some side effects. These include:
  • Injection site reactions, including tenderness, occurring in 65% of people
  • Nausea, experienced by 29% of people
  • Headache, affecting 21% of people
  • Dizziness, impacting 13% of people
  • Insomnia, occurring in 13% of people
  • Sore throat, impacting 13% of people
  • Decreased appetite, occurring in 11% of people
  • Abdominal pain, experienced by 11% of people
  • Anxiety, affecting 10% of people
Rarely, Vivitrol can cause severe side effects, like liver problems. You should seek medical attention if you have signs of acute hepatitis, including:
  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowish discoloration of eyes and/or skin
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light-colored stools
Mental health problems, including depression and suicidal thoughts, have also been reported in people taking Vivitrol. For this reason, people with preexisting mental health problems should have close follow-ups with their doctor, and should seek help if they notice any worsening in their mental health.

Who Should Use Vivitrol?

Vivitrol can be taken by adults aged 18 years or older who want to prevent a relapse into alcohol or opioid use. A person should be completely abstinent from alcohol and opioids before starting the medication. Because some opioids are long-acting, a person should be opioid-free for seven to ten days before starting Vivitrol, as taking it earlier than that can cause withdrawal symptoms. Because there is limited data on Vivitrol use in pregnancy and breastfeeding, you should discuss the risks and benefits of Vivitrol with your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to be pregnant. Vivitrol should be avoided in those who are currently taking or physically dependent on opioids, as well as those who are in acute opioid withdrawal. Those who are allergic to ingredients in the injection, like naltrexone, PLG, or carboxymethylcellulose, should also avoid the drug.

Vivitrol vs. Suboxone

Vivitrol and Suboxone are different medications that can be used to help prevent opioid relapse. Although the drugs are similar in their goal, they have many important differences. One important difference is that people are more likely to adhere more closely to Suboxone therapy than Vivitrol.
Vivitrol Suboxone
Active ingredients Naltrexone Buprenorphine and naloxone
Controlled substance No Yes, Schedule III controlled substance due to the buprenorphine component
Drug class Opioid antagonist Buprenorphine is an opioid, while naloxone is an opioid antagonist.
Mechanism of action Blocks mu opioid receptors Buprenorphine is an opioid that is unlikely to produce a high.Naloxone blocks mu opioid receptors when injected but has no effect when taken by mouth.
Conditions for which it is FDA approved Opioid dependence and alcohol dependence Opioid dependence
How it is administered Injectable Orally
How often it is administered Monthly Daily
Can be used during acute withdrawal period No Yes
How long to wait after withdrawal before taking the medication 7–10 days Not applicable; can be used during withdrawal and detox

If you or a loved one struggle with opioid dependence in Ohio, help is here. Our opioid experts at The Recovery Village Columbus can help you decide if Vivitrol is right for you. If you are currently struggling to stop opioid use, our detox and rehab center can help set you on the road to recovery and a new, opioid-free life. Don’t wait; call today.

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.