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Doctor prescribing Vivitrol to their patient for drug addiction Los Angeles.

Vivitrol is a medication that is sometimes prescribed to individuals suffering from opioid use disorder. Rehab programs for addiction employ physicians who can prescribe it when necessary and supervise a Vivitrol treatment program. 

This medication can be used to help clients remain abstinent from recreational opioids. In most cases, it is most effective when used in the context of a medication-assisted treatment plan.

Vivitrol via Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is an evidence-based treatment modality that can help individuals recover from substance use disorders. While the term “medication” may lead one to believe that medication-assisted treatment involves medication alone, the keyword is in fact “assisted.” 

Medication-assisted treatment is a modality that combines medicine and behavioral therapy. Physicians prescribe medications to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with addiction. This allows clients to immerse themselves more fully in a variety of behavioral therapies, ensuring that they have a chance to gain essential coping skills.

What is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is a brand name for the drug naltrexone. Naltrexone, whether in the form of Vivitrol or another formulation, can be prescribed to individuals suffering from both alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder. The medication is available in the form of an oral tablet, though it can also be administered via an intramuscular solution, generally once a month.

Vivitrol should not be taken by individuals who are currently physically dependent on opioids. Physicians can prescribe it after a client has fully withdrawn from opioids. This generally means maintaining abstinence for 7 days at a minimum before starting a Vivitrol treatment program. Taking it too early can cause a person to experience more several withdrawal symptoms than they otherwise would.

Naltrexone, or Vivitrol, works by preventing the brain from producing euphoria when a person takes opioids. It may come as a surprise to hear that naltrexone, despite being used in the treatment of opioid addiction, is in fact an opioid. Unlike recreational opioids, however, naltrexone cannot produce a high. Instead, it binds to the same receptor sites in the brain that recreational drugs activate — and it blocks them.

What happens when a person taking Vivitrol relapses? When a person who is taking it also takes a recreational opioid, such as heroin, they will not experience a high. This makes relapse considerably less appealing to individuals who are trying to recover from addiction. It also reduces the dangers of relapse, since it is far more difficult to overdose while taking it.

Side Effects of Vivitrol

Naltrexone is generally a well-tolerated and safe drug. However, it is nonetheless a potent opiate medication that needs to be taken seriously. Side effects can occur when taking Vivitrol, including:

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Sleep problems or exhaustion
  • Joint pain or muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Decreased appetite

When taken in the form of an injection, allergic reactions can also occur. These can range from liver toxicity to eosinophilic pneumonia. Nonetheless, the risk of these allergic reactions is quite low. For most people, the Vivitrol treatment program is side effect-free, and the benefits of taking it far outweigh the risks.

Vivitrol for Alcohol Use Disorder

Vivitrol was initially prescribed to treat the symptoms of alcohol use disorder. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 2006 for this purpose specifically. When a person takes naltrexone, their cravings for alcohol are significantly minimized. 

There are a number of other medications on the market that also work to reduce alcohol cravings, but they work a bit differently. 

Disulfiram, for instance, disincentivizes alcohol consumption by causing painful symptoms when a person drinks. Naltrexone, on the other hand, simply causes people to crave alcohol less. It does not make people sick when they drink.

Vivitrol is widely recognized as one of the most evidence-based methods for alcohol abuse treatment. When combined with behavioral therapy, Vivitrol is associated with a 25% reduction in heavy drinking days among rehab graduates. Individuals who engage in MAT with Vivitrol have higher rates of abstinence and a significantly reduced likelihood of relapsing.

Researchers do not fully understand Vivitrol’s mechanism of action. They surmise, however, that naltrexone works by blocking endorphins. When people drink alcohol, their brains normally release large quantities of endorphins and dopamine, neurotransmitters that not only cause euphoria but that also reinforce addictive behaviors. 

Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist, which means that one of its effects is blocking endorphins. This means that individuals who relapse may experience a few of the effects of alcohol, but they will not enjoy it to the same extent. Over time, they will find themselves increasingly disinclined to abuse alcohol.

Vivitrol for Opioid Use Disorder

Vivitrol has been used off-label for treating opioid dependence for many years, but it was only officially approved for opioid use disorder treatment by the FDA in 2010. The FDA took notice after studies repeatedly showed that taking it was associated with higher rehab retention rates. 

When people take Vivitrol, they are less likely to drop out of rehab (because they are less likely to relapse). This means that they can stay long enough in rehab to develop the skills and coping tools necessary for more long-term sobriety.

While Vivitrol is effective at reducing the likelihood of relapse, it is not a drug that can assist with opioid withdrawal. In fact, individuals can only take it after they have completed the detox process fully. 

Taking Vivitrol while opioids are still present in the body can send a person into immediate opioid withdrawal. It can also interfere with other opioid-based MAT medications, such as buprenorphine.

There is no doubt that Vivitrol is an effective medication for alcohol addiction treatment. By binding to opioid receptors, it blocks many of the endorphins that drinking alcohol normally releases. However, it is far more effective at blocking the effects of recreational opioids. 

This means it is even more useful for opioid addiction treatment. In fact, one study showed that individuals taking Vivitrol remain 90% drug-free, compared to 35% of people taking placebo medication. Taking Vivitrol or non-brand naltrexone makes a person 17 times more likely to remain sober than those who do not make use of the medication.

Other Uses for Vivitrol

Preliminary research has indicated that naltrexone when combined with oral bupropion may also help treat methamphetamine addiction. Again, even though naltrexone primarily targets opioid receptors, many substances aside from opioids cause these receptors to release endorphins. 

Just as naltrexone can help inhibit the effects of alcohol, so too can it reduce the effects of methamphetamine and other stimulants. The study showed that taking naltrexone alongside behavioral therapy, a treatment modality known as medication-assisted treatment, is the most effective approach to addiction recovery.

Vivitrol Treatment Program at NuView Treatment Center

NuView Treatment Center is an outpatient rehab located in West Los Angeles. Our treatment programs help individuals who are suffering from drug and alcohol disorders as well as co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Our modern facility employs on-site physicians, psychiatrists, and masters-level clinicians who provide a broad array of evidence-based treatment modalities, including medication-assisted treatment with it.

We believe that a whole-person approach to treatment is essential. Our clinicians never take a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment. Rather, our staff members develop individualized treatment plans for each client. That way, we can guarantee that everyone who walks in our doors gets their needs met. 

No matter what your background is or how severe your condition is, you deserve compassionate treatment that addresses your unique underlying issues.

Our levels of care include:

  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
  • Outpatient programs (OPs)
  • Aftercare planning

If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction, help is available. Reach out to NuView Treatment Center today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

We are here for you.

You are not alone.

Realizing you need help with your addiction can feel overwhelming, but that’s why you have us here to support you every step of the way. We are here every day and committed to your recovery. We’re in this together.

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