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Naltrexone and Vivitrol

“One drink is too many, and a thousand is not enough,” goes the classic adage from Alcoholics Anonymous.

Anyone who struggles with alcoholism must face this reality when turning down an alcoholic beverage at a party or walk by a bar or liquor store.

If you’ve come to accept the fact that you can’t have even a single drink without risking your hard-won sobriety, you may be ready to use naltrexone as part of your recovery program.

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Naltrexone is a prescription medication that helps alcoholics get through recovery by helping them fight the cravings that lead to relapse. Naltrexone can be taken in several forms: as an oral tablet, as a monthly injection, as a transdermal patch or as an implant. So far, only the oral (ReVia) and injectable versions (Vivitrol) of naltrexone have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).1

Using Vivitrol to Get Sober

Vivitrol – the brand name of the injectable form of naltrexone – can be taken as a shot once a month to help you reach your goal of maintaining a healthy, sober life. The injection must be given by a nurse or doctor, and you must take Vivitrol as part of a comprehensive, medically supervised addiction treatment program.

The Problem of Trying to Get Sober

Getting sober isn’t easy. For individuals recovering from alcoholism, giving up alcohol is the hardest thing that they may ever do.

Alcohol and Brain Chemistry

luxury-shutter109083881-brain-scansAlcohol affects brain chemistry by stimulating the release of chemical messengers that produce feelings of pleasure and well-being. These chemical messengers, known as neurotransmitters, include dopamine, serotonin and opioid peptides.

As the University of Maryland Medical Center points out, the long-term use of alcohol can eventually interfere with your brain’s natural production of dopamine and serotonin.2 Although you might think that alcohol will give you that old euphoric lift, your brain will stop responding to its pleasurable effects.

However, alcohol will continue to affect your nervous system, interfere with your judgment and leave you feeling depressed and physically sick after drinking heavily. Even after alcohol no longer makes you feel good, your body’s dependence on this chemical substance can drive you to keep drinking.

Vivitrol as a Possible Solution

Where does Vivitrol come in? Vivitrol is not used to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and it is not a magic bullet that will cure alcohol dependence. When taken regularly according to a doctor’s instructions, Vivitrol has the potential to:

  • Help you deal with alcohol cravings by blocking the chemical responses that make alcohol rewarding.
  • Lower your risk of having a relapse by making it easier to avoid drinking.
  • Give you the physical support you need to complete a comprehensive recovery program that includes counseling or group therapy.

Vivitrol is most effective for alcoholics who are strongly motivated to quit drinking. This medication isn’t a replacement for behavioral modification or therapy – it’s a support mechanism that can help you stay focused on recovery instead of white-knuckling it through sobriety.

How Alcohol Affects the Nation’s Health

How harmful is alcohol abuse? According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use is one of the leading lifestyle-related causes of death in the United States3:

  • Alcohol accounts for approximately 88,000 deaths in the United States each year from 2006–2010.
  • During this same time period, alcohol caused 1 in 10 deaths among 20-64-year-old adults.
  • For each alcohol-related death in the U.S., approximately 30 years of life are lost.

Pros of Using Vivitrol

luxury-shutter158366573-doctor-consultationIf you’re thinking about using Vivitrol as part of your addiction treatment program, talk with your doctor or counselor about whether this medication is right for you. Naltrexone is also available as ReVia, an oral medication. However, naltrexone’s injectable form – Vivitrol – has several important advantages that make it more effective than naltrexone’s oral form:

  • It’s easier to stick with your treatment plan. Lack of compliance with an oral medication regimen is one of the most common reasons that naltrexone fails. The Vivitrol injection remains effective for several weeks, so you don’t have to remember to take pills or motivate yourself to keep taking them.
  • The effects of the injectable form may be more consistent. If the level of naltrexone in your bloodstream fluctuates, you’ll be more likely to experience cravings. Blood levels of naltrexone tend to remain more stable when the drug is taken through an injection.
  • A monthly shot may be more convenient if you’re working or attending an intensive rehabilitation program. Many patients find that it’s easier to work the medication into their schedule if they can take a monthly shot.

Cons of Taking Vivitrol

As with any other prescription medication, there are drawbacks to using Vivitrol.

Precautions to Know About Taking Vivitrol

Before taking Vivitrol, it’s important to note the drug’s precautions:

  • Liver damage can occur if you take more than the recommended dose of the medication.
  • Vivitrol is not recommended if you take opioid painkillers with a doctor’s prescription, if you use opiate street drugs or if you are a women who is pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you drink alcohol and have kidney disease, bleeding disorders or a history of liver damage, you may need to have your dose adjusted.
  • If you are allergic to naltrexone or any of the ingredients in Vivitrol, you should not take the drug.

Side Effects of Vivitrol

Not everyone who takes Vivitrol will experience side effects, but below are some common and serious side effects you may experience from taking Vivitrol1:

Common side of Vivitrol may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dizziness, headaches.
  • Sleepiness, difficulty sleeping.
  • Cold symptoms: painful joints, muscle cramps, toothaches.

Serious side effects of Vivitrol may include:

  • Allergic reactions: facial swelling, difficulty breathing, chest pain, skin rash.
  • Pneumonia: coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Depression: having difficulty paying attention, having thoughts about ending your life and feeling constantly sleepy, hopeless, irritable or sad.

Side effects such as fatigue, yellow discoloration of the skin, dark urine or abdominal pain may be signs of liver damage and should be reported to your doctor immediately. Your doctor may recommend that you wear a medical ID bracelet to let paramedics, nurses and doctors know that you’re on Vivitrol.

In order to use Vivitrol safely and effectively, you must be open with your doctor about any other drugs or medicines you’re taking. Let your doctor know if you experience any unusual side effects when you’re taking any form of naltrexone.

Other Disadvantages of Using Vivitrol

  • The injection may cause severe skin reactions. Some people have experienced serious reactions after getting a Vivitrol injection, such as pain, redness, swelling, blisters, wounds, lumps and tissue death.1
  • Vivitrol can be more expensive than oral medication. In the early stages of recovery, many alcoholics are faced with financial difficulties as a result of their drinking. If you don’t have some form of health coverage or you can’t get financial assistance, the cost of Vivitrol may be an obstacle.
  • You have to make your monthly injection a top priority. For some people, taking a pill may be more convenient and easier to remember than a monthly shot. If you don’t take the injection as scheduled, Vivitrol won’t be effective.
  • Vivitrol can make you more sensitive to the effects of opiates, increasing the risk of fatal opioid overdose. The FDA warns that after you stop taking Vivitrol or if you miss an injection, you may be at risk of a life-threatening overdose if you take opioid drugs. If you’ve used opiates in the past for medical or non-medical reasons, you may have a much lower tolerance for these drugs after taking Vivitrol. Additionally, since Vivitrol blocks the pleasurable effects of opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers, those abusing those substances may attempt to take extremely large doses to overcome this effect – also serving to increase the risk of opioid overdose.
  • Taking Vivitrol may decrease the effectiveness of some therapeutic medications. Vivitrol can make you less sensitive to the effects of certain cough medications or anti-diarrheal medicines. Because you may be less responsive to the effects of these drugs while you’re on Vivitrol, it’s crucial to either avoid taking them or only take them with your doctor’s supervision.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

In its dietary guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises that people who consume alcohol should drink in moderation.4 Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. But someone who’s physically dependent on alcohol will often drink much more than that, in spite of these serious health hazards, including:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased exposure to injury and violence.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Inflammation of the stomach and other digestive tract issues.
  • Cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
  • Increased risk of premature death.

Is Vivitrol All You Need?

luxury-shutter134843918-man-in-counseling-sessionTaking Vivitrol may make it easier to achieve a life of sobriety, but you need a lot more than medication to achieve long-lasting recovery. Most alcoholics have to change their thought patterns, health habits, behaviors and attitudes in order to lead satisfying lives after they’ve stopped drinking.

In addition to Vivitrol, you may need an intensive rehabilitation program, individual therapy, nutritional counseling and participation in a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous. AA provides free recovery support to people who have a desire to stop drinking, and meetings are available throughout the world.

Rehabilitation Treatment Center Types

Regardless of the type of rehab facility you choose, all three facility types will walk you through a stage of detox – followed by a combination of individual, group or family counseling. A few different types of addiction rehabilitation centers are available to choose from:

  1. Luxury rehab centers offer residential addiction treatment alongside a wide range of extra, resort-like amenities to help make your recovery process more comfortable.
  2. Executive rehab centers also offer residential addiction treatment with many high-end luxuries – but these centers also cater to busy professionals by allowing them to maintain an active presence in their workplace during recovery.
  3. Those seeking more traditional rehab offerings may seek the help of either inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment programs. While these standard recovery programs do not also offer the plush amenities offered in luxury programs, they’re available with a relatively lower price tag – making addiction treatment more affordable for those who need it.

Find Help for Your Alcohol Addiction

Naltrexone isn’t all you need to stay sober, but this medication may be a valuable addition to your recovery toolkit. Let us help answer any questions you may have about incorporating Vivitrol or ReVia into your recovery plan. We can also help you find a rehab facility that offers this medication as a part of its treatment plan. Call 1-888-744-0789 to speak with one of our recovery advisors.

Sources

  1. Vivitrol: medication guide. FDA.
  2. Alcoholism. University of Maryland Medical Center.
  3. Fact sheets – alcohol use and your health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005. USDA.