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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 walking 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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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 Problem of Trying to Get Sober

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Alcohol 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.

Using alcohol over the long term interferes with the brain’s natural production of dopamine and serotonin.3

Even though alcohol may provide a euphoric lift, for long-term alcoholics the brain simply isn’t functioning the way it should.  Alcohol will continue to affect the central nervous system and interfere with judgment and inhibition control. This means that alcoholics are more likely to feel depressed and physically ill after heavy drinking. Even when drinking no longer feels good physically, the body still  demands the substance, since it needs it to keep functioning.3

Impacts of Using

Naltrexone is the generic name for Vivitrol® which is a medication that helps people with addictions. As an antagonist, or blocking medication, this treatment helps block opioid molecules from attaching to opioid receptors. Vivitrol® blocks opioid receptors in the brain for a month at a time, helping people prevent relapse. It can be administered in a variety of forms, including orally, as an injection, as a skin patch, or as an implant.1

 Currently both the oral and injection versions are approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA.2

Vivitrol® is most effective for alcoholics who are strongly motivated to quit drinking. It works therapeutically by helping a person deal with alcohol cravings. In blocking the chemical responses that make alcohol rewarding, the brain begins to rewire itself not to seek pleasure from alcohol. Using Vivitrol® helps lower the risk of having a relapse by making it easier to avoid drinking.

Most people who use this medication find that it’s a helpful addition to a comprehensive recovery program that includes both counseling and group therapy.

As part of comprehensive treatment,  medication can help an addict overcome the powerful urge to relapse. This medication remains in the body for weeks, so it’s consistently effective.

As with all medications, there are certain side effects that can occur when taking Vivitrol®. These include nausea and vomiting, along with headaches, dizziness, and sleep disturbances. Sometimes, people experience cold-like symptoms including muscle cramps and painful joints.

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Though rare, there are instances of serious side effects for people who use this medication. These can include some of the following:

  • 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®.

How Alcohol Affects the Nation’s Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that excessive alcohol use is one of the leading lifestyle-related causes of death in the United States.4

Alcohol accounts for approximately 88,000 deaths in the United States each year from 2006–2010.4

During this same time period, alcohol caused 1 in 10 deaths among 20-64-year-old adults.4

For each alcohol-related death in the U.S., approximately 30 years of life are lost.4

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Dietary guidelines for the U.S. suggest that alcohol should be used in moderation.5 Moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.5

The more a person becomes physically dependent on alcohol, the greater the risk of significant health issues.

Over time, prolonged alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, significant liver damage, inflammation of the stomach and GI tract, and an increased risk of premature death.

Is Vivitrol All You Need?

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Taking 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 must 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.

Sources

  1. Alkermes, Inc. (2019). Vivitrol.
  2.  Food and Drug Administration. (2013). Vivitrol®: Medication Guide.
  3. University of Maryland Medical Center. (n.d.). Addiction Treatment.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Facts Sheets-Alcohol Use and Your Health.
  5. United States Department of Agriculture. (2008). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.