Vivitrol is a brand name for the drug naltrexone. It was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcohol addiction. Since then, it has also been approved for treating opioid addictions.
It can be used to help people maintain abstinence during their recovery from alcohol or opioid addiction. It reduces cravings and can increase the likelihood that a person can successfully quit these substances.
How Vivitrol works
Vivitrol is a non-addictive opioid antagonist. In other words, it blocks the effects of opioids like heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. It also blocks the effects of alcohol on the brain.
People need to completely detoxify opioids for 7 to 10 days before starting Vivitrol. Otherwise, the drug could cause serious withdrawal symptoms.
How Vivitrol is given
Vivitrol is given as a once-a-month syringe, which makes it an attractive option for people who don’t want to use Suboxone or methadone. Both are highly regulated and may require someone to visit a clinic on a daily basis.
Like all forms of naltrexone, Vivitrol works by stopping the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids. If a person who takes any form of naltrexone relapses, they cannot become high or intoxicated because the drug does not bind to the opioid receptors in their brain.
It can also work well for reducing alcohol cravings. Unlike treatments like disulfiram, which discourage further drinking by making people in recovery sick from consuming alcohol, Vivitrol discourages people from wanting to drink in the first place.
Vivitrol can help people who are working to fight their addiction to alcohol or opioids as it reduces cravings. It also does not cause feelings of euphoria, so there is no associated intoxication or liability for abuse.
If a person taking Vivitrol drinks alcohol or uses an opioid, they will not become intoxicated or high. This makes alcohol and drugs less tempting, so over time the brain stops craving them.
How Vivitrol is different
The fact that Vivitrol can be given via a monthly injection makes it an attractive option for anyone who is likely to miss doses of their medication. (There are other forms of naltrexone that are taken in pill form but must be taken every day.)
Studies consistently show that suboxone and methadone are effective treatments for opioid addiction, but also require daily doses.
One potential downside to Vivitrol is that people need to be detoxified before starting treatment. People who start using Suboxone and methadone can still get treatment if they’ve still done so, which could prevent painful withdrawal symptoms...
In a six-month double-blind study, people treated with Vivitrol and psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder had a 25% greater reduction in the number of heavy drinking days.
The study concluded that people treated for an alcohol use disorder spent more time abstaining and had fewer relapses when treated with both Vivitrol and psychotherapy...
In another study that looked at Vivitrol’s effectiveness in treating alcohol and opioid addiction, researchers found that some patients relapsed after they stopped taking Vivitrol. The vast majority, however, remained abstinent.
Most patients also reported that their need and urges never returned to their original levels. Many reported that their urges remained below the clinically significant threshold. In addition, salivary drug tests were more likely to be negative as further evidence that the patients were able to maintain their sobriety...
Another study looked at Vivitrol’s effectiveness in prison inmates who were released back into the community. Twenty-seven inmates with opioid disorder in the previous year were recruited to receive a monthly injection.
The results showed that those who completed at least six months or more of treatment were less likely to test positive for opioids compared to other inmates who were released without treatment. People who stopped treatment were more likely to be arrested again than people who received monthly injections for six months.
The study’s authors said Vivitrol was effective in lowering relapse rates when discharging inmates and therefore reducing the likelihood of those people going back to prison...
While some people have touted Vivitrol as a helpful cure for substance abuse, others have raised concerns that it’s not as useful as the drug company would like people to believe...
The pharmaceutical company has been accused of falsely introducing Vivitrol as a cure for the opioid crisis. And some have said the FDA approved it too quickly.
A major concern is the potential risks associated with opioid addiction if someone stops using Vivitrol. After a long time without opioids, someone with drug problems will have low tolerance. This increases the risk of overdose in the event of a relapse.
Another major concern is the possibility of people trying to overcome the blocking effects of Vivitrol by taking even larger amounts of opioids than before. In these cases, overdose can result in serious injury, coma, or death.
The company was also accused of misleading advertising. For example, they ran ads on the New York subway that said, “Vivitrol is the first and only non-addictive once-monthly treatment for opioid addiction.” This implies that methadone and suboxone are addicting treatments.
There is sometimes a stigma against methadone and suboxone. And some people in the treatment industry feel that Vivitrol is trying to imply that people using either Methadone or Suboxone are not yet “drug-free”, but that they will be when they use Vivitrol.
While some argue that replacing opioids with suboxone or methadone exchanges one addiction for another, others suggest that taking regular medication every day is not an addiction as it does not involve “compulsive drug use despite harm.”
Alkermes, the company that makes Vivitrol, has also been accused of aggressively lobbying lawmakers and law enforcement officials. You have donated large sums of money to political campaigns by federal lawmakers and local law enforcement officers who advocate Vivitrol and criticize methadone and suboxone.
A word from Verywell
If you have a problem with opioids or alcohol, speak to your doctor about whether Vivitrol might be right for you. While there is some controversy over how it is marketed, it could help reduce your cravings and curb your substance use.