Vivitrol – miracle for alcoholism?
Vivitrol is an extended-release formulation of naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist used in the treatment of alcoholism and opioid addiction.
While naltrexone hydrochloride is for both daily and once-a-month dosages, Vivitrol is the once-a-month form of the medication.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Vivitrol for the treatment of alcohol abuse in 2006.
“I took my 1st Vivitrol shot around the beginning of September and the seventh shot in March. I can honestly tell you that I have not had any cravings for alcohol since the very 1st shot. I can personally tell you that I have not had any side effects. Some people may have but I have not. It has worked for me in conjunction with meetings and outpatient therapy. Vivitrol saved my life.” – Christine B.
How Does Vivitrol Work?
Vivitrol works by blocking the effect that opioids have on the brain, and reduces the cravings that many people experience after they quit.
Physicians prescribe Vivitrol for patients who have already stopped drinking and using opioid drugs (such as morphine, heroin, and prescription pain medications) and who have gone through a detoxification process.
With alcohol, it is not certain how Vivitrol actually works, but it seems to change how the brain responds to alcohol consumption.
Vivitrol Is a Monthly Injection
You administer Vivitrol by intramuscular injection once a month. One of the main problems with the daily dosages of naltrexone was medication compliance; patients had to remember and be willing to take the pills each day. With the once-a-month shot, medication compliance is less of a factor in the treatment plan.
“I am looking forward to my fifth injection. The obsession of taking a drink has been diminished significantly. I am motivated and happy. I attend 12 step meetings and do everything suggested from the fellowship however, this medication has taken me to the next level in my sobriety. It is merely a band aid to my disease and support is still extremely important. I recommend this medication to any chronic alcoholic who has a problem staying sober.” – Ronald W.
Is Vivitrol Right for You?
Patients already completely detoxed from alcohol and opioids are candidates for Vivitrol.
It is not intended to help someone stop drinking.
According to the FDA, patients “must not have any opioids in their system when they start taking Vivitrol; otherwise, they may experience withdrawal symptoms from the opioids. Also, patients may be more sensitive to opioids while taking Vivitrol at the time their next scheduled dose is due.
If they miss a dose or after treatment with Vivitrol has ended, patients can accidentally overdose if they restart opioid use.”
The safety information provided with the medication also warns patients with acute hepatitis or liver failure should not take it.
Vivitrol vs. Other Medications
Vivitrol is the first non-narcotic, non-addictive, extended release medication approved for the treatment of opioid dependence.
Methadone and buprenorphine, also approved for opioid addiction treatment, can be addictive. Methadone is available only through specialized clinics. Buprenorphine is available through doctors’ offices, but it and methadone require daily doses.
“The side effects for me are too much. I am losing a lot of hair meaning it is coming off in clumps. It has worked on cravings and I like the “safety net” of taking the injection as it prevents me from making an impulsive bad decision. I wish I could continue taking these injections but the side effects I have are not good.” – Jay A. H.
How Effective Is Vivitrol?
Vivitrol works best in conjunction with an overall treatment program. Research shows it is more effective than medications requiring a daily dose and double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials show Vivitrol effectively prevents relapse and reduces drug cravings.
FDA trials found Vivitrol patients are more likely to stay in treatment and to refrain from using illicit drugs and 36 percent were able to stay in treatment for the full six months without using drugs, compared with 23 percent in the placebo group.
“So far on my first shot I noticed a reduction in craving or thinking about alcohol. After the second and third injections the cravings went away completely. Once you have received the injection there is no sense in trying to get away with a drink as I felt nothing at all. Including no buzz or good feelings from the drink. No side effects for me. I’m happy I took the shot and will be getting my tenth in a few weeks.” – Erica G.
The Side Effects of Vivitrol
According to the FDA, side effects of Vivitrol during trial studies include:
- nausea and vomiting
- painful joints
- muscle cramps
Other potential serious side effects of Vivitrol include:
- reactions at the injection site, which can be severe and may require surgical intervention
- liver damage
- allergic reactions, such as hives, rashes, facial swelling
- feeling depressed
- suicide, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behavior
Alkermes, the drug’s manufacturer, claims the main side effects are:
- inflammation of nasal passages
- increased liver enzymes