Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Jan. 182024

For decades, Naltrexone has been one of the most effective medication-assisted treatments for alcohol and opioid dependence. Naltrexone can provide the strength and support patients need to maintain their sobriety and lead a healthier, happier life.

At Waterstone Counseling Center, Naltrexone is one of several medication-assistant treatments we provide as part of a comprehensive treatment program that combines personalized therapy and counseling to create a pathway toward success and sobriety.  

What is Naltrexone?

For decades, Naltrexone has been used to safely and effectively treat drug and alcohol addiction. Naltrexone received FDA approval in 1984 to treat Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). In 2006, the FDA also approved Vivitrol, the extended-release intramuscular injection form of naltrexone.

Naltrexone is classified as an opioid antagonist, which works to block the “high” effects typically associated with heroin and other opioid drugs. This results in reduced cravings and prevents relapse in individuals recovering from opioid dependence.

Naltrexone comes in two forms, a generic low-dose oral tablet which can be administered daily, as well as an intramuscular extended-release injection known as Vivitrol. The dosage and course of treatment will vary based on each individual’s unique situation and care requirements. 

How Naltrexone Treats Addiction

Naltrexone for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) 

As an opioid antagonist, Naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects created by opioid drugs. By binding to opioid receptors in the brain, it effectively prevents these drugs from producing their addictive properties and suppresses opioid cravings. 

Vivitrol injections are used to prevent relapse in people who became dependent on opioid medicine and then stopped using it. Naltrexone can help keep you from feeling a “need” to use the opioid.

This dual action of blocking opioid effects and reducing cravings makes Naltrexone a powerful tool for those struggling with addiction. As with any medication-assisted treatment, to be most effective, Naltrexone should be part of a comprehensive and holistic approach to recovery that includes support groups, as well as individual and group therapy. 

Those suffering from opioid use disorder who wish to integrate Naltrexone into their treatment plan should be aware of the precautions to take to mitigate risks. Patients should not take Naltrexone if they are allergic or have experienced the following: 

  • Patients are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from drug or alcohol addiction 
  • Patients have used opioid medicine within the past 10 days (Fentanyl, Vicodin, etc.) 
  • Patients have used methadone or buprenorphine in the past 14 days (Suboxone, Subutex, Butrans, Zubsolve)

Those who discontinue use of Naltrexone may experience a reduced tolerance to opioids. If a patient were to relapse and take an equal or lesser dose of opioids could cause life-threatening consequences. 

Naltrexone for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) 

Before treating alcohol use disorder with Naltrexone, patients must have fully detoxed from alcohol and must not have any physical dependence on alcohol or any other addictive substances such as narcotics. 

Similar to its use for OUD, Naltrexone treats alcohol addiction by binding to endorphin receptors in the body, thereby blocking the effects of alcohol. This can result in many benefits, including the following: 

  • Diminished craving for alcohol
  • Less quantity of alcohol consumed
  • Less urge to drink more 
  • Reduced ‘reward’ effects of alcohol use
  • Helps maintain abstinence from alcohol

Naltrexone treatments typically last about three to four months, but can vary by person. However, patients are still monitored by practitioners after completing their treatment protocol to ensure their health and safety. 

Drinking alcohol while taking Naltrexone can still produce intoxicating effects such as poor judgment, diminished coordination, and inability to drive or operate machinery. Regular blood tests should be administered to monitor liver function prior to and after the completion of treatment. 

Vivitrol injections are also used to treat alcoholism by reducing your urge to drink alcohol. This may help you drink less or stop drinking altogether. Naltrexone will not decrease the effects of alcohol you recently consumed. You should not be drinking at the time you receive your first Vivitrol injection.

As with Naltrexone treatments for OUD, Naltrexone treatments for AUD should be part of a broader treatment plan that integrates therapy and support to encourage long-term sobriety. 

Potential Side Effects of Naltrexone

Before beginning a treatment plan with Naltrexone, patients should discuss the following issues with their healthcare provider or addiction treatment specialist

  • If you have any current liver or kidney problems, or any other medical conditions
  • If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding
  • If you are currently taking illegal drugs, prescription medications, vitamins, supplements or any opioid-containing medicines for pain, cough, colds, or diarrhea
  • If you are allergic to any of the ingredients or the liquid used to mix the extended-release injection Naltrexone

Naltrexone is generally well-tolerated but can vary depending on the dosage, size, and weight of the patient, and whether other drugs or alcohol have been consumed. Understanding these effects is vital for managing them effectively. 

Common side effects of Naltrexone might include headaches, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramps, joint and muscle pain, and problems sleeping. Less common but more serious side effects include liver damage, serious allergic reactions resulting in skin rashes, swelling, difficulty breathing, as well as pneumonia, and depression. 

You should not receive Vivitrol if you are having drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you have taken any opioid medicine within the past 2 weeks, or if you are still actively drinking alcohol. 

Call your doctor at once if you have signs of liver problems – nausea, upper stomach pain, itching, tired feeling, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes). Vivitrol can cause liver damage, especially at high doses. You should not receive a Vivitrol injection if you have hepatitis or symptoms of liver failure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Vivitrol vs Naltrexone: What’s the difference?

Naltrexone comes in both injection and pill form. The generic pill form is referred to as Naltrexone (or low-dose Naltrexone), and can be administered daily. The injection form, known as Vivitrol, is an extended-release formulation of Naltrexone that is injected into the buttocks on a monthly basis. 

What to avoid when taking low-dose Naltrexone?

Avoid using opioid drugs or consuming alcohol while taking Naltrexone since it blocks their effects, potentially causing withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, be mindful of certain drug interactions, particularly with medications that affect the liver or central nervous system.

How long does it take low-dose Naltrexone to work?

Individuals typically notice changes within a few weeks. It's essential to maintain consistency in dosing for optimal results.

How long does Naltrexone stay in your system?

The oral tablet has a shorter duration than the injectable form. Factors like metabolism and body composition can also influence how long it stays in your system.

How long does the Vivitrol shot last? 

The extended-release Vivitrol injection usually lasts 28 to 30 days. Monthly injections can be administered to provided continued support for those undergoing treatment for alcohol or opioid addiction.

Why take low-dose Naltrexone at night?

Taking low-dose Naltrexone at night is often recommended to minimize sleep-related side effects such as vivid dreams or disturbances in sleep patterns.

Get Naltrexone Treatment in Connecticut

Naltrexone is a tried and true medication-assisted treatment for those struggling with alchol use disorder and opioid use disorder. It’s ability to reduce cravings, diminish the “need” to use, and block the effects of opioids and alcohol help patients maintain abstinence and sobriety on their road to recovery. 

Embracing Naltrexone as part of a comprehensive treatment program, which includes counseling and support, can significantly improve your chances of a successful recovery. If you’re interested in receiving Naltrexone treatment in Connecticut, please contact us today. 

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