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Vivitrol for Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)

Vivitrol is a prescription medication your doctor might use to address alcoholism. It isn't a replacement for therapy, but you could find that it helps you stop drinking excessively.

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Vivitrol is a prescription medication that contains naltrexone. If you’re struggling to quit drinking, your doctor might suggest adding this prescription to your therapy program to help you stop drinking and stay sober.

Naltrexone isn’t an opioid medication, and it’s not addictive. But it can block the euphoria alcohol causes.

While you’re taking Vivitrol, you may experience fewer alcohol cravings. If you do slip and drink, you’ll likely take fewer sips and enjoy your drink less, making your next relapse less likely. 

How Do You Take Vivitrol?

Two forms of medication exist, and your motivation to quit drinking helps your doctor determine which version of the drug is right for you.

These are the two versions:

If you’re not committed to sobriety and aren’t sure you’ll take a pill every day, an injection could be the right choice for you. But if you’re afraid of needles or don’t want to visit the doctor every month, a tablet could be better.

Unlike other addiction medications like methadone, you don’t need to see a special physician to get Vivitrol. Any medical doctor can fill this prescription for you

Vivitrol Side Effects You Should Know About 

Vivitrol is a safe and effective medication many people use as they work to combat alcoholism. But it can cause side effects in some people.

You may experience the following:

  • Anorexia 
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Other, more serious, side effects include the following:

  • Liver damage: Your liver processes naltrexone, and some people damage this organ by continuing to take Vivitrol. Your doctor will use regular blood tests to check your liver function. 
  • Infections: If you’re using a Vivitrol shot, you could get an infection from the needle. 
  • Depression: Some people feel a spike in upset feelings and sadness while using Vivitrol. If you feel suicidal, talk with your doctor immediately.

If you’re using tablets for Vivitrol doses, your doctor can ask you to stop taking them when you feel ill. But if you’re using injectable forms, your doctor will have to step in and help you to feel better. 

Who Should Use Vivitrol?

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic, relapsing condition that changes your brain chemistry. Even though you want to stop drinking, you find it difficult to do so. Vivitrol can help to adjust your brain chemistry and reaction to alcohol, so you’re less likely to relapse.

Researchers say the ideal Vivitrol user has the following:

  • Moderate to severe alcohol issues: You drink almost every day, and when you do, you take in more than five drinks. 
  • A prior treatment history: You tried to quit drinking with counseling and other traditional methods and couldn’t get better. 
  • High motivation: You want to really try to get sober this time and change your life.

Vivitrol isn’t a replacement for counseling sessions. You’ll need to continue to work with a professional to understand why you started drinking and what you can do to stay sober. But for some people, Vivitrol offers critical help. 

Can You Drink While on Vivitrol?

Some treatments for alcohol use disorder make you sick when you drink. Vivitrol isn’t one of them.

You can drink while taking Vivitrol. But your drinks won’t spark the warm, fuzzy, relaxed feelings you’re accustomed to. Instead of seeming happier with each drink, you might just feel numb.

If you’re taking the tablet form of Vivitrol, you can plan ahead for a drinking day. Skip a few doses, and alcohol works in the way you expect it to. If you’re too tempted to cheat by skipping doses, talk with your doctor about switching to injections. 

Other Medications for Alcoholism Treatment 

Vivitrol isn’t the only solution your doctor might suggest to treat your alcohol use disorder. A few other options exist.

Two more treatment types have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  • Acamprosate: This drug reduces the rewarding impact of alcohol and could make you less likely to appreciate your next drink. It’s safe to use in people with liver problems, so it could be a good option if you can’t use Vivitrol. 
  • Disulfiram: This medication interacts with alcohol metabolism, making you incredibly sick if you drink. A relapse is so unpleasant that you may choose to avoid drinking again.

Your doctor may use other medications “off label,” such as anticonvulsants or antidepressants. The FDA hasn’t approved these therapies for alcoholism treatment, but your doctor might find that they’re useful for you. 

Vivitrol FAQs

What does Vivitrol block?

Vivitrol attaches to endorphin receptors, blocking the effects of alcohol. You can drink while on Vivitrol, but your drinks won’t cause the rewarding sensations you’re accustomed to. Instead of feeling happy and drunk, you may feel nothing at all. 

How does naltrexone work in alcohol dependence?

Naltrexone is a prescription medication your doctor uses in combination with therapy to help you stop drinking. Your medication can block alcohol cravings and make your relapses less interesting. When using Vivitrol, you may be able to gain control of your drinking. 

How well does Vivitrol work?

Researchers say Vivitrol is proven to decrease episodes of heavy drinking in people with alcoholism. Your medication can’t take the place of therapy. But it could make your therapy more effective, as you’re less likely to slide into active alcoholism. 

Is Vivitrol my only option to quit drinking?

No. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two other prescription drugs to help address alcoholism. Your doctor can also use other medications (like antidepressants) to help you get better. 

How long does it take for Vivitrol to work?

Vivitrol begins working the same day you begin using it. Its effects peak about two hours after it is injected.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated June 9, 2023
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  2. Vivitrol: Medication Guide. (March 2021). Alkermes.
  3. Vivitrol Prescribing Information. (2010). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  4. Naltrexone for the Management of Alcohol Dependence. (August 2008). New England Journal of Medicine.
  5. A Systematic Review of Naltrexone for Attenuating Alcohol Consumption in Women with Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD). (February 2017). Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
  6. Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder. (March 2016). American Family Physician.
  7. Naltrexone Long-Acting Formulation in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence. (October 2007). Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management.
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