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Vivitrol (Naltrexone) for Opioid Addiction Treatment

Vivitrol is an injectable, long-lasting form of naltrexone. This opioid agonist blocks drugs like heroin and oxycontin from latching to their receptors. If you slip and use drugs, you won’t get high if you’re using Vivitrol (naltrexone) for opioid addiction treatment.

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Naltrexone doesn’t help with cravings or chemical imbalances caused by addiction. But if you relapse multiple times while on Vivitrol, your drugs could become less reinforcing and appealing. In time, you might be less likely to relapse.

What Is Vivitrol (Naltrexone) & What Is It Used For?

Vivitrol is a prescription medication that is FDA-approved for the treatment of opioid and alcohol addiction.[1] Each dose is injected deep within a large muscle (like your glutes) and offers protection for about a month. 

Vivitrol is not an opioid, it is not addictive, and it won’t cause you discomfort when therapy is through. You can’t abuse the drug, as your doctor administers the shots. And if your dosing is wrong, you can’t get high.

How Does Vivitrol Work?

Naltrexone is a powerful prescription medication that blocks a euphoric high from alcohol and opioids. While the medication can’t ease your withdrawal symptoms or cravings, it can keep a slip from becoming a full-blown relapse.

Naltrexone works against opioids by blocking their receptors.[2] While your Vivitrol injection is active, drugs like heroin and OxyContin will pass through your system without linking to attachment points on your brain and spinal cord. You won’t feel anything when you take these drugs. 

Naltrexone works against alcohol by binding to endorphin receptors. Alcoholic drinks won’t cause euphoria, allowing you to drink less than you normally would. It can also block alcohol cravings.[2]

How Effective Is Vivitrol at Treating Opioid Use Disorder?

Researchers know that naltrexone can reduce opioid relapse, but daily pills are too easy to skip. A long-lasting injection, like Vivitrol, ensures that clients comply with their treatment plan. This form is very effective in treating opioid use disorder (OUD).[3]

People who use Vivitrol are 63% more likely to stay in treatment for OUD than those who don’t use the medication.[4] The longer people stay in treatment, the more likely it is that they’ll stay sober for the long term. Vivitrol makes this possible. 

Medications like buprenorphine are widely considered the gold standard of OUD treatment. They block cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms, and generally make people feel better in sobriety. In head-to-head studies, Vivitrol was as effective as buprenorphine in helping people maintain short-term abstinence from opioids.[5] 

Who Is Vivitrol Good For?

The FDA says people who might benefit from Vivitrol have moved through opioid detoxification and are at risk of drug relapse.[1] 

Someone like this quit using opioid drugs with the help of a treatment team. You used medications like buprenorphine or methadone to help your body adjust to sobriety. And you stayed in treatment for several weeks until your team said you were ready for the next step in your recovery. 

Some people start Vivitrol right away. Others use buprenorphine or methadone for a few weeks or months and then transition to Vivitrol as their healing progresses. Your doctor can help you determine which approach is best for you. 

Who Should Not Take Vivitrol?

The FDA says some people should not use Vivitrol. If you’re in this category, know that your treatment team can use other medications to help you heal. You’re not in this alone. 

People who should not use Vivitrol include the following:[1]

  • People with liver conditions, including hepatitis 
  • People still using opioids 
  • People who are sensitive to ingredients inside Vivitrol shots
  • People with blood-clotting disorders 

The FDA also says people with “physiologic opioid dependence” shouldn’t use Vivitrol.[1] If you’re struggling with significant drug cravings, Vivitrol may not be enough to help you stay sober. A medication like buprenorphine might be a better choice. 

Vivitrol Side Effects

Like all prescription medications, Vivitrol can cause side effects. They tend to be mild and fade as your body becomes accustomed to the drug. 

Common side effects include the following:[1]

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain at the injection site
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sedation
  • Anorexia 

Rare but serious side effects include lung infections, suicidal thoughts, and liver damage.[1]

How to Get a Vivitrol Prescription

Naltrexone isn’t a controlled drug, so doctors don’t need a special license to prescribe it. But they should be aware of OUD treatment best practices. Some doctors aren’t willing to help their patients schedule therapy sessions and otherwise rebuild their lives while using Vivitrol. 

Vivitrol’s manufacturer offers an online doctor-locator tool to help you connect with a professional. You could also look for addiction treatment programs in your area. Any facility that routinely treats addiction likely provides Vivitrol, and they can manage other aspects of your care like therapy.

Does Health Insurance Cover Vivitrol?

Vivitrol’s manufacturer says 99% of people with insurance are covered.[6] But your coverage specifics may vary. 

Contact your insurance provider and explain that your doctor wants you to take Vivitrol. Ask if your doctor should fill out extra paperwork before you get your first shot. Some companies require preauthorization, so don’t skip this step. If you do, you might be stuck with a big bill later. 

Vivitrol (Naltrexone) During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding?

The FDA hasn’t completed studies on pregnant women and their babies. It’s not clear if this medication is right for those who are pregnant. 

However, they do know that the drug can pass into a baby during breastfeeding. It’s not safe for women to use while breastfeeding.[1]

Opioid abuse isn’t safe for growing or nursing babies either. If you’re unable to stay sober without a medication like Vivitrol, your doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits. And if you do use Vivitrol, your doctor can help monitor your health to ensure nothing goes wrong. 

Alternatives to Vivitrol

If Vivitrol isn’t right for you, other options are available. Using them could help you get sober and maintain it for a lifetime. This table can help you understand the differences between them: 

Vivitrol MethadoneSuboxone 
What does it do?Blocks a high Reduces cravings, eases withdrawal Reduces cravings, eases withdrawal
Abuse potential NoneModerate, as it can be intoxicating at high dosesLow, as it contains naltrexone (which blocks opioids at high doses)
FDA approved?YesYesYes
Administration methodsMonthly injection Daily drinkDaily pill or film
Can use it at home?NoNoYes

Frequently Asked Questions About Vivitrol (Naltrexone) for Opioid Addiction Treatment

We’ve compiled some of the frequently asked questions about Vivitrol.

Is Vivitrol used to treat opioid addiction?

Yes. Vivitrol is FDA-approved for opioid addiction treatment.

Who is a good candidate for Vivitrol?

People with opioid addiction who have moved through detox are good candidates for Vivitrol. You must also be in good health to use this medication. Talk to your doctor or treatment team about whether it’s a good choice for you.

How long does it take for Vivitrol to kick in?

Vivitrol injections start working almost immediately to protect you against opioid intoxication.

What can you not take with Vivitrol?

Vivitrol can interact with cough and cold medications, some anti-diarrhea therapies, and opioid painkillers.[1]

Updated October 18, 2023
Resources
  1. Vivitrol prescribing information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published October 2010. Accessed August 15, 2023.
  2. Naltrexone. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published July 9, 2023. Accessed August 15, 2023.
  3. How effective are medications to treat opioid use disorder? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published December 2021. Accessed August 15, 2023.
  4. Zangiabadian M, Golmohammadi S, Nejadghaderi S, Zahmatkesh M, Nasiri M, Sadeghian M. The effects of naltrexone on retention in treatment and being opioid-free in opioid-dependent people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2022;13.
  5. Tanum L, Solli KK, Latif Z, et al. Effectiveness of injectable extended-release naltrexone vs daily buprenorphine - naloxone for opioid dependence: A Randomized Clinical Noninferiority Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(12):1197–1205. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.3206
  6. Verifying insurance benefits. Vivitrol. Accessed August 15, 2023.
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