Depressants are one of the most abused drugs, whether it be legal substances like alcohol, or illicit opiates like heroin. For example, 16.7 million American adults are estimated to have some form of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), and an estimated 2.1 million are suffering from opioid dependence, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health. Depressants are also one of the hardest problems to treat, especially when looking at the impact on the brain and the associated withdrawal symptoms. These challenges are often overcome with medications like Vivitrol®.
Vivitrol came to the market in 2006 to address alcohol dependence. After seeing the positive impact the drug had on alcohol use, the medical field changed focus to address the growing epidemic of opiate abuse. The FDA later approved the drug for use on opiate dependence in 2010, though it’s still used to treat both substances. While Vivitrol was not approved for use until 2006, its active ingredient, Naltrexone, has been used since 1984. Vivitrol has a more extended release formula, allowing the medication to last longer between doses.
How it Works
Vivitrol works by controlling drug cravings, while at the same time not producing the mind-altering effects that would contribute to dependence on the medication. The non-addictive portion of this equation is especially important with opiates. Other prescriptions currently available for fighting opioid dependence, like Methadone, can help reduce or end heroin use, but they often leave the patient addicted to the medication instead. In short, Vivitrol allows an addict to stay opiate or alcohol free long enough for a treatment program to provide the necessary knowledge and skills necessary for staying sober and preventing relapse. This allows for results over a longer period of time once a patient stops using the medication.
Effects on the Brain
At a more scientific level, Vivitrol works by directly impacting the portions of the brain responsible for addiction. More specifically, this medication targets special opioid receptors in the brain that substances like alcohol and opiates also target. The medication binds to these receptors first, which block the addictive substances from being able to bind and cause euphoric effects. Without experiencing that addictive high each time you use, it becomes easier to reduce and eliminate the abused substance. While Vivitrol does bind to receptors that typically produce mood altering effects, the medication does not create a high while bound to the sites. This feature eliminates the risks of moving the dependence to the medication instead.
Vivitrol provides benefits beyond just helping stop substance abuse. For example, the prescription starts working within hours of taking it. This short action allows users to experience fast results. One injection lasts up to a month. A longer lasting effect increases the chances of compliance to a counseling plan between doses, as it gives time for a patient to develop new habits and break the psychological portion of substance abuse. The injection also means not having to take a daily pill, which helps to reduce the risks of forgetting or purposely not taking the medication. One of the most substantial benefits is that the medication can be used long-term if needed without resulting in addiction to Vivitrol.
While there are potential side effects to taking Vivitrol, the side effects of substance abuse typically far outweigh those of the medication. Most users who experience side effects will see mild symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscles cramps, or joint pain. In more rare cases, serious side effects may occur, including vomiting, depression with thoughts of suicide, pneumonia, or liver damage. While there are risks, it’s important to know that most patients tolerate the medication well and experience little to no side effects.
As a controlled medication, Vivitrol is only available through prescription by a medical professional. Unlike other medications for substance abuse that are given orally, like Suboxone or Methadone, this prescription is given through a muscular injection. The injection is effective for 30 days before a second injection is needed. Injections can continue for as long as needed, though it’s important to watch for more serious liver side effects when choosing to use the medication for long-term use. Work with your doctor to determine the right course of care for your individual health needs.
The original clinical trial before the FDA approval of Vivitrol showed positive results for those using the medication to address substance abuse. In a six-month trial, results showed that 36 percent of patients using the medication remained in their programs and were drug free, while only 26 percent of the placebo group had the same positive results.
Best Chance of Success
While medication on its own can help combat substance abuse, certain personal actions can increase your chances of success. The first action is taking part in a treatment program. While medications help combat the physical cravings, a substance abuse program gives you the skills necessary to overcome the psychological aspects of using. These programs help determine the cause of your dependence and provide more positive coping mechanisms to remain sober with long-term results. Those who have the most success also want to change. It’s important to go into your time on the medication with an attitude that you want to succeed and not relapse.
There’s no magic bullet for treating substance abuse, especially when dealing with alcohol and opiates. However, medications like Vivitrol can play an essential role in the overall treatment plan when approaching dependence, especially when combined with other methods like individual and group therapies under the direction of an experienced counselor. Talk to your doctor or local substance abuse professional for more information on how Vivitrol can help you get back on the path to sobriety.
NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Facts and Statistics
NIH National Institute on Drugs Abuse: America’s Addictions to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drugs Abuse
Vivitrol Official Website