Alcohol consumption in the United States is a severe issue that causes billions of dollars in damages to the economy each year. Although alcohol consumption may not always lead to addiction, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious threat. Moderate drinking is considered two drinks or less in a day for men and one or less in a day for women. Drinking less obviously has positive health effects.
Unfortunately, moderate drinking can lead to excessive alcohol use, including binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the age of 21, and any alcohol use by pregnant women. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly drinking pattern in the United States.
Binge drinking is defined as a drinking pattern that causes a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. It happens when a man costumes five or more drinks in two hours, and women four or more drinks at the same time. Those who binge drink don’t often have a severe alcohol use disorder.
Although binge drinking doesn’t always translate to addiction, for those struggling with alcoholism, the prospect of stopping can be daunting. Alcohol withdrawals are some of the most intense and deadly out there, so most try to avoid it any way they can. One such method to stop drinking in the long-term is the use of Vivitrol.
Vivitrol is an extended-release formulation of the drug naltrexone. It’s an opioid receptor antagonist used to treat opioid addiction and alcoholism. Although naltrexone hydrochloride is for once-a-month and daily dosages, Vivitrol is used on a monthly basis to treat alcoholism. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug for alcohol abuse in 2006.
How Does Vivitrol Work?
Vivitrol is used to block the effect that opioids have on the brain to reduce cravings most people experience once they stop using the drug. A doctor might prescribe the medicine for individuals who have already stopped using opioid drugs like heroin, morphine, or prescription pain medications) or drinking and have gone through the detox process.
When it comes to alcohol, no one is quite sure how Vivitrol works, but it’s understood that it changes how our brains respond to alcohol consumption.
Vivitrol is administered through an intramuscular injection every month. One of the primary issues daily doses of naltrexone face is medication compliance. A patient has to remember and be willing to take their pills each day, which isn’t always feasible. However, one of the redeeming qualities of Vivitrol is with a once-a-month shot; medication compliance becomes less of a factor for the treatment plan.
Is Vivitrol Right For Me?
A patient who’s completely detoxed from opioids and alcohol is a prime candidate to receive Vivitrol. However, the drug is not intended to help someone stop drinking, meaning Vivitrol won’t help with alcohol withdrawal and shouldn’t be used for that reason.
The FDA says that patients must not have opioids in their system when they start using Vivitrol because they could experience severe opioid withdrawal symptoms, which could result in them turning back to opioids. Individuals could also become more sensitive to opioids when using Vivitrol at the time their next scheduled dose is due. If they were to miss a dose or finish their Vivitrol treatment, it could lead to an accidental overdose if they start using opioids again.
If you’re ready to stop using alcohol or opioids in the long-term, Vivitrol might be right for you. Only a medical professional can make this determination, and if you’re interested in using this after you’ve detoxed, speak to an expert today to find out if it’s right for you.
If you’re struggling with liver failure or acute hepatitis, you should not use the drug. It could cause a worsening of symptoms.
Vivitrol and Other Medications
Vivitrol is the first non-addictive, non-narcotic, extended-release medication that has been approved for opioid dependence. Buprenorphine and methadone have also been approved for opioid addiction treatment, but both have the potential to be addictive. Methadone is only available through specialized clinics, while buprenorphine is available through doctors’ offices. However, methadone requires daily doses.
Other medications like Antabuse and disulfiram can be taken in pill form and block the enzyme causing alcohol to be metabolized. If someone drinks while using Antabuse, they can become violently ill and experience dizziness, chest pain, nausea, severe vomiting, and headache. It’s like a hangover but considered much worse. Even coming in contact with an aftershave that contains alcohol will cause a mild reaction.
There is no cure for alcoholism, but finding the right medication, which could be Vivitrol, is a determination a medical expert can make.
Side Effects of Vivitrol
According to the FDA, Vivitrol can cause the following side effects:
- Muscle cramps
- Painful joints
- Nausea and vomiting
Like all medications, Vivitrol can cause more severe side effects, including:
- Depressed feelings
- Allergic reactions that include rashes, hives, and facial swelling
- Liver damage
- Reactions at the injection site, which can be severe and require surgical intervention
- Suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior, or suicide
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you must contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. If you or someone you love is in immediate danger, please call 911.
Other side effects of Vivitrol might include:
- Inflammation of the nasal passages
- Increased liver enzymes
Effectiveness of Vivitrol
Although Vivitrol is found to be effective in treating both alcoholism and opioid use disorder, it works best in conjunction with other therapy programs. Research has shown it to be more effective than medications that require a daily dose. Double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials found that Vivitrol reduces drug and alcohol cravings and effectively prevents relapse.
The FDA trials also showed that patients using Vivitrol were more likely to remain in treatment and stop using illicit drugs or alcohol. An estimated 36 percent said they stayed in treatment centers for the full six months without using drugs, compared to 23 percent in the placebo group.
If you’re struggling with alcoholism and you’re ready to seek a new path, talk to your doctor about getting treatment and using Vivitrol. Although it may not be right for you, other medications exist that can help get you living a healthier and more productive lifestyle away from alcohol. Don’t waste another day trapped in alcohol addiction because it could be your last without help.