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Does Vivitrol/Naltrexone Work for Alcoholism?

According to the most recent study released in 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) stated that 86.4 percent of people aged 18 or older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Another 70.1 percent said they drank in the past year, and 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month. 

In the same year, other studies were done to illustrate binge drinking and its effects. It was reported that 26.9 percent of people aged 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month of the study and another 7 percent indicated they participated in heavy alcohol use in the past month. An estimated 88,000 deaths were attributed to alcohol use (62,000 men and 26,000 women), making the issue extremely widespread.

Worldwide, alcohol is the leading cause of death. According to a study released by the Lancet, alcohol such as beer and wine, is a leading risk factor for death and disease, associated with 2.8 million deaths each year and the seventh-leading risk factor for premature death and disability globally in 2016. 

Alcohol was associated with nearly one in 10 deaths of people aged 15 to 49 years old. Alcohol misuse in the United States cost $249 billion alone in 2010, and three-quarters of the total cost of alcohol misuse is attributed to binge drinking. With such a strong prevalence in American culture, it’s no secret that an addiction to alcohol is so common. Is there anything that can be done?

Alcohol Statistics

  • 2.8 million deaths each year and the seventh-leading risk factor for premature death and disability globally in 2016.
  • 26.9 percent of people aged 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.
  • 88,000 deaths were attributed to alcohol use (62,000 men and 26,000 women).
  • Alcohol was associated with nearly one in 10 deaths of people aged 15 to 49 years old.
  • Alcohol misuse in the United States cost $249 billion alone in 2010, and three-quarters of the total cost of alcohol misuse is attributed to binge drinking.
Many people

New treatments have been established to help people with alcohol use disorders (AUD) abstain from alcohol long-term. One of these drugs is known as Vivitrol, and it can be used to help refrain from alcohol while recovering from an opioid or alcohol use disorder. 

Vivitrol is usually administered as an intramuscular solution monthly, but it can also be obtained in a tablet form. The drug can help users manage alcohol cravings by blocking the chemical responses that make alcohol rewarding. It will help lower the risk of having a relapse, and the addition of treatment will give recovering users the physical support to complete a comprehensive recovery program.

All forms of this seemingly miracle drug work by stopping euphoria and sedation that central nervous system (CNS) depressants like alcohol causes in our body. Vivitrol binds to the receptor sites where substances attach and stay there for an extended period. When someone uses Vivitrol as prescribed but relapses, the alcohol will not bind to these receptors in the brain.

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What Is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is a newer and non-addictive treatment proven to prevent relapse in those who are opioid dependent and struggle with alcoholism. You will gain the most success from Vivitrol when it is used in conjunction with counseling and once you’ve completed a medical detoxification treatment. Vivitrol blocks receptors in the brain while you focus on the psychological portion of addiction. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been a successful model when treating alcoholism and opioid addiction.

When the substance is used with therapy that includes counseling, it can help prevent relapse to alcohol dependence. Alcohol affects brain chemistry by stimulating the release of chemical messengers that produce feelings of pleasure and well-being. Long-term use of alcohol can eventually interfere with your brain’s natural production of dopamine and serotonin. Vivitrol is used to manage the symptoms of alcohol.

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In the overall treatment population of a six month, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical study, patients treated with Vivitrol and counseling demonstrated a 25 percent greater reduction in days of heavy drinking than those treated with a placebo. Additionally, a pre-specified subset of patients who abstained from alcohol entirely during the week before their first dose compared to placebo and counseling experiencing 92 percent fewer heavy-drinking days, significantly fewer drinking days, more abstinent days per month, and more success maintaining continued abstinence.

The numbers highlight real success and an apparent breakthrough when treating dependence, but the medicine still has its fair share of side effects. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? If someone is close to dying from alcoholism, it’s possible that any side effect will be worth experiencing to abstain from the drug. The most common side effects include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness or nervousness
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle or joint pain

A less common but possible reaction from the monthly injections include:

  • Eosinophilic pneumonia
  • Liver toxicity

Those who use the medication to curb alcohol withdrawal can find Vivitrol’s side effects outweigh the risks. It is helpful for those who have successfully detoxed alcohol from their body and are ready to work on reducing cravings. Fortunately, there is no intoxication or abuse potential associated with the use of Vivitrol. It makes it highly sought out for those battling alcohol and opioid withdrawals.

Vivitrol for Alcoholism

If you’re thinking about using Vivitrol as a part of your addiction treatment program, you must speak with your doctor or an addiction specialist to see if the medication is right for you. Vivitrol makes it easy for you to stick with your treatment plan, but a lack of compliance with an oral medication regimen is one of the most common reasons other drugs can fail. Injecting the medication allows it to remain active for several weeks, and you don’t have to remember to take a pill or motivate yourself to take it continually.

The effects of the injection could be more consistent. If the level of naltrexone fluctuates in your bloodstream, you’ll be more likely to experience cravings. Blood levels of the drug will remain more stable when it is taken through an injection.

Lastly, a monthly shot is much more convenient if you’re working on attending an intensive residential treatment program. Many individuals find it is easier to work the medication into their schedule if they can take a shot every month.

Cons of Vivitrol

Liver damage can occur if you take more than the recommended dose of the drug, and it is not recommended if you are taking opioid painkillers with a doctor’s prescription. It will make the opioid drugs non-effective. It does have the potential to be more expensive than oral medication, and you must make the monthly injection a top priority. If Vivitrol sounds like it could be the right drug for you to use in conjunction with treatment, Serenity at Summit can help you.

Sources

Alcohol Intoxication « Ada. (n.d.). from https://ada.com/conditions/alcohol-intoxication/

Maisto, S. A., McKay, J. R., & O'Farrell, T. J. (1998, September). Twelve-month abstinence from alcohol and long-term drinking and marital outcomes in men with severe alcohol problems. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9718112

VIVITROL® (naltrexone for extended-release injectable suspension). (n.d.). from https://www.vivitrol.com/opioid-dependence/what-is-vivitrol

May, A. (2018, August 24). Alcohol is a leading cause of death, disease worldwide, study says. from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/08/24/alcohol-death-disease-study-beer-wine/1082443002/

Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

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