Vivitrol: A Non-Addictive Aide - Sovereign Health Group
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10-20-12 Category: Addiction Treatment


Opioid dependency is one of the most devastating addiction epidemics in the world, claiming over 100 lives a day in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC.

Detox drugs such as Methadone and Buprenorphine have been the most commonly employed forms of treatment for those dealing with opioid addictions. These drugs are partial agonists, meaning they bind to the opioid receptors in the brain but produce less of a psychopharmacological effect than a full agonist such as heroin. If taken in the correct dosage, partial agonists will minimize withdrawal symptoms while not producing a euphoric effect.

Unfortunately, these drugs can prove to be addictive to many patients who may take more than the prescribed amount to feel a partial high from the detox drugs that were intended to help them kick their addiction.

A relatively new drug named Vivitrol has been used in the treatment of opioid and alcohol addiction. Unlike Methadone or Buprenorphine, Vivitrol is used as an aide to those working to kick an opioid addiction by acting as a deterrent. Where Methadone and Buprenorphine may mimic the effect of an opioid in order to help wean a patient off of their addiction, Vivitrol is an opiate blocker meaning it blocks the effects of an opioid.

Vivitrol is extended release Naltrexone, a drug which forces the opiates out of a person’s body and can make them sick if they still have opiates still active in their system. Whereas Naltrexone is a daily oral medication, Vivitrol is administered through a shot once a month. That means that, after the shot is administered, a patient would be unable to feel the effects of any opiates taken for an entire month. Thus, the effect that a person would be seeking in abusing an opioid, such as heroin, is nonexistent which helps deter those in early recovery from relapsing.

The former detox protocol and maintenance drug, Methadone, possesses success rates of 60 to 90 percent in studies, with Buprenorphine carrying a slightly less effective rate of 30 to 70 percent. A six month study of heroin addicts in Russia revealed an 86 percent success rate for Vivitrol.  Vivitrol is especially helpful for those in outpatient programs. Because it blocks the affects of opiates that is sought out by addicts, it helps patients focus on their recovery and seek out other solutions to their struggles as the opiates are now ineffective. The shot is not, however, a replacement for counseling or therapy but should be used alongside these forms of treatment as a way to help the patient resist their cravings and focus on recovery.

In addition to assisting opiate addiction, Vivitrol has also been found effective for alcohol addiction as well. While someone on Vivitrol will not get sick from drinking alcohol, such as someone on Antabuse, the pleasurable effects of alcohol are greatly reduced or eliminated.

Vivitrol shows much promise as a deterrent for those suffering from an opioid and alcohol dependency. Where many patients end up simply trading their addiction for a detox drug, Vivitrol’s action as a opioid blocker eliminates the risk of developing a tolerance and producing a physical dependence making it one of the most helpful aides to those in outpatient programs.

The only potential drawback to Vivitrol is its price which is about $1200 a shot. However, programs are offered such as “Touch points” that compensate up to $500 of the co-pay. For most patients with insurance, the financial aid is enough to cover the cost of the medication completely. In addition, the same advantage is given to non-insured patients, discounting $500 off the cash price.

Vivitrol is non-addictive and has no withdrawal symptoms should a patient choose to stop getting the monthly shot. The largest risk factor for Vivitrol is the risk of potential overdose as those trying to overcome its opioid-blocking effects make take dangerously large amounts of opioids and end up overdosing. Side effects can include possible liver damage, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, headache, vomiting, decreased appetite, painful joints, muscle cramps, toothache, cold symptoms, insomnia and depression. To avoid precipitated withdrawal, Vivitrol should not be taken until opiates or Buprenorphine have completely been eliminated from the system. It is recommended that patients test to confirm this before getting their first Vivitrol shot.

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