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Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment

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What is Naltrexone (Vivitrol)?

Naltrexone is a medication that is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for drug misuse disorders and addiction.1 It is a non-addictive drug that has been approved by the FDA to treat opioid and alcohol misuse disorders.

Vivitrol is the brand name for the extended-release injectable formulation of naltrexone. It is administered once a month. Naltrexone also comes in pill form (ReVia and Depade) which can be taken once a day. If a person who is being treated with naltrexone relapses, he or she will be unable to get high because naltrexone blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of the drugs.

However, before a person can begin naltrexone treatment, he or she must detox from opioids completely at least 7 to 10 days before beginning treatment, or else the naltrexone may cause withdrawal symptoms.2

How Does Naltrexone Work?

Naltrexone works by blocking the pleasurable effects of central nervous system depressants like opioids and alcohol and reducing cravings. Unlike some other drugs used for MAT like methadone and buprenorphine, naltrexone does not activate opioid receptors in the body and it has no potential for abuse or dependence.

Naltrexone Overdose Risks

If someone has been treated with naltrexone (Vivitrol), he or she may be more likely to overdose if a relapse occurs.3 This is because, during naltrexone treatment, the person’s tolerance was likely drastically reduced, and returning to a “normal” dose of heroin or other opioid drugs can result in respiratory arrest and circulatory failure.

How Is Naltrexone Treatment Used for Alcohol Addiction?

When used for the treatment of alcohol addiction, naltrexone (Vivitrol) works by blocking the sedating effects of alcohol and preventing a person from feeling intoxicated. This not only helps reduce the “need” for more alcohol, but it can also improve his or her motivation to continue treatment in drug rehab.

In one study, during a six-month period, people who took Vivitrol in conjunction with counseling for alcohol addiction treatment had 25 percent fewer heavy drinking days after they graduated from treatment. Overall, Vivitrol treatment combined with rehab and ongoing therapy results in lower rates of relapse.4

There are no known adverse effects of Vivitrol and alcohol. Most often, treatment specialists recommend long-term use of Vivitrol in conjunction with rehab and therapy to provide the best opportunity for sustained sobriety.

Compared to other drugs that are used for medication-assisted treatment, Vivitrol is an effective treatment for alcohol addiction that helps prevent alcohol cravings and reduce relapse rates.

How Is Naltrexone Treatment Used for Opioid Addiction?

During treatment for opioid addiction, naltrexone works by blocking opioid drugs from binding to opioid receptors in the brain. This helps prevent relapse and promote sustained sobriety in people who are addicted to opioid drugs like prescription painkillers or heroin.

One six-month study found that patients who received naltrexone treatment for opioid addiction had a 55 percent decrease in opioid cravings. Additionally, patients who took Vivitrol in combination with therapy and drug rehab had 90 percent opioid-free weeks, compared to 35% receiving the placebo. Patients undergoing Vivitrol treatment, rehab, and ongoing therapy were also 17 times less likely to relapse compared to those who did not use Vivitrol.5

Before being treated with the extended-release injectable formulation of naltrexone (Vivitrol), a person must first successfully detox completely from all opioids at least 7 to 10 days before treatment begins. Otherwise, Vivitrol can cause withdrawal symptoms.

What Are the Side Effects of Naltrexone?

People taking naltrexone for the treatment of opioid or alcohol addiction may experience some side effects caused by the drug. Common side effects of naltrexone include:

  • Upset stomach or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep problems/tiredness
  • Joint or muscle pain1

In some cases, naltrexone can also cause liver damage, allergic pneumonia, or serious reactions at the injection site. It’s important to only continue naltrexone treatment under the direct supervision of a medical professional who can discontinue, adjust, or reduce the dosage of naltrexone as necessary.

Is Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Addictive?

Vivitrol is not addictive.3 Some other drugs that are used for medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone, may pose a risk for misuse, dependence, and addiction, so understandably, some people may also be concerned about the risks of naltrexone treatment for similar reasons.

Fortunately, naltrexone addiction is extremely unlikely to occur because it does not affect the brain’s reward center or activate any opioid receptors in the body. Instead, it reduces cravings for these drugs and blocks the sedating and euphoric effects of opioids and alcohol to prevent relapse.

Is Naltrexone the Same As Narcan?

No, naltrexone and Narcan are two different drugs. These two drugs look and sound the same so they are frequently confused for one another. However, they function in two very different ways.

  • Naltrexone blocks the euphoric feelings opioids produce. It does not reverse the effects of opioids.
  • Narcan changes the side effects of opioid drugs and reverses an opioid overdose.

Effective Naltrexone Treatment

Overcoming alcohol addiction or opioid addiction will require individualized rehab and ongoing care whether naltrexone (Vivitrol) is used or not. Although it is a highly effective method, naltrexone treatment it is most effective when used in combination with a drug rehab program, ongoing therapy, other medications, and mental health treatment for co-occurring disorders.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or opioid addiction, the caring addiction treatment specialists at Nova Recovery Center can help. We are available to provide more information about effective drug detox, 90-day rehab, and aftercare programs that are specifically designed for you and your recovery. Call (512) 605-2955 today to learn more.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/naltrexone
  2. https://www.drugs.com/vivitrol.html
  3. https://www.fda.gov/files/drugs/published/Vivitrol-Medication-Guide.pdf
  4. https://www.vivitrol.com/alcohol-dependence/what-is-vivitrol
  5. https://www.vivitrol.com/opioid-dependence/what-is-vivitrol

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