What are the Side Effects of Vivitrol Treatment?

nurse preparing to administer a Vivitrol shot

Vivitrol (naltrexone) is the brand name for an extended-release, FDA- approved injection that is used to help minimize cravings and prevent relapse in people who suffer from alcoholism and opioid addiction. The injection is administered once monthly into a muscle in the buttock. When used properly under the supervision of a physician and in combination with a comprehensive addiction treatment program, Vivitrol is a highly effective form of treatment. However, like all prescription medications, there are several possible side effects of Vivitrol injections.

 

How Vivitrol Treatment Works

Vivitrol contains naltrexone, a medication most commonly used to treat alcohol abuse. Before people can start taking Vivitrol, they must stop drinking and detox completely. Similarly, naltrexone is sometimes used to treat opioid addiction after detox by blocking the effects of opioids and reducing cravings. Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, meaning the drug binds to opioid receptors to block the euphoric effects of substances like opioids or alcohol.

Vivitrol

After completing detox, patients who qualify for Vivitrol treatment will receive their first injection. Most patients will start at 380 mg, however, some doctors may order a lower dose to monitor people for side effects before increasing the dose. If a person were to drink alcohol while taking Vivitrol, the drug would decrease the pleasure that they feel and instead make the person nauseous or sick. If a person were to take opioids while on naltrexone, on the other hand, the drug would stop a person from being able to feel the euphoric effects they are seeking. As a result, Vivitrol can help prevent opioid and alcohol abuse.

Every four weeks, the shot will be readministered until the patient is ready to stop taking the medication. Vivitrol is most effective when combined with a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program that includes counseling, behavioral therapy, and 12-step programs or peer support. As a generally safe medication that the majority of people tolerate well, most side effects of Vivitrol are short-lasting and fairly minor.

Common Side Effects of Vivitrol

Alcohol and opioid abuse medications such as Vivitrol may produce minor to severe side effects in some individuals. On the contrary, others experience no side effects whatsoever. Some more common side effects of Vivitrol include:[1][2]

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Increased thirst
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Weakness
  • Decreased sex drive

Perhaps the most common side effect is injection site reactions including pain, redness, itching, swelling, or bruising. In most cases, pain or irritation at the injection site will heal and subside after two weeks. However, if injection site reactions or any other common side effects linger or get worse over time, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.

If Vivitrol is administered too early and a patient still has traces of opioids on his or her body, the individual may experience minor withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Restlessness
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches

Other less common symptoms that may occur during sudden opiate withdrawal include vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, or hallucination. In these cases, individuals should need medical attention immediately. Ultimately, people should be opioid-free for at least one week before starting Vivitrol treatment.

Severe Side Effects of Vivitrol

While most of the common side effects of Vivitrol are fairly minor and easily treated, some side effects may last longer and become more serious. Contact your doctor right away if you take Vivitrol and experience any of the following side effects:[1][2]

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Blisters or sores at the injection site
  • Chest pain

Rarely, individuals will experience a serious allergic reaction to the Vivitrol injection. Although extremely rare, signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Severe dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing

If you or a loved one is taking Vivitrol and experiencing chest pain, confusion, suicidal thoughts, or an allergic reaction, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Lastly, Vivitrol may rarely lead to serious liver disease when used in large doses. If you experience side effects such as dark urine, persistent nausea or stomach problems, and jaundice, you should seek medical attention right away.

The Benefits of Vivitrol Treatment

Despite the long list of potential side effects, there are many benefits of Vivitrol treatment. Remember, most of the side effects of Vivitrol are mild and short-lasting. Plus, if your physician has prescribed it to you for your addiction treatment plan, it is in your best interest. Furthermore, when patients undergo Vivitrol treatment at our Memphis facility, they will have access to 24/7 medical supervision in case of an emergency or serious adverse reaction.

By helping reduce cravings and prevent relapse, Vivitrol is a highly effective treatment for opioid and alcohol abuse. In fact, in one six month study, 36% of patients who were taking Vivitrol continued their full course of treatment compared to only 23% of the placebo group. In addition, another study found that relapse occurred in much higher rates among people who were not taking any medications versus patients who were taking Vivitrol.[3]

In addition to being an effective treatment, Vivitrol is very low maintenance as it is only administered once a month and it doesn’t cause withdrawal symptoms because it isn’t physically addictive. These two features make Vivitrol highly appealing as other medications like Suboxone and Methadone must be taken daily and do produce painful withdrawal symptoms.

Ultimately, most patients experience little to no side effects when taking Vivitrol. However, the medication isn’t for everyone, so you should consult with your practicing physician and an addiction specialist to figure out which type of treatment is right for you.

Get Vivitrol Treatment in Memphis Today

At PAX Memphis Recovery Center, our medication-assisted treatment program is dedicated to helping individuals suffering from alcohol or opioid addiction stay on the right path towards sobriety. To ensure that our treatment programs are as effective as possible, our Memphis drug rehab combines the use of medications with intensive counseling and behavioral therapy. We don’t just treat the physical symptoms of addiction – we help you get to the root of the problem so you can really heal.

If you or a loved one needs help and thinks Vivitrol may be right for you, contact a dedicated treatment provider today.

References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-144395/vivitrol-intramuscular/details
  2. https://www.rxlist.com/vivitrol-side-effects-drug-center.htm
  3. https://www.wolterskluwercdi.com/blog/opioid-dependence-vivitrol-proves-effective-decreasing-rate-relapse/

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

About

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.