How Naltrexone Works For Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

What Is Naltrexone (Vivitrol)?
Naltrexone, the generic name for vivitrol, is a form of medication assisted treatment that can be used to treat substance use disorders such as opioid use disorder (OUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD). This medication is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and there are two forms of naltrexone, both a pill form and an injection. Naltrexone is administered by medical professionals, typically during treatment programs for substance abuse.

What Does Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Treat?
Naltrexone is mainly used to treat opioid use disorder at a rehab facility to prevent relapse. Unlike other forms of MAT such as suboxone and methadone, naltrexone is administered after a patient stops drinking or using and withdrawal symptoms have subsided. The extended release injectable naltrexone is used to treat OUD, but opioid detoxification must be completed at least 7 to 10 days before the use of naltrexone begins. In pill form, naltrexone is meant to treat alcohol addiction and is administered once per day instead of once per month.

How Does Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Work?
Naltrexone (vivitrol) blocks the effects of opioids which is beneficial in reducing the risk of relapse. Unlike buprenorphine and methadone, which activate opioid receptors in the body to suppress cravings, naltrexone simply binds and blocks the opioid receptors to reduce cravings. This means that there is no potential for misuse of the medication, as it does not produce any euphoric qualities. If a patient were to relapse, naltrexone would also prevent them from getting high on the substance, which lowers their desire to use the drug again.

When taking naltrexone, patients may feel adverse side effects that make them want to stop using the medication, but it should not be stopped without talking to their medical provider who may adjust the dose or change the medication. Side effects of vivitrol include an upset stomach or vomiting, diarrhea, headache, nervousness, sleep problems or fatigue, and joint or muscle pain.

Is Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Addictive?
Since the medication does not produce euphoric side effects, the chances of this medication being abused is highly unlikely, which makes it a safer choice than medications such as suboxone and methadone. The downside of this is that naltrexone does not ease the symptoms of withdrawal in the way that other medications do, so the detox process is more uncomfortable for the patient.

A separate risk of naltrexone, however, is that the medication may give the patient a reduced tolerance for substances so if a patient were to relapse, there is a potential sensitivity to the same or lower doses of their substance of choice. If patients who take naltrexone relapse after a prolonged period of abstinence, their use of the drug can result in life-threatening situations such as respiratory arrest or cardiac collapse.

Does Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Work?
Naltrexone is an effective method of reducing both cravings and the risk of relapse, but as with all forms of medication assisted treatment, it is in no way a cure for addiction. When used as part of a comprehensive treatment program including counseling and behavioral therapies as well as support groups, naltrexone gives patients a better chance at maintaining sobriety.

While naltrexone treats the symptoms of addiction, i.e. the dependence on substances, counseling and support groups address the root of the addiction, or what drove the patient to use the substances in the first place. With an integrated approach to recovery, patients are able to recognize certain triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms that make them less likely to turn to substance abuse, and the naltrexone helps to maintain sobriety by reducing cravings and blocking the feelings of euphoria from substance use.

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