Alcohol and drug addiction cost American society $193 billion annually, according to a 2011 White House Office of Drug Control Policy report, and more than 2.7 million American adults receive treatment for substance use disorders.  In an effort to address this growing concern, significant scientific and clinical advances over the past decade have produced medications to treat substance use disorders.

One of the medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is Vivitrol, which is used to treat opioid and alcohol addiction. Vivitrol is referred to as an “office-based” medication because it can be prescribed and administered in a physician’s office rather than in a specialty treatment or opiate treatment program.

While no single approach is universally successful or appealing to all patients, substance use treatments that include medication give well-trained providers new tools to fight addiction. Patients are also able to reduce drinking and drug use, avoid relapse, achieve and control behaviors that can lead to relapse, and maintain other treatment components that lead to sustained recovery such as counseling and lifestyle changes.

Given that addictions result from a combination of neurobiological, psychological, and social problems, medication use does not conflict with other support strategies that focus on abstinence and addictions’ behavioral and social components.  In fact, these treatment approaches share the same goals while addressing difference aspects of substance use dependence.

How Vivitrol Treatment Works

Doctors typically prescribe Vivitrol to individuals who have completed opiate detox, and are no longer drinking or using opiates. Patients receiving Vivitrol treatment get a shot once a month, which is administered by a physician.

Vivitrol works by filling the opioid receptors in the brain, which blocks the euphoric effects of opiates and alcohol and reduces drug cravings. Naltrexone, the active ingredient in Vivitrol, comes in the form of tiny capsules that break down slowly, releasing the drug into the system over several weeks.

The Effects of Vivitrol Treatment

Vivitrol is non-addictive with no mood or mind-altering effects.  It typically begins managing drug cravings within two days and each injection lasts for one month, increasing the patient’s chances of compliance with treatment and taking the onus off the patient to comply with taking pills daily.

Studies have shown Vivitrol is effective in preventing relapse drug cravings. There can be side-effects such as headaches, painful joints, nausea, depressed moods and muscle cramps, and possible reactions at the injection site.

As with any medication for addiction, Vivitrol is not a cure. It is a tool which, combined with other tools like inpatient drug rehab, counseling and AA/NA meetings, can be a powerful adjunct to treat individual patients more effectively.

New Outlook
Imagine being placed in a “therapeutic community” where therapists hang shovels around your neck and spit demeaning curse words in your direction in conjunction with aggressive confrontation. Chuck Fenigstein, founder of the athlete addiction facility Healing Warriors and the former clinical director for Sundance Medical Associates, described this as an accepted and common way to treat alcoholics and addicts in society 50 or so years ago.

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani, Journey Healing Centers medical director, described past treatments as being very “punitive” and “judgmental” and said treatment today is vastly different.

“People suffering from chemical dependency are not treated as pariahs or outcasts as they used to be,” he said. “The trend has been that chemical dependency is viewed as a chronic relapsing and remitting disease process and treatment requires a comprehensive structured approach with individuals requiring professionals that have specialized skill sets as well.”

Chandiramani said he does not hesitate to introduce his patients to medications because the positive effects seem to overshadow any negative side effects.

“I don’t see any reason not to use them,” he said. “Anything that I can use to gain an advantage on the disease I will.”

“Today, 18 million Americans still suffer from alcohol-use disorder and 76 million adults suffer worldwide from the condition”, says Dr. Raye Litten, health scientist administrator in the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Division of Treatment and Recovery.

While experts strongly recommend addicts work through therapy or 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, for many people suffering from addiction, new treatment options augment the successful traditional approaches and can make all the difference in being able to begin a sober lifestyle.