Last Updated on September 20, 2021

People who struggle with alcohol use disorder no longer have to rely exclusively on rehab or 12-step programs. There are now medications that can make it much easier for people to quit alcohol, or reduce how much they drink.

Naltrexone is one such medication that can decrease a person’s desire to drink alcohol. It is typically taken in a targeted dose before drinking, or daily for those who practice abstinence. There’s also an injectable version of naltrexone called Vivitrol. Which form of this medication is a better choice? We’ll discuss the pros and cons so you can decide which is best for you.

How the Naltrexone Pill is Taken

vivitrol vs naltrexone
Image by Mark Fletcher-Brown from Unsplash

Naltrexone can be taken in pill form to curb alcohol cravings, with fifty milligrams being a typical dose. Some doctors recommend that patients take this medication daily. Other doctors subscribe to the Sinclair Method, whereby patients take a dose of naltrexone about an hour before they plan to drink.

Naltrexone disrupts the euphoric effects of alcohol. Over time, people with alcohol use disorder start to consume less alcohol because they don’t get the same buzz and euphoria from drinking. In other words, without the reward, people tend to drink less or even stop drinking over time.

For naltrexone to be effective, patients must remember to take it either every day, or every time they drink. Otherwise, receptors in the brain will keep associating alcohol consumption with a reward.

How the Vivitrol Shot Is Used

Some people with alcohol use disorder may prefer Vivitrol, because they only need to take the medication once a month in a shot form. For some, this is an easier, more convenient option. For instance, if someone fears they might lack the discipline to take the pill daily, or to hold off drinking until an hour after they’ve taken a pill, a once-monthly shot might be an attractive option. There’s much less room for user error.

There are some drawbacks to the shot, however. After injection, the medication is in your system for 30 days. If someone has a bad reaction to the medication, they have to endure those side effects for a whole month.

Vivitrol also works best when patients don’t drink alcohol for at least one week before their first shot. A study by Vivitrol’s manufacturer, Alkermes, found that patients who abstained from alcohol during the week prior to their first Vivitrol injection had 92 percent fewer days of heavy drinking, compared to 25 percent for those that didn’t. This means that Vivitrol might be a better option if you’ve already begun to reduce your alcohol consumption. If not drinking for an entire week is still a big challenge, you might get stronger results from naltrexone pills.

Vivitrol vs. Naltrexone Prices

The costs of Vivitrol and Naltrexone can vary depending on a person’s insurance coverage and pharmacy. Typically, however, patients can expect to spend between $25 and $60 per month on oral naltrexone. Vivitrol, in contrast, costs around $1,300 per month. That’s a big difference!

Choosing Between Vivitrol and Naltrexone

vivitrol vs naltrexone
Image by Robin Glauser from Unsplash

Both treatments have benefits and disadvantages. Some patients prefer Vivitrol because they don’t need to think about taking a pill on a regular basis. Vivitrol does, however, have a much higher price, which can make it unaffordable for some people.

Naltrexone’s lower cost makes it more accessible. Patients may also prefer naltrexone because they only have to take the pills before drinking, as opposed to constantly having the medication in their system. After some time, many naltrexone-takers end up drinking much less frequently, and thus don’t need to take the pill very often.

Ria Health can prescribe a number of medications—including naltrexone—for alcohol use disorder. Learn more about the many options we offer for overcoming alcohol addiction, and how we can customize a treatment plan to your unique needs. Get on the path to an improved relationship with alcohol today.

Paul Linde
Medically reviewed by:
Clinical Supervisor/Psychiatrist
Published researcher and author with over 25 years experience in emergency psychiatric care.
Written By:
The Ria Health Team
Our experienced team is committed to transforming alcohol addiction treatment.
Edited by:
Content Writer/Editor
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.

2 thoughts on “Vivitrol vs Naltrexone for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

  1. Grace Tran says:

    Thank you for your information. However, I have a question, my husband has been using Naltrexone for over 40 days regularly, then, he has started drinking again for 3 days until today, and drank too much yesterday liked for using medication. Please advise whether the medication does not effect with his daily dose of 50mg and he needs to consult with doctor for higher dose, or he needs to use Vivitrol or another substances.

    During the time using Naltrexone, after two weeks he started smoking weeds and he felt abnormal after smoking for in 2 weeks, then he stopped smoking. However, after stopping smoking weeds for 10 days, he could not sleep in the night time but sleep in the day time, and his body was sweet always, finally, he has started drinking and smoking for 3 days up to date.

    Please advise what he should do, he did not honest with his doctor to tell them that he smoked during the time using Naltrexone, even though he has relapsed for 3 days, he still insists not feeling craving, just because he wants to drink for sleeping well. It is hard for me to make decision to tell his doctors directly or let him talk with his doctor.

    Thank you very much,

    • Katie Lain says:

      Hello there Thao, this is a great question and thanks for reaching out. As you might understand, we’re unable to give medical advice here and it’s important that you consult with the prescribing doctor about your husband’s dose and how he should take naltrexone. If you’d like to see if he could enroll in Ria’s program, you can always give us a call to learn more at 800-504-5360.

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