Vivitrol vs Naltrexone for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Medically reviewed by Dr. Paul R. Linde, MD on February 18, 2021

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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.

Read more about Naltrexone for Alcohol Use Disorder

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.

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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.

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Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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