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Alcohol and Health

How Does Vivitrol Work in Treating Alcohol Misuse?

July 1, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 1, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 1, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 1, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
July 1, 2023
10 min read

As the old Chinese proverb goes: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is especially relevant for many of us as we embark upon our journey of quitting or cutting back on alcohol.

For many of us seeking to overcome the challenge of alcohol misuse, it may feel like we're setting out to climb a towering, intimidating mountain. It's a grueling ascent, where the opposition isn't merely the substance we're striving to avoid, but also the deeply ingrained habits and brain chemistry that urge us to continue. But what if we had a trusty guide to help us navigate this formidable landscape? Well, we just might! In this blog post, we’ll discuss Vivitrol, a medication developed to aid us in this uphill battle against alcohol misuse.

What Is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol, scientifically known as Naltrexone, is a medication specifically designed to support those of us battling alcohol misuse. Unlike some other treatments that replace one addictive substance with another, Vivitrol stands out. This FDA-approved drug is an opioid antagonist. But what does this mean?

In simplest terms, an opioid antagonist is a substance that obstructs the opioid receptors in the brain. It's like a key that fits into a lock but doesn't turn it. It's there, it fits, but it doesn't activate the lock. By doing this, Vivitrol effectively blocks the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication, allowing us to reduce our drinking or even halt it entirely.

Vivitrol’s Science-Backed Efficacy

The effectiveness of Vivitrol is not mere conjecture; it's backed by solid scientific evidence. A study in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management supported Vivitrol’s ability to decrease heavy drinking among alcohol-dependent individuals. This medication also fostered abstinence and decreased the likelihood of relapse in two samples of alcohol-dependent subjects. This reduction is a significant stride forward for anyone seeking to overcome alcohol misuse.

Additional studies have shown that Vivitrol, combined with counseling, led to a significant reduction in heavy drinking days among participants compared to counseling alone. These findings demonstrate the crucial role that Vivitrol can play as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

How Does Vivitrol Work?

Understanding how Vivitrol works to combat alcohol misuse takes us on a fascinating journey into the human brain, specifically the opioid system that is part of our brain's complex reward pathway. This system plays a pivotal role in our experiences of pleasure and satisfaction, and it’s one that substances like alcohol cleverly manipulate.

Consuming alcohol stimulates the brain's reward pathway, releasing chemicals that create feelings of pleasure and euphoria. This stimulation triggers our opioid receptors — key players in this pathway — which results in the sense of satisfaction that makes drinking so appealing. This pleasure-reward feedback loop can encourage repeated alcohol use, ultimately leading to misuse or dependence.

We’ve already discussed that Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist. What this means is that Vivitrol functions as a “blocker” or a “gatekeeper” to these opioid receptors. How exactly does this work?

When administered, Vivitrol attaches itself to the opioid receptors in the brain. This attachment creates a barrier, preventing substances like alcohol from accessing these receptors and triggering the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals. So, even if we consume alcohol, the expected rewarding effects are diminished or entirely absent because Vivitrol is blocking our brain’s access points.

This process can be likened to locking the doors to a much-desired party. Even though the music might still be playing (alcohol is still being consumed), we can no longer gain entry to experience the party (the rewarding effects of alcohol).

The Long-Term Effects of Vitriol for Alcohol Misuse

So, what's the impact of this blockage over time?

The absence of the pleasure-reward experience during alcohol consumption can significantly influence our drinking behavior. The usual satisfaction we derive from drinking is no longer present, which can result in a decreased desire to drink alcohol. This reduction can be a major stepping stone in the journey towards changing our relationship with alcohol.

It's important to note that Vivitrol doesn't cure alcohol dependence — there's more to overcoming alcohol misuse than just managing the physical cravings. But by disrupting the reward mechanism typically associated with alcohol consumption, Vivitrol can provide a supportive, effective tool in the overall treatment plan.

The workings of Vivitrol illustrate the fascinating interplay of brain chemistry and behavior. Understanding this can empower us on our journey towards overcoming alcohol misuse. But it's just one part of the larger picture of recovery, which also includes behavioral therapies, peer support, and lifestyle changes. Together, these components make up the holistic approach needed to address and manage alcohol misuse effectively.

Who Shouldn't Use Vivitrol?

While Vivitrol can be an effective ally in our quest for recovery, it isn't suitable for everyone. People with acute hepatitis or liver failure should steer clear of Vivitrol due to the potential for liver damage. Pregnant women should also avoid this medication unless the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Moreover, anyone who has previously had an adverse reaction to Vivitrol or any of its components should not take this medication. Allergies to Naloxone (a compound similar to Naltrexone) can also indicate that Vivitrol may not be the best treatment option.

Vivitrol: The Takeaways

Our journey to overcome alcohol misuse may seem daunting, like that icy mountain peak. But with resources like Vivitrol at our disposal, we have a supportive companion that can make the climb less treacherous and more manageable.

Just like mountain climbing, the journey of recovery isn't marked by one grand leap but by numerous small, steady steps. Each step, no matter how small, is a victory, a testament to our resilience and capacity for change. They move us not just away from alcohol misuse, but toward a healthier, more fulfilling life.

As we undertake this journey, let's remember that change is possible, and that help is available. With the right tools, the right support, and the will to move forward, we can navigate this path and reach the peaks we aspire to.

Choose the Road to Recovery With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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