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Updated on September 14, 2023
7 min read

How Useful is Vivitrol as a Shot for Alcoholics?

Kelly Brown
Dr P. E. Pancoast, MD
Written by 
7 Sources Cited
Kelly Brown
Written by 
7 Sources Cited

Alcohol addiction, like many substance use disorders, causes various problems. These problems affect the person with the disorder and those around them.

Excessive drinking puts you at risk of immediate physical harm. It increases your risk of:

  • Injuries
  • Violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Miscarriage and other problems during pregnancy
  • Undesired legal encounters (DUI, arrest, etc.)

In addition to these potentially severe consequences, people who drink too much might also say or do things they regret. The risk of mistreating a loved one or making a bad decision is much higher when you drink too much.

There are also long-term risks associated with alcohol addiction. For example, people who drink too much long-term have a higher risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive issues
  • Cancer
  • Weakened immunity
  • Memory issues
  • Mental health problems
  • Social problems1

Treatment is available for people who drink too much alcohol. For many people struggling with alcohol abuse, medication-assisted therapy is the best option.

Medications like naltrexone and disulfiram make drinking less enjoyable, reduce cravings, and make sobriety less challenging.

What Injection Stops You from Drinking?

Two of the most common medications used to help people stop drinking are available as injections.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone injections help people stay sober once they’ve given up drinking. It’s not appropriate for people who are still drinking.

Healthcare providers use naltrexone in conjunction with counseling and social support. It works by blocking activity in the part of the brain that plays a role in alcohol dependence.

Disulfiram

Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, treats alcohol abuse and dependence. It is a deterrent to stop someone from drinking by triggering negative physical side effects if they do drink. It was the first FDA-approved medication used to treat alcoholism.

Antabuse works by interfering with the way the body metabolizes alcohol. It causes acetaldehyde to build up in the body to higher levels than it would naturally, increasing the unpleasant effects of drinking and hangovers.

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How Does Naltrexone Help in Alcohol Addiction?

Vivitrol, also called naltrexone, is available in pill or injectable form. The injection form is extended-release. The drug, whether oral or intravenous, is best used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes individual counseling and other therapies.

Naltrexone is not intended for people physically dependent on alcohol or those who are actively drinking. The drug is rarely given before the detox process is complete.

Naltrexone works by binding with endorphin receptors in the body. It then blocks the pleasurable feelings derived from drinking alcohol. It reduces alcohol cravings and supports sobriety. Most people undergo Naltrexone treatment for three to four months.

Side effects of Naltrexone include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle cramps
  • Painful joints
  • Cold/flu symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Toothaches

 More serious but less common side effects include:

  • Injection site reactions, including pain, swelling, and tissue death
  • Liver damage
  • Allergic reactions
  • Pneumonia
  • Depression
  • Risk of opioid overdose if used in conjunction with drugs or opioid medications

What Kind of Injection is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is an extended-release suspension that is injected into the gluteal muscle. It’s typically given once a month for up to four months.

Understanding the Use of Naltrexone Shots in Alcoholism Treatment

There are a few different types of medications used for treating alcoholism. Two of the most common are naltrexone (Vivitrol) and disulfiram (Antabuse).

Vivitrol is the injectable form of naltrexone. It’s used to treat both alcohol use disorder and opioid addiction. Combined with other alcohol addiction treatment options, it helps prevent relapse.

The medication is an opioid antagonist, which works by blocking opioid receptors. It also suppresses one’s desire to binge drink by changing how the brain and body work together and stopping the euphoria from drinking alcohol.

Vivitrol is an extended-release medication, which means after injection, it slowly releases the medication for up to a month.

How Does Naltrexone Stop You from Drinking?

Naltrexone stops people from drinking by blocking the euphoria or intoxication of drinking alcohol. You don’t experience a buzz when you drink while using naltrexone.

Over time, your craving for alcohol decreases, and you can focus on treatment and sobriety. Naltrexone does not prevent users from becoming drunk or impaired when drinking. 

How Safe Is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is considered relatively safe. It’s FDA-approved and frequently prescribed to those dealing with alcoholism.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t side effects, some of which are serious. Naltrexone treatment isn’t suitable for people with:

  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Taking opioid analgesics

Pregnant women should avoid using Naltrexone unless the benefits outweigh the risks. This means it’s only suitable for women whose alcohol consumption poses a higher risk to the unborn baby than the potential risks of using the medication.

How Long Does the Naltrexone Shot Last?

The effects of Naltrexone are usually felt within an hour. The shot lasts for approximately a month after administration.

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What are the Side Effects of These Alcohol Addiction Injections?

Although considered relatively safe, alcohol addiction shots can trigger side effects. These include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Injection site reactions including pain, tenderness, bruising, redness, swelling, itching, or infection
  • Liver problems
  • Flu- or cold-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Toothaches
  • Pain at the injection site
  • Stomach pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Joint pain or stiffness

Many of the above-listed milder side effects are usually temporary and easily managed. More serious side effects of alcohol addiction shots include:

  • Eosinophilic pneumonia
  • Sudden opioid withdrawal symptoms for people with opioid dependence
  • Liver damage
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Necrosis at the injection site
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Alternatives to Alcohol Addiction Injections

There are several non-injectable medications available for treating alcohol addiction. In addition to the oral forms of Naltrexone and Antabuse, other medications for treating alcoholism include:

  • Acamprosate
  • Gabapentin
  • Topiramate
  • Pregabalin
  • Baclofen2

Additionally, several anti-anxiety medications are given to alcoholics to help with co-occurring disorders. These include:

  • Paroxetine for social anxiety
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders
  • Benzodiazepines, including Librium, Valium, and Ativan for anxiety
  • Gabapentin which is the most common anxiety medication given to people with alcohol use disorder and anxiety

Common Questions about Shots for Alcoholism

Is there a drug that makes you not want to drink? 

Yes. Disulfiram, also called Antabuse, makes the idea of drinking unappealing because it triggers negative physical side effects when combined with alcohol. Naltrexone gradually removes alcohol cravings by interfering with the buzz or pleasant feelings of drinking.

What is the shot once a month for addiction?

Vivitrol is the injectable extended-release form of naltrexone.

Is there a pill that makes you sick if you drink alcohol?

Yes. Disulfiram or Antabuse makes you sick when combined with alcohol.

Is there a drug to replace alcohol?

There is no drug to replace alcohol, but there are drugs that treat disorders someone might be using alcohol to self-medicate with. For example, someone who drinks too much because of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder can instead take a prescription medication to treat anxiety symptoms.

What drug is a substitute for alcohol?

Several drugs substitute for alcohol when someone is using alcohol to self-medicate. There are also drugs available that take away someone’s desire to drink.

Summary

Although someone might achieve sobriety independently, most need medical intervention to treat alcohol addiction. This is partly because quitting alcohol suddenly can trigger serious side effects.

For many people, the best treatment for alcohol addiction is a combination of counseling, therapy, and medication. 

Alcohol addiction injections supplement other treatment options and provide many benefits. However, like all medications, there are also risks associated with injectable alcohol addiction medications.

It’s always best to work with experienced addiction professionals who can create an individualized treatment plan for each person.

For more help and further information on alcohol addiction treatment options, visit:

Updated on September 14, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021. 

  2. Akbar et al. “Medications for Alcohol Use Disorders: An Overview.” Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2018. 

  3. Medication for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder: A Brief Guide.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2015. 

  4. Naltrexone.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2023. 

  5. Gimeno et al. “Treatment of Comorbid Alcohol Dependence and Anxiety Disorder: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations for Treatment.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2017. 

  6. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2014. 

  7. Alcohol Related Resource Center.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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