The Benefits of Naltrexone and Vivitrol
The physicians at Serenity Lane are board-certified in Addiction Medicine, a relatively new medical specialty. We endeavor to support an abstinence/twelve step program of recovery by providing a safer, more humane detoxification from substances of abuse. Advances have also resulted in the development of powerful anti-craving medications to support a strong recovery program. By themselves, medications have little effect on relapse rates. But when combined with treatment, long-term results are improved. Anti-craving medications are not a crutch, but rather a safety net to support sobriety in early recovery, a time when most alcoholics & other addicts are most vulnerable.
Naltrexone is the most effective of these medications. Available in both pill form and extended release injection, Naltrexone blocks the reward pathway in the brain responsible for cravings. The medication is a pure antagonist, and does not stimulate the pleasure sensation or “high” associated with alcohol or opiates. Some recent studies suggest that cravings for amphetamines and cannabis may also be diminished. Naltrexone has few side effects or drug interactions, and is considered quite safe. The primary side effect in 30-50 % of patients is transient nausea, which ordinarily resolves in 12-24 hours. Anti-nausea medications, such as Zofran, are often used during initiation of treatment.
In our experience, our patients on Vivitrol, (currently the only extended release Naltrexone formulation) have a dramatically reduced rate of relapse, and no overdose deaths. We have begun to encourage our residential treatment patients to consider taking this medication to support recovery for at least 3 to 6 months, or longer depending on the individual. Anyone struggling with cravings in recovery may benefit from adding this medication to his or her recovery program. We encourage outpatients to discuss this with their primary care physicians (PCPs). A good PCP who understands addiction is a valuable partner for one in recovery.
We hope to add addiction medical services to our outpatient offices in the near future. Meanwhile, our physicians are available to consult with any primary care provider as needed to support recovery.
Written by Jerry Gjesvold, former Serenity Lane Employer Services Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer.