Nalterxone Vs Vivitrol: Similarities and Differences Explained


If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption or dependence on opioid medications/drugs, you may have heard of these two prescription medications.

But what exactly are they, and how do they differ from each other?

In this article, we will be discussing some of the key differences between the two medications.

We will cover exactly how they compare to help you make the best choice for your recovery.

Read on to learn more about:

  • What Naltrexone is
  • What Vivitrol is
  • How the administration of both medications differ
  • Differences in efficacy
  • The timeline of treatment
  • How the side effects compare
  • How the risks compare
  • The costs of both medications.

Let’s get into it.

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone is an FDA-approved medication to treat Opioid Use Disorder and alcohol dependency.

The medication comes in tablet form and can be prescribed by a healthcare professional to be taken once a day.

The medication works as an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks the opioid receptors in the brain.

When taken every day, Naltrexone prevents opioid relapse as users learn that taking opioid-containing drugs and medication will have no effect. This usually helps to control drug cravings.

For people who suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder, Naltrexone is thought to regulate the neurotransmitters and reward pathways that contribute to alcoholism.

What is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is an FDA-approved medication used to treat opioid addiction as well as alcoholism.

Vivitrol is the brand name for the injectable form of Naltrexone, which is an opioid antagonist. The injection is usually given in the gluteal muscle, and slowly releases the medication into the body over the course of a month.

Just like the tablet version of Naltrexone, it binds to and blocks the opioid receptors in the brain.

This stops the effects of both opioid-containing street drugs as well as prescription opioid-containing medicines. It also blocks the reward system in the brain, which is related to alcohol misuse.

Vivitrol is prescribed to people who suffer from addiction to opioids who have undergone detoxification from opioids and do not have opioids in their system.

It is most commonly prescribed to help people maintain sobriety and prevent relapse. Furthermore, it can also be prescribed to people as part of a comprehensive plan to treat alcoholism.

An In-Depth Comparison of Naltrexone vs Vivitrol

While both Naltrexone and Vivitrol are prescribed by healthcare providers for alcohol use disorder and opioid dependence, the two have some key differences that you should be aware of.


The key difference between Naltrexone and Vivitrol is the administration.

Naltrexone comes in a tablet form known as oral naltrexone and is designed to be taken once per day. The tablets are usually 50 mg in strength and must be taken once every day for the best effects.

On the other hand, Vivitrol is given as an intramuscular injection once every 4 weeks. It is administered by a healthcare provider in specialized settings.

The most common place for the administration of Vivitrol is in the buttocks. The dose of the monthly injection is usually 380 mg, which is slowly released into the body over those 4 weeks.

Both medications are only administered to people who suffer from opioid addiction who have undergone medical detoxification to prevent sudden opioid withdrawal symptoms.


Although the two medications work in the same way, there are a few differences when it comes to treatment outcomes.

Some studies have found that Vivitrol – the injectable form of Naltrexone – is a more effective treatment of alcohol dependence.

This is because people are more likely to continue the treatment in comparison to using the oral form of Naltrexone.

Because Vivitrol is administered once a month and lasts for weeks, it does not require the patient to remember to take their medication every day.

This is particularly important when someone is going through a difficult time in their recovery and is at risk of relapse.

The effects of opioids will be blocked for the whole month, regardless of whether someone has taken their medication in the morning.  


Naltrexone tablets are usually able to block the effects of opioids for 24–48 hours. After this time, the opioid antagonist is cleared for the body and will not have an effect.

However, Vivitrol injections are designed to slowly release the medication into the bloodstream over the course of a month.

Before taking either medication, it is important to first detoxify from opioids. This means that you cannot have any opioids in your system for at least a week before taking the medications. This is so you do not experience any symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

In some cases, you will first be prescribed oral Naltrexone before you are given Vivitrol in order to check for Naltrexone side effects such as sudden opioid withdrawal.

Side Effects

One of the most common side effects of both medications is opioid withdrawal symptoms, especially in people who have opioids in their system.

It is important that you undergo medical detoxification before taking either medication in order to avoid this.

The side effects are in general very similar for both medications as they work in the same way to treat opioid use disorder and alcoholism.

However, because Vivitrol is given as an injection, there may be adverse effects such as injection site reactions.

Common side effects of both medications include:

  • Cold symptoms including a runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Muscle cramps and muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Signs of liver damage
  • Opioid withdrawal symptoms in people who have not fully detoxified. 

If you experience any of these side effects, it is important to discuss this with your healthcare provider.


One of the main risks of taking either Vivitrol or Naltrexone is the risk of opioid overdose.

Doctors are careful when it comes to prescribing the medication to people with opioid dependence who are at risk of opioid overdose.

This is because people may try to take large amounts of opioids in order to try and overcome the blocking effects of both medications. This puts them at serious risk of overdose.

There is also an increased risk if people have been taking either medication for a long period of time, which decreases their tolerance to opioids.

This makes them more sensitive to opioid drugs and at risk of overdose after they have completed treatment if they take opioid drugs.

One of the less common but serious risks of taking the medication is the possibility of liver damage. Your doctor will likely ask you to take regular tests to check on your liver function in order to keep an eye on this.


  • Reduced cravings for opioids or alcohol: Both medications block opioid receptors in the brain, which can control both cravings for alcohol and opioid cravings by blocking their pleasant effects
  • Helps prevent relapse: Both medications block the euphoric effects that alcohol and opioids can have on the brain, help to lower opioid relapse rates, and help people with alcoholism maintain sobriety for longer 
  • Non-Addictive: Both formulations of the medications are non-addictive
  • Increased Compliance (Vivitrol): Unlike Naltrexone which needs to be taken daily, Vivitrol is easier for people to take as it is only administered once a month.

This means you are less likely to forget to take your medication. Even if you are feeling demotivated or are experiencing a triggering situation, you do not need to take a daily dose to receive the full effect of the medication.

Costs and Insurance Coverage

Both medications are usually covered by healthcare insurance, depending on your plan.

In general, the out-of-pocket costs for Vivitrol are higher than they are for Naltrexone.

Without insurance coverage, Vivitrol costs about $1,000 to $1,500 for a month’s supply. On the other hand, Naltrexone costs about $40-$100 for a month’s worth of tablets.

For people without insurance coverage, it is important to take a look at Medicare support or other financial support options such as financially supported drug recovery programs that offer medication-assisted treatment.

Final Thoughts

Oral naltrexone and the injectable form of Vivitrol are both pharmacological treatments that are offered for alcohol addiction and opioid dependence.

They both work to block the effects of opioids such as the euphoric effects of opioid-containing medicines/drugs as well as the reward felt when using alcohol.

Both of these medications help people with physical dependence on opioid drugs and alcohol to maintain their sobriety by decreasing both opioid and alcohol cravings.

The main difference between Vivitrol injections and naltrexone is that Vivitrol is long-acting and is given as an injection once a month. Whereas, Naltrexone tablets are taken once a day and only last about 24–48 hours.

There are other subtle differences such as a risk of injection site reactions with Vivitrol that are not present with naltrexone tablets.

However, some studies suggest that Vivitrol injections are more effective in treating alcohol dependence.

In general, it is important to discuss your treatment goals, medical conditions, and concerns with your doctor. They will be able to suggest which medication is best for your needs to help you during the recovery process.


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