Are Vivitrol and Antabuse a Solution for Recovery?
There are two commonly used medical supplements to addiction treatment, namely Vivitrol and Antabuse. What are these drugs? Do they work? Should a loved one or yourself use them? These are the main questions we will be focusing on today, among a few others, and the hope is to show you that although they are much better options than Methadone and Suboxone (covered in our Treatment V. Maintenance blog), these drugs are not effective treatment solutions because they merely sidestep the issue.
Antabuse has been around since 1951, and it effectively disrupts the way your body processes alcohol, causing the individual to get extremely sick when they drink. The philosophy of Antabuse is to create a negative association with drinking through this physical reaction to the drink. Antabuse is specifically designed for alcohol, while Vivitrol is designed for opiates and alcohol. Vivitrol, a more modern medication, is injected once monthly to block the effect opiates have on the individual who takes them. Vivitrol doesn’t make someone sick when they use opiates. Instead, it allegedly inhibits the person from getting high off the intake of opioid substances. The goal of Vivitrol is to disassociate the feeling of ecstasy that comes with an opioid intake. Both treatment plans for these medications include a level of talk therapy in conjunction with the prescription. The goal is to give an individual enough time without using to build a foundation by deterring them from using and provide a cushion for cravings.
Despite the hype, these medications aren’t without their downfalls, each come not only with a serious list of negative side effects, but they also don’t successfully inhibit an individual from seeking certain highs. Let’s face it, there are many ways to chase a high, and alcohol and opiates are not the only two, so these two medications don’t inhibit an addict from chasing a high in a different way. The other issue is this, in order to use Vivitrol a patient must be clean of all substances for roughly 7-14 days. At this point in my sobriety, I still wanted to get high, but I had already been immersed in a community and had taken on positive coping skills by that point, and unless the real work is done on this level than the Vivitrol just “buys time.”
The question is, are these viable supplements to addiction treatment? Both of these two medications are designed to be a supplement to various treatment solutions and are not intended to be used solely by themselves as a form of treatment. This begs the question, though, how much does this really help the treatment process? And are they really necessary supplements? In my opinion, Antabuse is outdated, and an ineffective recovery supplement and Vivitrol has a much brighter future. I firmly hold that the program of recovery the patient receives is substantially more important than these substances, and although Vivitrol is a much better option than Antabuse, I don’t see it as a necessary supplement to a recovery program. Don’t get fooled by the philosophy of “because they can’t, they won’t” that’s implicit in the prescription of these drugs. Recovery is about what a person does when they can, and whether or not they will use the tools they should have gained through their exposure to the program. So drugs like Vivitrol, which are really a supplement to an individual’s first few months designed to give them time to build up a collection of effective coping skills, are not a cohesive program of recovery.