Suboxone® Treatment Programs and Addiction Potential

Updated On: Jan 13, 2024
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    Key Points:

    • Suboxone® is an FDA-approved treatment option for opioid use disorder (OUD).
    • Suboxone® contains both buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, and naloxone, an opioid antagonist.
    • Together, these drugs help with withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.
    • Suboxone® is used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
    • Though rare, Suboxone® can have side effects and misuse potential.

    The United States is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid disorder. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, with opioid overdoses exceeding peak death rates from gun violence, motor vehicle accidents, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).[1]

    Buprenorphine, the opioid in Suboxone®, offers a safe alternative to morphine, heroin, or fentanyl and a promising treatment option for opioid use disorder (OUD).[2]

    What Is Suboxone®?

    Suboxone® is an opioid prescription drug that’s used to treat opioid dependence and addiction. It’s a combination of buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, and naloxone, an opioid antagonist, that can help stabilize someone during the medical detoxification process, prevent relapse, and support ongoing recovery.[3]

    The FDA approved several buprenorphine products for the treatment of opioid OUD, including Suboxone®.[4]

    What Is Suboxone® Used For?

    Suboxone® is used to treat OUD, the clinical diagnosis for opioid addiction.[5] With drugs like opioids, which involve severe withdrawal and a high risk of relapse and subsequent overdose, Suboxone® and related medications are integral to successful treatment and quickly becoming the standard of care.

    Used as prescribed, Suboxone® is a safe drug with a low potential for overdose. This is because, unlike opioids, it has a ceiling that limits opioid effects. Misuse, such as taking it in combination with other drugs or in higher doses than prescribed, can increase the risk of adverse effects.[6]

    If you take Suboxone® too soon after taking opioids, it can bring on fast opioid withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, sweating, and digestive upset. Though rare, serious side effects like overdose or severe respiratory depression are possible.[7]

    Though Suboxone® can be effective for opioid addiction, it’s not enough on its own. In opioid addiction treatment programs, it’s used as part of a comprehensive and tailored treatment approach with behavioral therapies, support groups, and other interventions.

    How Does Suboxone® Work?

    Suboxone®’s effects are due to the combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.

    Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which produces weak opioid effects.[8] This means it reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the effects of other opioids like fentanyl or heroin.

    It has a high binding affinity, so it may block other opioids from binding to activating the opioid receptors.[9] This can discourage opioid misuse. There’s also a ceiling to its effects, leading to much weaker euphoric effects and a lower risk of misuse than other opioids.

    Naloxone is an opioid receptor antagonist medication that is paired with buprenorphine in Suboxone® and generic medications.[10] Naloxone is often used on its own to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, but it’s used in Suboxone® to discourage the intentional misuse of buprenorphine.

    Benefits of Suboxone® for Addiction Treatment

    When used as part of a comprehensive treatment program, Suboxone® can be highly beneficial for OUD recovery. Some of the benefits include:

    • Alleviating or eliminating withdrawal symptoms
    • Relieving cravings
    • Calmer and more relaxed demeanor
    • Lower pain
    • Lower risk of relapse
    • Decreased risk of misuse and overdose[11]

    Suboxone® Side Effects

    Though mostly safe when used as prescribed, Suboxone® does carry the risk of side effects, some of which are serious.

    The common side effects of buprenorphine include:

    • Constipation
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Sweating
    • Tooth decay
    • Muscle aches and cramps
    • Inability to sleep
    • Fever
    • Blurred vision
    • Tremors
    • Palpitations
    • Inattentiveness[12]

    Some serious side effects can occur, which include:

    • Respiratory distress
    • Overdose
    • Adrenal insufficiency
    • Dependence
    • Withdrawal
    • Impaired liver function
    • Sleep-related breathing issues
    • Allergic reactions[13]

    Because of buprenorphine’s opioid effects, it can be misused, particularly by people who do not have an opioid dependency. Naloxone is added to decrease the likelihood of misuse.

    Is Suboxone® Addictive?

    Buprenorphine is an opioid and can result in physical dependence with long-term use.[14] Dependence isn’t the same as addiction, but there is a risk of withdrawal if you become physiologically dependent on Suboxone®.

    Suboxone® use is carefully monitored by your doctor. It’s important never to abruptly cut back or stop your use of Suboxone® unless your doctor recommends it. If you want to stop using Suboxone®, you will need to taper – or gradually reduce – the dose to minimize adverse effects.[15]

    Buprenorphine does have misuse potential as an opioid, but it’s a partial opioid agonist. It doesn’t have the capability to elicit extreme euphoric effects like other opioids, so there’s less incentive to abuse it.[16] The inclusion of naloxone also limits the high that comes from Suboxone® and discourages misuse.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Why Do People Take Suboxone®? Chevron Down
    What Kind of Drug Is Suboxone®? Chevron Down
    What Happens If You Take Suboxone® Without an Opiate Addiction? Chevron Down
    How Long Do I Have to Be on Suboxone®? Chevron Down
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    What Are Other Uses for Suboxone®? Chevron Down
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