Suboxone is a game-changing medicine that has made headlines for its ability to turn the clock back on addiction. Suboxone sales reached $1.55 billion in the United States in 2012, surpassing widely known drugs Viagra and Adderall.
The success is heavily linked to the exploding opioid abuse epidemic that the United States has been facing. This drug has been embraced by federal officials. A drug that can be used as a substitute for the more deadly methadone was a game-changer, and the millions suffering from this addiction could finally seek relief.
Suboxone, however, has a dark side that was not intended when it was introduced to the market. It was created and marketed as a safer way to treat opioid addiction. With 115 people in the United States dying daily from opioid overdoses, it was crucial to develop a drug with the capacity to save the millions that are being affected.
But we started to see that Suboxone, like any other drugs, can be misused. Those who use the drug irresponsibly and not in the manner it is intended can develop an addiction to it.
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a brand-name prescription medication used in opioid treatment addiction. It works by blocking withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings. Those who use Suboxone can take the drug as a sublingual strip or tablet that goes under the tongue. Administering the medication in this fashion creates a faster-acting process.
Suboxone is a combination of two medications—buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone is considered a “partial opioid agonist,” meaning that buprenorphine will produce a milder effect when acting on opioid receptors in the brain. Opioids with the greatest abuse potential are full agonists. These drugs include oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine, methadone, and the illegal drug, heroin.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a report that buprenorphine can:
- Lower the potential for misuse
- Diminish the effects of physical dependence on opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings
- Increase safety in case of overdoses
If you have ever heard of medical detox, Suboxone is one of the drugs that is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to curb the worst effects of opioid withdrawal.
This also will be used in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies to help people end their dependence on opioid medications.
There is another ingredient in Suboxone called naloxone, which you may have heard referred to as Narcan, its brand name.
As it does in its purest form, Naloxone does its part to block full agonist opioids from attaching to opioid receptors.
The reason Naloxone was added into the mix was to discourage the misuse of Suboxone.
What Are the Signs of Suboxone Addiction?
While Suboxone can be highly effective as a means to help a recovering user, it still is considered an opioid drug.
Even with its design, it still carries a potential to be habit-forming because of the drug’s potency.
There is a likelihood of developing a physical dependence on Suboxone, and there is the potential for abuse.
Ironically, those who don’t have an opioid use disorder (OUD) are more likely to abuse the drug.
The top reasons people abuse the drug are to experience euphoria, reduce pain, or to calm down.
Those who do have OUD problems use Suboxone as a means to manage their cravings.
If you or someone you love is suspected of abusing Suboxone, you may notice these actions:
- Crushing tablets to snort the powder
- Mixing crushed tablets with water to inject
- Taking more than prescribed dosage at a time
- Chewing the tablets and swallowing them
Outward signs of physical abuse related to Suboxone include:
- Slurred speech
- Watery eyes
- Memory impairment issues
These are some of the more clear warning signs that come specifically from Suboxone use, but this does not mean it will affect everyone the same.
General signs of addiction can include:
- Continuing to use medication despite the consequences
- Running out of the medication before prescription schedule expires
- Mixing Suboxone with other drugs and alcohol
- Using Suboxone for reasons other than its intended purpose
- Anxiety, depression, and irritability
- Strained family and friends relationships
- Spending all of your money on Suboxone
- Lying about drug use
A telltale sign that someone is abusing this drug or has developed a tolerance for it is when physical and psychological changes begin to emerge after cessation of use. The withdrawals begin to occur as the brain and body try to adjust to smaller amounts of Suboxone than they’ve become accustomed to.
Long-term Suboxone users are advised to avoid quitting the drug abruptly. Ending drug use in a “cold turkey” manner often does more harm than good. It is more typical that someone who quit cold turkey to relapse than someone who recovers via medical detox.
If you or someone you love is seeking the best possible outcome, attending an addiction treatment facility, with a good reputation, should be the first step . These treatment facilities offer substance abuse and addiction with evidence-based practices.
How to Treat Suboxone Addiction
The first and most difficult step to a better life is entering into treatment for your Suboxone addiction. Addiction treatment must be customized to suit the individual’s unique requirements through a variety of therapies. Treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can be adjusted throughout the process as a person’s needs change.
In the majority of cases, individuals who enter treatment will start their journey in medical detox. During a typical stay, the individual will remain there anywhere from three to seven days or longer, depending on the case.
During this time, Suboxone and other drugs will be removed from the body during a medically supervised stay. There will be a tapering schedule put in place to ensure the process is gradual, and the recovering user is comfortable for the duration of the process.
You will meet with the medical team to create a treatment plan designed specifically for you. You will begin determining which method of treatment following detox will be best for your situation and what kind of therapy will be used.
You will not be stuck in these plans as they are subject to change if the client is not responding as anticipated. After you wrap up your medical detox, you will then enter either an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
If your medical staff determines that you will be more suited to living on-site in a residential center during your recovery, you will enter the inpatient stage of the continuum of care. You will be here from anywhere between 30 days to 90 days, depending on the severity of the addiction, and if you were diagnosed in detox with a mental health disorder. The longer one stays in treatment increases their likelihood of success.
While in this program, you will share a healing space with like-minded individuals who are on the same road to recovery. You will attend therapy sessions that will teach you the roots of your addiction, and give you the tools to help cope with cravings.
In some cases, you will also learn life-skills such as cooking, how to balance a budget, and how to build a resume.
Outpatient treatment is recommended for those who can’t leave their daily lives for an extended time. If the medical team deems it appropriate, you can receive recovery services at an outpatient treatment center. This will be dependent on the stage of addiction you are in, and the severity of the addiction.
Outpatient treatment will allow you to attend therapies throughout the week but have the luxury of going home upon completion. These in-depth therapies have been found to be just as effective as inpatient treatment centers. You will be required to submit to mandatory drug screenings through this process. This treatment option is great for those with employment obligations or school.
Is Suboxone Use Dangerous?
Suboxone was created to make it difficult to overdose while using, but it still holds the potential of overdose. Overdose is more likely to happen when individuals use the drug in combination with other addictive drugs such as benzodiazepines or alcohol.
Combining the two substances can become fatal, causing one’s breathing rates to decrease, causing respiratory distress. Coma and death are considerable outcomes as well when using these drugs together. You must seek immediate medical help if you or a loved one ingests Suboxone and experiences any of these side effects you must call 911 immediately.
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slowed breathing
- Sluggish reflexes
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Intermittent loss of consciousness
- Problems with vision
Is Suboxone Right For You?
Medication-assisted treatment with medicines like Suboxone has helped many people get out of active addiction, reduce their exposure to illicit opioids, and maintain employment. However, MAT can also prolong the amount of time that you are dependent on a chemical substance, albeit one that is much safer than illicit and even other prescription options.
Ideally, you would go through detox and then addiction treatment and maintain abstinence from opioid use entirely. However, many people go through several attempts at treatment and still relapse. Some struggle with the withdrawal phase in treatment and can’t make it through detox without using.
Suboxone is especially helpful for people that have struggled with chronic relapse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction relapse occurs about as commonly as other chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. Around 40 to 60 percent of people that stop using drugs after developing a substance use disorder, relapse at some point later.
Relapse is a threat to everyone in recovery, and it takes continued dedication to recovery to avoid active addiction. Still, relapse isn’t inevitable, and treatment can help give you the tools to deal with cravings and triggers.
Suboxone will enable you to skip the uncomfortable withdrawal phase and go right into treatment. This allows you to remove yourself from a lifestyle of active addiction.
Suboxone is not for people who have not been using opioids recently. Suboxone is for people that are currently opioid-dependent and have shown signs of opioid withdrawal.
Taking Suboxone to treat cravings, for those who are abstinent, can cause intoxication and dependence. Suboxone is also not for people who are currently intoxicated. If you take Suboxone on top of other opioids, alcohol or benzodiazepines can cause a dangerous overdose.
Can Suboxone be Used to Treat Pain?
Suboxone is not typically used to treat pain. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means its effects, including analgesia, are limited compared to other full opioid agonists. However, some researchers have considered buprenorphine for use in pain-management medications.
Can Suboxone Cause Constipation?
Yes, it can. Though Suboxone includes a weaker opioid, it still causes some of the same common side effects that other opioid medications do like constipation.
In a clinical setting, constipation is usually easy to manage. If you have been prescribed Suboxone, your doctor may warn you about constipation, give you medications to counteract that side effect, or recommended dietary changes to help avoid the issue. If you experience it without having spoken to your doctor, let them know about your symptoms.
Can Suboxone Cause Weight Gain?
Suboxone doesn’t cause significant weight gain, but it can cause some symptoms that may seem like you are gaining weight. Opioids cause you to retain water, and they can cause constipation. Both of those symptoms may cause you to feel bloated.
However, people who start Suboxone treatment are already using opioids that may be causing those symptoms. Some people only notice it because they are no longer in a pattern of active addiction.