The nation’s opioid epidemic has prompted many to seek out new treatment options to help turn the tides of addiction in the United States.
Suboxone is a relatively new medicinal option for people with opioid use disorder. The prescription medication is a blend of two drugs that have also been used separately in substance use treatment. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, and naloxone is an opioid antagonist.
Together, they make a medication with some unique effects in treat opioid use disorders.
Still, the drug comes with some side effects that you should be aware of if you or someone you know is taking the medication. Learn more about Suboxone’s effects with normal use, withdrawal, and overdose.
Suboxone is used to treat opioid use disorders. The drug contains buprenorphine, a partial opioid receptor antagonist, which means it causes mild opioid effects. The medication effectively limits uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and prevents cravings without causing intoxication.
The idea of Suboxone treatment is to allow opioid-dependent people to break the cycle of active addiction. This cycle is characterized by periods of intoxication, followed by withdrawal and drug-seeking behavior. Satiating cravings and avoiding withdrawal symptoms allows people to live otherwise normal lives, hold jobs, pursue goals, and attend treatment.
Suboxone is most effective when it’s integrated into a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program and combined with psychotherapeutic options like cognitive behavioral therapy.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, buprenorphine is safe and effective when taken as directed. MAT treatment allows people to stop using opioids and go directly to treatment services without having to go through the uncomfortable withdrawal process. This can help people who had gone through detox and treatment before but relapsed or relapsed when they attempted detox.
Going through treatment with the help of Suboxone can remove you from a lifestyle of addiction, and it can help you learn relapse prevention strategies before eventually weaning off the drug.
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Though Suboxone treatment is safe and effective for many, it still comes with potential side effects. As an opioid, buprenorphine may cause some of the same adverse effects as other opioid medications. However, buprenorphine is mild, and its effects are typically minor.
When you first start Suboxone treatment, you might experience withdrawal symptoms as a result of switching from an opioid to the medication. You may need to work with your doctor to find the right dose for your needs. It’s also possible for you to have a reaction to the formulation that makes up the sublingual film (the tab placed under your tongue).
Suboxone has shown to be a safe medication, but it’s still an opioid and can lead to dependence, withdrawal, addiction, and overdose if it’s abused. It should only be used with guidance from a medical professional.
Since Suboxone contains an opioid, it can cause chemical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. People who take it usually already have a chemical dependence on opioids and Suboxone will serve to limit intoxication and withdrawal symptoms without breaking chemical dependence.
If you stop taking Suboxone, you will start to experience withdrawal symptoms. In Suboxone treatment, this usually means you’ll be slowly weaned off the drug. Because Suboxone contains naloxone, you may also feel intense withdrawal symptoms if you abuse the drug by injecting it.
Suboxone will cause withdrawal symptoms that are similar to other opioids. During the tapering off period, symptoms will ideally be mild. Your doctor will work with you to wean you off the drug safely and as comfortable as possible. If you stop taking the drug abruptly or inject it into your bloodstream directly, you will feel more intense withdrawal symptoms.
Suboxone withdrawal is usually not life-threatening, but it can cause complications in some people. Symptoms can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous. The most effective way to get through withdrawal is with medical help.
Suboxone contains an opioid, so large doses could potentially lead to overdose symptoms, even potentially dangerous ones. However, a Suboxone overdose is less likely than overdose with other opioids, even opioid addiction medications like methadone. The reason is Suboxone is a combination of drugs that are specifically designed to make abuse and overdose more difficult.
Suboxone is unique in the world of MAT drugs. It contains buprenorphine, which is a partial opioid agonist. That means it’s an opioid that only partly activates opioid receptors, causing more mild effects. Other medications have a similar effect, and some people take buprenorphine on its own. However, Suboxone also contains naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Naloxone is used to reverse opioid overdoses because it kicks opioids off their receptors and blocks them from being activated. It stops opioid overdose dead in its tracks.
However, Suboxone is taken sublingually. The buprenorphine is absorbed through the mouth and into the bloodstream, and makes its way to the opioid receptors.
The naloxone can’t easily pass through the lining of your mouth. When it’s normally administered to stop an overdose, it’s given as a nasal spray or injected. Suboxone is given with a dose of buprenorphine that’s not high enough to cause a significant high.
Suboxone treatment may be provided daily. However, you’re given just enough to help you to avoid withdrawal symptoms and cravings. But unlike methadone, it can also be prescribed for home use as opposed to just daily clinical administration. However, if the drug is dissolved and injected, it could cause a euphoric high. But if the drug is injected, the naloxone gets into the blood and shuts down the buprenorphine and other opioids in your system. Not only does this prevent a high and overdose, but it will also send you into withdrawal.
It’s possible to abuse Suboxone, and a huge amount could conceivably be dangerous, but because of the nature of the drug and how it’s administered, it’s not likely.
Comer, S. D., Sullivan, M. A., Vosburg, S. K., Manubay, J., Amass, L., Cooper, Z. D., . . . Kleber, H. D. (2010, April). Abuse liability of intravenous buprenorphine/naloxone and buprenorphine alone in buprenorphine-maintained intravenous heroin abusers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3489277/
RxList. (2018, February 2). Suboxone (Buprenorphine HCl and naloxone HCl): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/suboxone-drug.htm
SAMHSA. (2015, June 15). Buprenorphine. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/buprenorphine
SAMHSA. (2015, July 21). Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment