Updated on April 5, 2024
7 min read

What is Suboxone and Is it Addictive?

Getting on the path to recovery takes a lot of courage and discipline, so remember to be kind to yourself or your loved one for taking that first step to get better.

If you or a loved one are recovering from opioid use disorder (OUD), you may have heard of Suboxone as a treatment.

There are plenty of benefits to taking Suboxone for addiction treatment. Still, it also has serious side effects, risks, and even a low potential for addiction that you and your healthcare provider should consider.

How Does Suboxone Help in Addiction Treatment?

Suboxone is an FDA-approved medication used to help people overcome opioid addiction. It contains buprenorphine and and naloxone:

  • Buprenorphine: Partially mimics the effects of opioids to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Naloxone: Blocks the pleasurable effects of other opioids

This combination makes Suboxone a helpful tool in the initial stages of recovery.

Buprenorphine tricks the brain into thinking it's getting a full opioid dose, suppressing cravings, and allowing people to regain stability. Importantly, it also has a ceiling effect—increasing the dosage won't intensify the effects, reducing the risk of overdose compared to traditional opioids.

Suboxone is not designed for long-term use. Once you've achieved stability, your doctor will gradually taper you off the medication. After fully stopping Suboxone, it's essential to engage in continued treatment and support programs to minimize the risk of relapse.

Can You Get Addicted to Suboxone?

While Suboxone is an important tool in addiction treatment, it's crucial to remember that it is a Schedule III drug. That means Suboxone has the potential to be habit-forming, leading to dependence and addiction.

Dependence can happen even when following a doctor's instructions. However, true addiction goes beyond physical dependence. While Suboxone's “ceiling effect” limits the potential for intense euphoria compared to traditional opioids, addiction can still develop.

Let's discuss the difference between dependence and addiction further:

  • Dependence: Your body adapts to the presence of Suboxone and relies on it to feel normal. Stopping it leads to physical withdrawal symptoms. Dependence can occur with responsible use of medication.
  • Addiction: A psychological disorder where the brain's reward system gets affected, characterized mostly by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. This leads to intense cravings, risky behaviors, and prioritizing drug use, despite knowing the harm.
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Signs of Suboxone Addiction

Suboxone addiction is more specifically an addiction to buprenorphine itself, as a weaker opioid but an opioid all the same. Signs of Suboxone addiction are similar to those of other opioid addictions.

These signs include:

  • Difficulty functioning without the drug
  • Going to extreme lengths to obtain the drug (doctor shopping or breaking the law)
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed or taking it more often than instructed
  • Neglecting one’s responsibilities in favor of obtaining and using the drug
  • Significant changes in behavior or physical appearance
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using Suboxone

If you or a loved one notice these signs, don’t be afraid to ask for or offer help. Look for educational support groups online that can help the addiction recovery process and consult a doctor for any medical intervention required.

Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms

The most successful Suboxone treatment results in little to no withdrawal symptoms. However, since some people quit the drug abruptly or become addicted and then stop usage altogether, withdrawal symptoms can occur.

They can be unbearable and, in some cases, dangerous. Some of the most common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

    • An intense craving for the drug
    • Profuse sweating and clamminess
    • Runny nose
    • Chills and goosebumps
    • Muscle spasms
    • Stomach cramps
    • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Insomnia
    • Depression
    • Psychosis
    • Agitation and irritability
    • Hallucinations
    • Blurred vision
    • Flu-like symptoms

    To avoid withdrawal symptoms, it's crucial to work with a healthcare professional. They'll help you develop a tapering plan, gradually reducing your dosage. Your doctor will tailor this plan to your individual needs.

    Remember, while prolonged Suboxone use might not be the ultimate goal, a safe and supervised taper is essential for a smoother transition. Quitting abruptly might seem tempting, but it could have serious consequences.

    Managing Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms

    Withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant⁠—even life-threatening at the peak of any cravings during recovery. However, there are plenty of things you can do to manage them:

    • Get enough sleep every night by following a consistent sleep schedule.
    • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises.
    • Eat nourishing meals high in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber.
    • Exercise regularly to improve your mood and lessen withdrawal symptoms.
    • Engage in activities that distract you from negative thoughts.
    • Speak with a therapist to receive professional advice on how to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
    • Connect with friends and family who understand what you’re going through.
    • Participate in support groups to share your struggles and triumphs with others in recovery.
    • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated throughout the day.
    • Avoid drugs, alcohol, or any other substance that can hinder your progress in recovery.

    Can You Overdose on Suboxone?

    Although occurrence is rare, you can overdose on Suboxone.

    A Suboxone overdose is different from a full opioid overdose since Suboxone is only a partial agonist. It also has a ceiling effect. However, it’s still possible to suffer a harmful overdose with this drug.

    Life-threatening overdose cases almost always occur when users combine Suboxone with other medicines that suppress the central nervous system or when you directly inject the drug into your bloodstream—which are often the causes of addiction as well.

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    What are the Side Effects of Suboxone?

    While Suboxone is an efficient treatment option for opioid use disorder, it can also come with its own side effects—especially if misused or when someone develops an addiction.

    Some of the adverse effects associated with Suboxone include:

    • Chills
    • Fever
    • Light-headedness
    • Cough
    • Profuse sweating
    • Red flushing of the skin
    • Pain in the back or abdomen
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Issues with concentration
    • Warmth or feeling overheated

    Immediate medical attention is urgent in the case of critical side effects, such as:

    • Fainting
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • Strong disorientation or dizziness
    • Slowed breathing

    These severe side effects are often noticed in those who don’t use the drug properly.

    How Do You Treat Suboxone Addiction?

    Many tools and treatment options are readily available for people intending to end their addiction. The first and most crucial step is having the desire to quit. While some can recover on their own, the vast majority of success stories stem from help.

    Behavioral Therapy

    Usually, underlying issues lead to somebody falling into addiction, such as depression or PTSD. Behavioral therapy helps address these challenges.

    Depending on the person’s needs, some long-term support methods may be inpatient or outpatient programs. These include:

    • Motivational Interviews: This method involves a one-on-one or small group setting to ensure personalized care. It helps people cope and stay focused on the right path.
    • Contingency Management: This program uses positive reinforcement by giving people tangible rewards for their sober moments through a "point system," giving people a sense of gratification for sober living.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT aims to get to the bottom of issues that may cause people to relapse. It helps in identifying specific behaviors that lead to addiction.

    Support Groups

    One of the most effective ways to find relief from Suboxone addiction is by joining support groups. Some excellent examples of such organizations include:

    Support groups provide a safe community for people to share their stories and get the emotional help they need. They also help develop strategies for staying sober.

    While medication and medical intervention can be a good way to jumpstart recovery, you are highly encouraged to also seek psychological help via therapy or counseling. Treatment should be comprehensive and multifaceted to make sure you are holistically recovering.

    Alternatives for Suboxone

    If you or your doctor are worried about your potential for addiction or dependence on Suboxone, you can explore other options. Make sure you are vocal about any concerns, as your healthcare provider can tailor your treatment to you.

    Some medication options are:

    • Zubsolv: A combination of buprenorphine and naloxone designed to treat opioid dependence
    • Methadone: Reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms⁠—requires daily doctor visits for better monitoring
    • Naltrexone (Vivitrol): Blocks the effects of opioids and does not have addictive properties
    • Subutex (Buprenorphine): Used in certain cases, such as during pregnancy; can be an initial step in treatment before transitioning to Suboxone or Zubsolv for maintenance therapy

    Remember that a more holistic approach to recovery is the best approach. Combine medical intervention with therapy and support from loved ones to get the best potential for a full recovery.

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    Updated on April 5, 2024

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