Suboxone is one of the tried-and-true medications that can help people stop misusing and abusing opioids, including the illegal drug heroin. With an opioid crisis that has spiraled out of control in recent years, it is important to continue to find and practice methods that can get people off the road of addiction and away from the real possibility of an opioid overdose. Health officials report that more than 115 people in the U.S. die every day from overdosing on opioids.
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While Suboxone has gained acceptance in the addiction community as a safer way to treat opioid addiction, the treatment comes with its share of risks. Suboxone is a potent drug, and as with any drug, the possibility of misuse and abuse is there. People who use it irresponsibly can develop an addiction if it is not used with care.
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What Is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a brand-name prescription medication used to treat people with opioid addiction. It helps to block withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Users can take the drug as a sublingual strip or tablet that goes under the tongue.
The drug is a combination of two medications—buprenorphine and naloxone. It is known as a “partial opioid agonist” drug, which means buprenorphine produces weaker effects when it acts on the same opioid receptors in the brain as other stronger, full agonist opioids.
According to the The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, opioids with the greatest abuse potential are full agonists, and this group includes morphine, methadone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and the illicit drug heroin.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that buprenorphine can:
- Lower the potential for people to misuse it
- Lowe the effects (withdrawals/physical cravings) of opioids
- Increase safety in case of an overdose
Suboxone is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and with counseling and behavioral therapies to help people end their opioid dependence.
Suboxone’s other ingredient, naloxone, which is better known by its trade name, Narcan, also does its part to block full agonist opioids from attaching to opioid receptors. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), naloxone was added to discourage the misuse of Suboxone.
Suboxone’s “Ceiling Effect”
Suboxone differs from other medications in the opioid class in another way as well. Each time the dose increases, so do the drug’s effects. That is, until those doses become moderate. That is when the “ceiling effect” comes into play, and the drug’s effects level off. Once moderate doses are reached, it doesn’t matter how much of the medication is taken; it’s not going to do much more than that. This feature is designed to lessen the medication’s effects and curb people’s desire to misuse it or become dependent on it.
It’s also supposed to minimize the side effects that commonly occur with other drugs in this class. These include muscle aches and cramps, constipation, nausea, vomiting, cravings, sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, and irritability.
What Are the Signs of Suboxone Addiction?
Despite its pharmaceutical use, Suboxone is still an opioid drug, and it can be habit-forming because of its potency. It is possible to develop a physical dependence on it, and the potential for misuse and abuse is there. People who don’t have an opioid use disorder (OUD) are more likely to abuse the drug, according to SAMHSA. Those who abuse it do so because they want to feel euphoria, less pain, and relaxation. There are people who have OUD who use Suboxone to manage their cravings for other drugs, including opioids.
When someone abuses Suboxone, the person may:
- Crush the pills and snort the powder
- Mix crushed pills with water to inject the mixture under the skin
- Take more than one prescribed dosage at a time
- Chew the pills and swallow them
Physical signs of Suboxone abuse include:
- Watery eyes
- Slurred speech
- Memory impairment issues
General signs of addiction include:
- Running out before the prescription expires
- Using medication despite the consequences
- Using Suboxone in an improper manner
- Mixing Suboxone with other drugs and alcohol
- Anxiety, depression, irritability
- Strained family, friends relationships
- Running out of money to pay for Suboxone
- Hiding and lying to family, friends about drug use
A clear indicator that someone is abusing Suboxone or has developed a dependence on it is when physical and psychological changes happen soon after they stop using it. These withdrawals happen because the brain and the body are trying to adjust to not having Suboxone in the amounts they have gotten used to.
Long-term Suboxone users should avoid quitting the drug abruptly. Going “cold turkey” could do more harm than good, and it could lead to a relapse, when someone returns to using drugs after abstaining from them for a period. The safe route to ending Suboxone dependence is to receive addiction treatment from a reputable facility that treats substance use disorders with evidence-based practices.
How Should Suboxone Addiction Be Treated?
Entering a facility to undergo treatment for Suboxone addiction is a solid step toward recovery. Addiction treatment can be adapted to suit the person’s unique needs and incorporate a variety of settings and practices. There is no one way to go about treatment, and it can be adjusted as needed.
The recovery process will start with a medical detox in most cases. This period can last three to seven days or longer if needed. During this time, Suboxone and other drugs and toxins will be removed from the body under a medical professional’s supervision. A tapering schedule may be set to ensure the weaning process takes place gradually and that the recovering user is kept safe as withdrawal symptoms are managed. This is why having medical staff on hand to monitor vitals 24/7 is important. If something unexpected happens during detox, someone will be there to address it.
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It also is common for medications to be given during this process. These medications combat painful or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and address any existing conditions.
When detox is done, clients will be presented with treatment options based on an initial assessment of their physical and mental condition. Every option presented should be the best ones to address the client’s needs and encourage addiction recovery. Longtime Suboxone users may receive a recommendation to enter a long-term residential treatment program. Research suggests that the longer one stays in treatment, the greater their chances of recovery are.
An outpatient treatment program may be recommended for people who are in early-stage Suboxone addiction or have mildly abused it. There are other options as well, such as partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient treatment. Much must be considered when one weighs what treatment to enter, including any financial considerations that need to be made.
No matter which option they choose, recovering substance users will receive the therapy and counseling they need to address what causes their addiction and the reasons for their substance use and what they can do to remain sober in the future.
A commonly used psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It teaches people how to identify self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that accompany destructive behaviors that lead to drug and alcohol abuse. A treatment program also connects people to a supportive community of addiction specialists and peers who have similar challenges. Having such a network keeps many people motivated and focused on their goals.
When treatment ends at a facility, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter, and people in recovery will need continued support. Fortunately, there is an abundance of resources out there to keep people on the right path and away from relapse and triggers that led to drug and alcohol use. Alumni programs, 12-step groups, SMART Recovery, and other support groups are available.
Is Suboxone Abuse Dangerous?
A couple of unique features have made it difficult to overdose on Suboxone, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Overdose more likely happens when people use Suboxone along with other addictive drugs, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol. Combining harmful substances can slow one’s breathing rate, putting them in respiratory distress. A person’s heart rate also can be affected. Coma and death are possible outcomes when people drink or do other drugs while taking Suboxone.
Seek medical help immediately if you or your loved one ingests Suboxone and experiences:
- Slowed breathing
- Extreme drowsiness
- Sluggish or slow reflexes
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Problems with vision
- Intermittent loss of consciousness
Call 911 for emergency help or take the person who has overdosed to a hospital emergency room.
Recover From Suboxone Addiction Today
Suboxone is beneficial for people who use it in opioid use disorder therapy, but abusing can lead to yet another addiction to conquer. If you or someone you know is abusing Suboxone and can’t seem to stop, give Pathway to Hope a call.
Call us at 844-557-8575 or contact us here online. We are standing by with the answers you need. Our addiction professionals are by the phones 24/7 to answer your questions and get you the help you need and deserve.
NAABT. (n.d.). “What Exactly Is Buprenorphine?” The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. from https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=2
NAABT. (n.d.). “Thorough Technical Explanation of Buprenorphine.” from https://www.naabt.org/education/technical_explanation_buprenorphine.cfm
NIDA. (January 2018). “Is the Use of Medications Like Methadone and Buprenorphine Simply Replacing One Addiction With Another?” The National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/use-medications-methadone-buprenorphine
NIDA. (January, 2018). “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment
SAMHSA. (Feb. 7, 2018). “Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).” from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment