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Is Suboxone Really Addictive?

Is Suboxone Really Addictive?

Suboxone carries a low to moderate risk for physical or psychological dependence, but it can be addictive when misused.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with Suboxone can help reduce cravings for other opioids. However, you may worry that accessing Suboxone is simply replacing one addictive drug with another. Is Suboxone addictive, and does it present the same side effects as other opioid drugs? Learning about what Suboxone is and how it works can help you decide whether this treatment may benefit you.

One of the most challenging parts of overcoming opioid use disorder (OUD) is dealing with cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Confidant Health's online Suboxone clinic removes that barrier by increasing your comfort with the help of Suboxone. Find out how Suboxone MAT can help you enjoy a life free from opioids by scheduling an online assessment with our team today.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). It is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone is classified as a Schedule III drug, meaning the risk of physical or psychological dependence is low to moderate. Other drugs that fall into this category are anabolic steroids, ketamine, and Tylenol with codeine. Although the risk of addiction is lower than Schedule I or II drugs, you can still develop a dependence on Schedule III drugs like Suboxone. You should only access them under the supervision of a qualified provider.

What Is Suboxone Used For?

Suboxone is used to support people trying to overcome opioid use disorder. The medication helps minimize cravings and withdrawal symptoms to reduce the risk of relapse. You can access buprenorphine alone as a treatment for OUD, but there are advantages to opting for Suboxone instead. The primary benefit is the reduced risk for misuse due to the addition of naloxone to buprenorphine.

How Does Suboxone Work?

What makes Suboxone unique as an OUD treatment is how buprenorphine and naloxone work together. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist designed to produce mild euphoria, similar to other opioids, although not as intense. This helps take the edge off withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, serves to prevent misuse by blocking the effects of opioids and reducing the reinforcement that typically comes from an opioid high.

Side Effects of Suboxone

Although Suboxone can be integral to your recovery from OUD, it is not without side effects.

Mild Side Effects

Most people undergoing Suboxone treatment experience little to no side effects, which are typically mild. Some of the most common mild side effects of Suboxone include:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Itching or irritation at the injection site if receiving injectable Suboxone
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Numbness, tingling, redness, or pain in the mouth if taking sublingual Suboxone

These side effects are typically not harmful, but you can consult your provider for guidance if they become too bothersome. They may need to adjust your dosage, switch you to a different form of Suboxone, or change your medication.

Severe Side Effects

Some people may experience more disruptive side effects when accessing Suboxone treatment. Although these are less common, some severe side effects of Suboxone treatment for OUD are:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive drowsiness or dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you or someone else is experiencing any of the above severe Suboxone side effects, you should seek emergency treatment. 

Long-Term Side Effects

If you receive Suboxone treatment over a long period, you may be more prone to long-term side effects such as:

Dental Problems

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has found that sublingual Suboxone and buprenorphine medications can lead to dental issues requiring root canals, tooth extractions, or implants. Most of these dental problems were reported about two years after beginning Suboxone treatment.

Dependence and Addiction

Long-term use of Suboxone can be fairly safe but only when used as prescribed by your provider. Misusing Suboxone increases your risk of dependence and addiction.

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Recommended Dosage of Suboxone

For your safety, you should always take Suboxone as prescribed by your provider. The recommended dosage will vary based on your individual needs. Suboxone sublingual films and tablets are available in the following strengths:

  • 2 mg buprenorphine / 0.5 mg naloxone
  • 4 mg buprenorphine / 1 mg naloxone
  • 8 mg buprenorphine / 2 mg naloxone
  • 12 mg buprenorphine / 3 mg naloxone

Your provider may start you on the lowest dosage during the induction phase and slowly adjust it until you achieve optimal relief from cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The recommended dosage for the maintenance phase is 16 mg/4 mg daily, although your prescribed dosage may differ depending on your symptoms. 

How Long Does Suboxone Stay In Your System?

Suboxone starts working quickly after the film or tablet has dissolved under your tongue, which takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes. The effects peak after three to four hours, and the medication continues working for 24 to 72 hours

Suboxone can remain in your system long after the effects wear off, approximately five to eight days after your last dose. People with a faster metabolism or lower body fat may process Suboxone more quickly. If you have a health condition affecting your liver, it can take longer for Suboxone to leave your system.

Is Suboxone Addictive?

Suboxone is less addictive than other medications used as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), but you can still become dependent on it. Your prescription will not get you high like other opioids unless it is misused. Suboxone's unique mechanism of action is designed to reduce the risk of misuse by limiting its mildly euphoric effects and blocking the effects of other opioids. However, when used more often or in higher doses than prescribed, Suboxone can produce more pleasurable feelings, resulting in potential dependence and addiction.

Who Is at Risk of Suboxone Addiction?

Although Suboxone poses a lower risk for addiction, you should understand what causes dependence on it and what would make you more vulnerable. The primary cause of Suboxone addiction is misuse, which involves:

  • Taking a higher dose of Suboxone than prescribed
  • Taking Suboxone more often than prescribed
  • Taking Suboxone without a valid prescription
  • Crushing and snorting Suboxone tablets or dissolving films and injecting the liquid to achieve more intense effects

Suboxone is formulated to minimize the risk of misuse with a ceiling effect that blocks or limits the euphoric effects of opioids. When taken as prescribed, you will not consume enough medication to induce more than mild euphoria. However, in large or frequent doses, you can override the ceiling effect to achieve a high. Misusing Suboxone in this way sets you on a path toward dependence and addiction. 

Who is most at risk of becoming addicted to Suboxone? Anyone who misuses Suboxone puts themself at risk of addiction to this medication. However, people who access Suboxone treatment to address mild opioid use disorder may also be more likely to become dependent. Suboxone doses that may be appropriate for someone with more severe OUD can be enough to provoke withdrawal symptoms in someone who is addicted to low doses of opioids.

Signs of Suboxone Addiction

If you or someone you care about is prescribed Suboxone treatment, you should be aware of the following signs of Suboxone addiction so you can spot a problem before it progresses.

Physical Signs

If someone develops a physical addiction to Suboxone, you may notice the following signs:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor coordination
  • Shaking
  • Shallow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes

Some of these signs will appear as part of opioid withdrawal symptoms after a person dependent on Suboxone stops taking the medication or reduces their dose.

Psychological Signs

The following signs may indicate psychological addiction to Suboxone:

  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances

Suboxone and other opioid medications interact with opioid receptors in the brain responsible for positive feelings. Once the brain is dependent on this interaction, it struggles to produce these chemicals on its own. Abruptly reducing your Suboxone dosage can result in low mood and other psychological side effects.

Behavioral Signs

You can recognize possible Suboxone addiction by the following behavioral signs:

  • Avoiding activities once enjoyed
  • Having difficulty at work or school
  • Doctor shopping to get multiple Suboxone prescriptions
  • Isolating themself from others
  • Lying about how much or how often Suboxone is taken
  • Seeming overly concerned about having enough Suboxone on hand or obtaining more
  • Stealing Suboxone or stealing money to buy Suboxone

The behavioral signs of Suboxone addiction are often the most obvious. If you suspect someone in your life has become dependent on their Suboxone prescription, encourage them to speak to their provider about their medication. 

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Suboxone FAQs

How often can I take Suboxone?

Suboxone should only be taken as prescribed by your provider. This is a once-daily dose for most people, although some are advised to take it twice a day. Taking your medication more often than directed can increase your risk of addiction.

Is Suboxone considered an opiate?

Suboxone is a synthetic opioid as it consists of buprenorphine and naloxone, both of which are synthetic opioids. Buprenorphine is a synthetic version of thebaine, while naloxone is a synthetic derivative of oxymorphone. Opiates, on the other hand, are naturally sourced from the opium poppy plant.

Does Suboxone help with addiction?

Suboxone can help with addiction by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms so you can stay comfortable and more focused on your recovery.

How does Suboxone work for addiction?

Suboxone supports addiction recovery by minimizing urges to use opioids. It does this by producing a mild euphoria that helps offset the withdrawal symptoms from other opioids. Your prescribed Suboxone dosage will not get you high, although it helps ease cravings and discomfort when you stop taking other opioids. 

Suboxone Addiction Treatment

Suboxone is a crucial component of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. A comprehensive addiction treatment program consists of therapy, medication, and support. OUD is a complicated chronic condition that can affect you mentally and physically. To fully recover, you must address the contributing factors and triggers for opioid misuse. 

While you attend therapy sessions to discuss the issues that led to addiction and develop a relapse prevention plan, Suboxone works in your brain to reduce the desire for other opioids and induce a mild euphoria that doesn't get you high but provides just enough stimulation to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Misusing Suboxone can result in addiction, and if this occurs, your treatment team may utilize another opioid medication to help you manage withdrawal symptoms. Another method used to address Suboxone dependence is tapering, in which your provider may gradually decrease your dosage to minimize withdrawal discomfort.

Confidant Health: Convenient Virtual Suboxone Treatment

Whether you are dependent on Suboxone or another opioid, Confidant Health can help you get back in control. Our online Suboxone clinic offers convenient online treatment for people committed to overcoming opioid use disorder. Download our app and schedule a virtual assessment today.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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