- Table of ContentsPrint
- Suboxone’s Use in Drug Addiction Treatment
- Should I Use Suboxone?
- Where Can I Find Suboxone Doctors?
- Am I Really Sober if I Use Suboxone?
Suboxone’s Use in Drug Addiction Treatment
Suboxone is an effective tool in the treatment of addiction. Medication-assisted treatment programs (MATs) use Suboxone to both alleviate withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings and to discourage drug abuse.
Only certain qualified doctors can prescribe Suboxone. This page will provide tips for finding a Suboxone doctor, will give detailed information about Suboxone, and will discuss addiction treatment that incorporates this medication.
Despite the havoc that opioid addiction can wreak on individuals’ lives, many people might be hesitant to stop using due to their fear of a painful withdrawal and the distressing cravings that may follow.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) augments behavioral therapy and other rehab supports with the use of medication(s) to provide comprehensive substance abuse treatment.
In the 1960s, the use of methadone began being utilized as part of MAT, as it reduced withdrawal symptoms without creating a euphoric “high” (thus breaking the pattern of addiction).5 While this method proved effective, it became somewhat prohibitive a few years later when new laws went into effect that required individuals to be in an Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) to receive this type of treatment.5
Suboxone activates the opioid receptors but not to the same degree as opioids like heroin and painkillers.
In 2000, the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA) was enacted, allowing qualified doctors to prescribe opioid medications to treat addiction.5 Suboxone (the combination of buprenorphine and naloxone3) was one of the first medications impacted by this law. It was approved as a prescription treatment drug to be given by qualified doctors, but there are certain restrictions put in place by the Act. Suboxone can only be prescribed by a Suboxone doctor, a physician who has completed training and met the certification requirements for this privilege,5 and the Act caps the number of patients that doctor can treat with buprenorphine to 30 for the first year after completing certification and 100 thereafter.10
The buprenorphine and naloxone in Suboxone each have a specific purpose:
- Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means it activates the opioid receptors but not to the same degree as opioids like heroin and painkillers—meaning the body receives enough opioid effects to alleviate withdrawal and cravings but not to the extent to become incapacitated by them. This works to break the pattern of compulsive drug-seeking.
- Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, is included in order to discourage people from injecting Suboxone to get high. If Suboxone is injected by an opioid-dependent individual, the naloxone in the drug will send the user into precipitated withdrawal.4
Should I Use Suboxone?
Suboxone may be appropriate for you if: 6,7
- You are struggling with an opioid dependence.
- You are motivated to stop abusing opioids.
- You have a stable environment in which to recover (which ideally includes supportive relationships and resources to help you engage fully in treatment).
Suboxone may not be right for you if:7
- You are not physically dependent on opioids.
- You have mental health conditions that are not currently being addressed and/or you have suicidal thoughts.
- You are pregnant.
- You also struggle with alcohol dependence.
- You have had an adverse reaction to Suboxone in the past.
- You are taking medications that might adversely interact with Suboxone, such as naltrexone.
- You have abused Suboxone or methadone in the past.
- You have certain medical conditions that might contraindicate treatment.
To make sure that Suboxone is a good choice for you, it’s important to speak openly and honestly about your medical and psychiatric health history. Always disclose any past diagnoses and medications you take—Suboxone could interact dangerously with certain drugs.6,7 Also, make sure your Suboxone doctor is aware of your frequency and most recent use of opioids so they can determine the safest and most effective time to begin treatment.6
If you are struggling with an addiction to opioids, Suboxone may be able to help as part of a comprehensive treatment program or OTP, or as prescribed by a Suboxone doctor in an office.
The two major benefits of Suboxone treatment include:
- Reduction in cravings and the painful withdrawal syndrome associated with heroin and other opioid withdrawal.
- Stabilization of symptoms, allowing for focus on addiction treatment, including behavioral therapy.
Often, opioid-addicted individuals seeking maintenance therapy with Suboxone are put on waiting lists at clinics that offer that treatment. During this waiting period, opioid abuse is likely to continue, accompanied by all the dangerous consequences of that use.
Fortunately, a trial conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that giving waitlisted individuals controlled access to buprenorphine reduced their illicit opioid and injection drug use during the waiting period. NIDA is looking to replicate these results in larger trials.2
In the short-term, Suboxone can produce side effects such as: 3
- Stomach pain.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Mouth numbness or redness.
- Tongue pain.
- Blurred vision.
- Back pain.
Also, even though Suboxone doesn’t elicit the same kind of intense high as other opioids, it is still a partial opioid agonist, so there is the potential for developing an addiction or physical dependence on the drug. In other words, you may experience some euphoric or calming effects which can lead to cravings for Suboxone over time. The chance of becoming addicted to Suboxone may be increased if you misuse the drug by taking it in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed. As such, it is important to take Suboxone exactly as prescribed.
Where Can I Find Suboxone Doctors?
If you have decided that Suboxone is a treatment option you would like to pursue, you can begin by searching for a Suboxone doctor qualified to prescribe this medication.5
Remember that the use of Suboxone as prescribed by a physician in a doctor’s office should be part of a larger treatment program that includes counseling and therapy. This is an important component of treatment to ensure that you address any underlying issues that may have fueled your addiction.
You can also search for Opioid Treatment Programs that utilize Suboxone therapy. These programs should be certified by SAMHSA.
Am I Really Sober if I Use Suboxone?
The word sobriety in and of itself can have different meanings depending on who you are talking to. While some physical dependency will remain while you are on Suboxone (which may eventually be tapered off), the addictive behaviors such as cravings and compulsive use are reduced.
Indeed, there has been some controversy over the use of MAT in recovery. Advocates say it is an essential component in recovery for huge numbers of people since opioid addiction is a medical disorder with a neurological basis.8,9 From this perspective, the use of Suboxone is not just substituting one drug for another but rather a safe and controlled way of breaking free from opioid addiction.9
You need to do what works best for you, and a good starting place is discussing your options with your treatment provider.
On the other hand, some programs like Narcotics Anonymous promote complete abstinence from substances and may view using opioid medications as trading one addiction for another.
Ultimately, you need to do what works best for you, and a good starting place is discussing your options with your treatment provider or a Suboxone doctor. While complete sobriety may be something that you strive for in the future, the important thing is that you are getting help for your addiction and working to improve your overall functioning.
Looking for Treatment? What to Ask About
Not every rehab or outpatient program will incorporate the use of Suboxone, so it's important if you want to utilize this medication as part of MAT that you ask about it ahead of time.
Other things to ask potential treatment programs include the following:
- Do you take my insurance?
- Do you offer any options for financing or do you utilize a sliding scale to account for people with fewer financial resources?
- Does your program incorporate medical detox?
- What are your staff's qualifications?
- When do you typically begin the use of medications and how long do you recommend a patient stay on a medication like Suboxone?
It's always a good idea to ask any questions you have prior to picking a program. Don't wait until you get into a facility to bring up your concerns.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Buprenorphine[.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Buprenorphine Benefits Waitlisted Seekers of Opioid Treatment.
- United States National Library of Medicine. (2017). Buprenorphine Sublingual and Buccal (opioid dependence).
- The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. (n.d.). What is Precipitated Withdrawal?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Clinical Guidelines for the Use of Buprenorphine in the Treatment of Opioid Addiction, Chapter 1.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Clinical Guidelines for the Use of Buprenorphine in the Treatment of Opioid Addiction, Chapter 2.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Clinical Guidelines for the Use of Buprenorphine in the Treatment of Opioid Addiction, Chapter 3.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs.
- The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. (2008). Is buprenorphine treatment just trading one addiction for another?
- The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. (2008). 30-100 Patient Limit.