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Suboxone for Addiction Treatment, Side Effects, and Withdrawal

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What Is Suboxone Used For?

Suboxone is an effective tool in the treatment of addiction. Programs use the medication to both alleviate withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings and to discourage drug misuse. Doctors must meet certain qualifications before they are able to prescribe Suboxone. This page will provide information about Suboxone and discuss addiction treatment that incorporates its use.

Despite the negative impact that opioid addiction can have on a person’s life, many individuals are hesitant to quit due to their fear of painful withdrawal symptoms and the distressing cravings that may follow. Medications augment behavioral therapy and other rehab supports to provide comprehensive substance use treatment.1

In the 1960s, methadone began being utilized as a part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), as it reduced withdrawal symptoms and, via its pronounced cross-tolerance development, blocked some of the euphoric “high” that would potentially be experienced with additional opioid misuse (thus decreasing the likelihood of continued drug use behavior and providing a break in the compulsive cycle of addiction).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.2

Is Suboxone Legal?

The Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) allows qualified doctors to prescribe opioid medications to treat addiction.2 Suboxone (a branded treatment formulation that combines buprenorphine and naloxone) is one such medication impacted by this law.3 It was approved as an opioid addiction treatment drug to be prescribed by qualified doctors, but only after meeting certain restrictions put in place by the Act.

As a result, Suboxone can only be prescribed by a Suboxone doctor—a physician who has completed training and met the certification requirements for this privilege2—and the Act caps the number of patients doctors can treat with buprenorphine to 30 for the first year after completing certification.Thereafter, they can prescribe buprenorphine to 100 patients, unless they have applied to increase that limit to 275 under the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006—a modification to DATA 2000.

Purpose of Buprenorphine and Naloxone

The buprenorphine and naloxone in Suboxone each have a specific purpose:

  • Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means it activates opioid receptors, but not to the same degree that many other abused opioids—such as heroin and prescription painkillers—do. This means that it imparts enough of an opioid’s effects to alleviate opiate withdrawal and cravings without eliciting a pronounced, rewarding high. 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 not only block the desired opioid high, but it could send the user into precipitated withdrawal.5

Should I Use Suboxone?

Suboxone may be appropriate for you if:2

  • You are struggling with opioid dependence.
  • You are motivated to stop using opioids.
  • You have a stable environment in which to recover (which ideally includes supportive relationships and resources to help you engage fully in addiction treatment).

Suboxone may not be right for you if:2

  • You are not physically dependent on opioids.
  • You have a mental health condition that is 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.2 Also, make sure your doctor is aware of your frequency and most recent use of opioids so that they can determine the safest and most effective time to begin treatment.2

The Benefits of Suboxone Use

If you are struggling with an addiction to opioids, Suboxone may be able to help as part of a comprehensive treatment program or opioid treatment program, or as prescribed by a Suboxone doctor in an office.

The two major benefits of Suboxone treatment include:5,6,7

Suboxone Side Effects and Risks of Use

In the short-term, Suboxone can produce side effects such as:3

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Headaches.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Mouth numbness or redness.
  • Tongue pain.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Constipation.
  • 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 physical dependence and addiction to the treatment drug itself.2 The likelihood 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.1

Where Can I Find a Suboxone Doctor?

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 the medication.2 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a physician locator tool, or you can search for a treatment program that incorporates medication-assisted treatment.

Remember that the use of Suboxone as prescribed by a physician in a doctor’s office should be part of a larger treatment program which includes counseling and therapy.1 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 dependence will remain while you are taking Suboxone (which may eventually be tapered off), cravings and compulsive use behaviors are reduced.1,6,7

Indeed, there has been some controversy over the use of medications in recovery. Advocates say they are an essential component of recovery for huge numbers of people, since opioid addiction is a medical disorder with a neurological basis.7,8 From this perspective, the use of Suboxone is not just substituting one drug for another, but rather a safe and controlled way of recovering from opioid addiction.8

On the other hand, some programs adhere to a policy of 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. While being entirely free of any substance 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.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs

It’s important to ask questions as you consider an addiction treatment program. Since not every inpatient rehab or outpatient program is the same, if you are interested in utilizing certain medications like Suboxone, you will want to ask about it ahead of time.

Other things to ask potential treatment programs include the following:

  • Do you take my health insurance?
  • Do you offer any options for financing or 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 stays on a medication like Suboxone for?

It’s always a good idea to ask any questions you have prior to selecting a program. Don’t wait until you get into a facility to bring up your concerns.

Treatment can start anyone battling addiction on the path to a happier and healthier life. Rehab centers are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual requirements. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted facilities across the country. Contact one of our admissions navigators today to discuss your specific needs and locate a rehab center that is right for you. You can call us free at . You can also verify the coverage offered by your health insurance provider now.

AAC maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly using the form below if your health insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

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Senior Medical Editor
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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