The Effects of Suboxone Use: Short-Term, Long-Term, and Side Effects
Medications like Suboxone can be a critical part of a comprehensive treatment plan for opioid use disorder (OUD).1, 2 According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medication for OUD can help relieve or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings. It can also prevent the euphoric effects of illicit opioids, which may deter opioid use and reduce the risk of relapse.2, 3
People who use OUD medications or are interested in doing so may wonder about the effects of Suboxone. This article will help you understand the various effects that can occur with Suboxone use, including short-term effects, long-term effects, and possible side effects, as well as how to find Suboxone treatment near you.
What Is Suboxone Used For?
Suboxone is a brand name for a prescription medication that contains a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. The combination of buprenorphine and naloxone is also known by the brand name Zubsolv.2 Naloxone is also known by the brand name Narcan.1
Suboxone is prescribed to people with opioid addiction, or OUD.1 It is available as sublingual tablets that are dissolved under your tongue or as sublingual films that are either dissolved under your tongue or inside your cheek.1, 4
Buprenorphine, one of the components of Suboxone, is a partial opioid agonist, which means it produces opioid-like effects.2 However, as a partial agonist, buprenorphine has a ceiling effect, which means that its opioid effects eventually level off at increasing doses. This is one factor that reduces the risk of Suboxone misuse and makes it a safe and effective maintenance drug for treating OUDs.2, 4 It also means that the risk of overdose is lower with Suboxone than it is with other opioids.
The risk of Suboxone misuse is also reduced by the inclusion of naloxone.2, 5 Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that’s more commonly known for its ability to reverse life-threatening opioid overdose. Naloxone has no effect when a person takes Suboxone orally as prescribed. If a person dissolves Suboxone in water to inject it and misuse buprenorphine, however, the naloxone takes effect as it courses through the bloodstream and, rather than getting high, the person will experience unpleasant opioid withdrawal symptoms. This is by design, as it helps to deter diversion and misuse.5
How Is Suboxone Used?
Suboxone is FDA-approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder.3 It can help people with OUD by reducing or alleviating cravings and minimizing or eliminating withdrawal symptoms.2, 4 Suboxone use can be started as soon as withdrawal symptoms being to emerge and continued throughout and after treatment. There is no time constraint regarding how long someone can be prescribed Suboxone for. Research has shown that buprenorphine is beneficial for helping people stay in treatment and reducing opioid use when compared with treatment without medication and medically supervised withdrawal.2
While Suboxone can be helpful for treating OUD, it can be beneficial to receive behavioral therapy and counseling in addition to medication, according to SAMHSA.3 Using both medication and behavioral therapy together offers a whole-person approach to treatment, and can also address any co-occurring physical or mental health disorders a person may have.3 Continued treatment with Suboxone may be part of your aftercare plan to help reduce the risk of returning to opioid use and stay on the path to recovery once formal treatment has ended.
Suboxone Side Effects
Suboxone use may cause certain common side effects, such as:4
- Increased sweating.
- Sleep problems.
- Swelling in arms and legs.
- Mouth numbness or burning if you use the film.
Less common but more severe negative side effects of Suboxone use can include:4
- Orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when you stand up).
- Changes to liver functioning.
- Liver failure.
- Changes in adrenal gland functioning.
- Sleep-related breathing disorders.
- Allergic reactions (if you are allergic to any ingredients).
As previously mentioned, Suboxone contains buprenorphine, which is an opioid, so it has the potential to be misused.6 Individuals taking buprenorphine regularly will develop a physiological dependence on Suboxone, which means they can develop withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it or significantly reduce their dose. Should a person wish to stop taking Suboxone, use can be gradually tapered off until it is safe. This should be done only under the direction of a physician or doctor.6 Symptoms resemble those of opioid withdrawal, but Suboxone withdrawal is usually milder.6
Potential signs of Suboxone withdrawal can include:
- Anxiety or irritability.1
- Watery eyes.7
- Runny nose.7
- Dilated pupils.7
- Muscle aches.7
Suboxone is safe and effective when it is taken as prescribed.2 The dosage you will receive will be tailored to your individual needs, and your doctor may provide adjustments in doses as necessary throughout treatment.2, 4
Short-Term Effects of Suboxone Use
Suboxone can cause short-term effects that are similar to those of other opioids, such as a reduction in opioid cravings, decreased pain, and feelings of euphoria.2, 8 However, research indicates that people who have a physiological dependence on opioids do not typically get high from Suboxone when it is taken as directed.8
Buprenorphine is a long-acting opioid with a high affinity at the opioid receptors in the body. This blocks other opioid agonists, including illicit opioids, and the blocking effect can last for up to 3 days.8, 9
While a buprenorphine overdose resulting in life-threatening respiratory depression is possible, overdose on buprenorphine is not common. The risk of experiencing an overdose when taking buprenorphine is higher when it is combined with benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants, including alcohol and prescription sleep medications, such as Ambien (zolpidem) or Lunesta (eszopiclone).6
Long-Term Side Effects of Suboxone Use
Someone can be prescribed Suboxone safely for long-term use and its primary effects are maintained: decreased cravings for opioids, pain relief, and decreased risk of return to illicit opioid use. However, buprenorphine is still an opioid, and long-term use will result in physiological dependence, which means withdrawal symptoms will occur if a person abruptly stops taking the medication. Although there is a risk for misuse of the product through diversion, the ceiling effect of buprenorphine, as well as the inclusion of naloxone, help to minimize this in Suboxone.
Find Suboxone Treatment Programs
Seeking treatment for opioid addiction can be a beneficial step for someone with an opioid use disorder. Treatment can help you regain control of your life. Medications like Suboxone can help you to stop misusing prescription opioids or taking illicit opioids like heroin. It can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, which can help you avoid returning to illicit or prescription opioid misuse.4
In addition to medication, you may benefit from comprehensive treatment of opioid use disorder that includes counseling and evidence-based behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). One study found that CBT combined with buprenorphine treatment was associated with a significantly greater reduction in any drug use among people with OUDs that mainly involved the misuse of prescription opioids.1
Rehab facilities are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based OUD addiction treatment in the United States. Our facilities across the country offer varying levels of addiction treatment—including inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment—for people struggling with OUDs. Find a rehab center using our online directory or check your insurance coverage online now. You can also call us free at at any time, day or night.