Suboxone and Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction is a serious problem in the United States, where more than 2 million people are estimated to have an opioid use disorder (OUD).1 When someone has an OUD, treatment can include medications such as Suboxone, which is a prescription medication specifically FDA-approved for treating this disorder. Suboxone is a brand name for a combination of two medications—buprenorphine and naloxone—both of which play a role in managing opioid addiction.2
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone can help manage many of the opioid withdrawal symptoms to develop when a person with significant opioid dependence suddenly stops or decreases use of them.2 Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription medications, as well as illicit drugs, such as:3
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin).
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet).
Suboxone can be used to detox people from opioids as it helps to control cravings and other uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. Some of the troublesome symptoms of opioid withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, sweating, racing heartbeat, nausea, and body aches; Suboxone can help to stop or greatly lessen these and other symptoms.4
What are Naloxone and Buprenorphine?
Suboxone contains two active pharmaceutical components—buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is what’s known as a partial opioid agonist. It is a valuable component of treatment for OUDs since it binds to opioid receptors in the brain similarly to the drugs people are seeking treatment for but does not activate them as robustly. This means that, when taken as prescribed, buprenorphine can control the withdrawal symptoms that might otherwise develop without treatment, but can do so without eliciting a reinforcing, euphoric opioid effect of its own.2,4
The other ingredient in Suboxone is naloxone, which is an opioid receptor antagonist—a drug that blocks the effects of opioids. Naloxone is included in the formulation to deter abuse of the treatment drug itself. If you inject Suboxone, you may experience immediate withdrawal symptoms from the naloxone activity; this discourages people attempting to intentionally misuse Suboxone.2
How Does Suboxone Work?
Suboxone is administered as a dissolvable film, which can be placed inside the cheek or under the tongue where the medicine is absorbed.2 Once it is ingested and absorbed into the blood stream, Suboxone binds to opioid receptors in the brain, activating them to control cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms.
Uses of Suboxone
Suboxone is used as part of a treatment regimen for people who have an opioid addiction, or opioid use disorder. Ideally, Suboxone is used along with counseling and behavioral therapy.7
What is a Substance Use Disorder?
A substance use disorder (SUD) means that a person’s use of substances impairs their functioning in one or more areas of their lives, such as fulfilling work or family responsibilities.15 When a person has an OUD, he or she will have strong cravings to use opioids. Someone with an OUD will typically develop a tolerance for opioids, meaning that they need to take more and more to get the same effect as they did initially. Over time, they will become physically dependent upon opioids and go into withdrawal if opioids are no longer taken.1
Side Effects of Suboxone
Suboxone can produce side effects in some people. Common side effects may include:7
- Numbness or swelling of mouth.
Occasionally, there are more serious side effects, which may include:7
- Allergic reactions.
- Trouble breathing.
- Loss of coordination.
- Low blood pressure.
- Liver inflammation.
How Does Suboxone Help Addiction Treatment?
Suboxone is a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT combines medications with behavioral therapeutic approaches to help people manage cravings and prevent relapse as they recover from opioid addiction. Though in years past, abstinence-based therapies dominated the landscape of opioid addiction treatment, Suboxone and other forms of MAT for OUDs are increasingly becoming the standard of care.6
The cost of alcohol or drug addiction treatment may appear to be an obstacle, but we are here to help. Insurance may cover all or some of your rehab.
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Can Suboxone Be Abused?
As buprenorphine is an opioid drug, there is some inherent abuse potential of Suboxone. However, as a partial opioid agonist, and with its inclusion of naloxone, such abuse potential is much lower than that of many other drugs of abuse. Suboxone has a “ceiling” to its effects, meaning that as doses increase, opioid effects level off. The risk of experiencing a rewarding “high” from taking more and more of it is avoided.16 This, together with its abuse deterrent formulation, makes Suboxone uniquely suited to managing an opioid addiction.
It is possible to become physically dependent upon Suboxone. Over time, if you take certain substances, including the buprenorphine component of Suboxone, your body adapts to their presence. At this point, should you stop taking them, you can experience withdrawal due to having developed a physical dependence on the medication. However, physical dependence alone does not necessarily equal addiction. Addiction is characterized by compulsive use of a substance, and the continued use of that substance despite negative consequences associated with taking it.17 Use of Suboxone under medical guidance and when taken as directed to manage opioid use disorders does not constitute compulsive misuse.
Treatment for Substance Abuse
When getting treatment for an opioid use disorder, there are a variety of possible treatment program types. These include:18,19
- Inpatient treatment, where you attend treatment 24/7. Some residential programs can last several months if you need more intensive treatment.
- Outpatient treatment, which provides treatment for several hours each week but allows you to go home at night and possibly maintain your job or schooling.
Within these programs, there are numerous types of treatment interventions, such as:18,19
- Behavioral therapy, which can be in group and individual sessions, which teaches new ways to cope with the urge to use substances.
- Medications, including medication-assisted treatment, such as Suboxone.
- Treatment of co-occurring disorders in an integrated fashion, in which both the substance use and the mental health issues are treated simultaneously.
- Individualized treatment plans, that may include some focus on other areas of a person’s life such as housing, legal services, and employment, when needed.
Find Out If Your Insurance Plan Covers Drug and Alcohol Rehab
American Addiction Centers (AAC) provides comprehensive rehabilitation services for those seeking recovery from addiction and substance abuse, including facilities where Suboxone is used to help treat opioid or heroin addiction. To find out if your insurance covers treatment at an American Addiction Centers facility, click here or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential.
- Dydyk, A.M., Jain, N.K., Gupta, M. (2021). Opioid use disorder. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2021). Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone).
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2016). Opioid addiction.
- World Health Organization. (2009). Clinical guidelines for withdrawal management and treatment of drug dependence in closed settings.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Naloxone.
- Velander, J.R. (2018). Suboxone: rationale, science, misconceptions. Ochsner J, 18(1): 23-29.
- Invidor. (n.d.). Suboxone.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Medication assisted treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Heroin DrugFacts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Prescription opioids DrugFacts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Commonly Used Drugs Charts: Prescription Opioids.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), Arlington, VA.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Overdose Death Rates.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.
- Grinspoon, P. (2018). 5 myths about using Suboxone to treat opiate addiction. Harvard Health Blog.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Media Guide: The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Types of Treatment Programs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.