Even though Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction, the drug can still cause adverse effects and lead to dependence and addiction. Fortunately, professional treatment programs like ours can help individuals overcome Suboxone addiction and get back on track to long-term recovery.
Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat addiction to opioids and narcotic pain relievers. In addition to decreasing cravings and relieving some symptoms of withdrawal, Suboxone helps stabilize the brain so individuals can function well as they recover from opioids.
Although Suboxone is extremely effective, using the medication can be risky. Even though Suboxone was designed and is prescribed to prevent relapse and minimize adverse side effects related to opioid detoxification, people can become addicted to the medication.
Being addicted to Suboxone can cause confusion, hallucinations, low blood pressure, respiratory depression, seizure, or coma. The good news is behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, and other recovery activities can help individuals overcome an addiction to Suboxone.
What Is Suboxone?
Suboxone is the brand name of a medicine that contains buprenorphine, an opioid, and naloxone, a narcotic. Since Suboxone contains buprenorphine, which works like an opioid, the drug can be used to relieve pain. However, Suboxone’s intended purpose is to help treat addiction to opioids such as Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, fentanyl, and heroin. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers Suboxone to be an alternative to methadone, a medication that helps treat opioid use disorders. Methadone is also considered a Schedule II controlled substance. Schedule II substances have an approved medical use in the United States, but have strict limitations because the substances have a high likelihood of abuse and addiction.
Suboxone is labeled as a Schedule III drug. This means that Suboxone has also been FDA approved for medical use in the United States. Even though the likelihood of abuse for Schedule III substances like Suboxone is lower than Schedule I and II substances, the risk of psychological dependence is high and physical dependence is moderate.
Suboxone takes the form of an oral film that’s placed on the tongue or between the gums and cheek. As the film dissolves in the mouth, the medication starts to reduce cravings and ease symptoms of withdrawal such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and body aches.
Doctors prescribe 4 different strengths of Suboxone:
- 2 milligrams of buprenorphine and 0.5 milligrams of naloxone
- 4 milligrams of buprenorphine and 1 milligram of naloxone
- 8 milligrams of buprenorphine and 2 milligrams of naloxone
- 12 milligrams of buprenorphine and 3 milligrams of naloxone
Even though the different strengths of Suboxone vary, research shows that all levels of Suboxone can effectively help reduce opioid misuse. Suboxone can also help individuals remain in treatment longer which can help increase their chances of long-term recovery.
After being approved by the FDA as a treatment for opioid addiction in 2002, Suboxone was sold under the name Subutex. Since becoming more popular, Suboxone has been released to the public under multiple brand names, including:
- Suboxone Film
Even though Suboxone is legal, is a prescription medication, and is safer than methadone, the drug can still cause adverse effects and lead to dependence and addiction. Misusing Suboxone can be harmful to your health and negatively impact many aspects of your life if you use it outside of a doctor’s care.
How Does Suboxone Work?
Suboxone works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as other opioids. This interaction allows Suboxone to block the intoxicating effects of other opioids such as morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin. From there, Suboxone starts to reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. This means that when individuals take Suboxone, buprenorphine produces similar, but weaker, opioid effects. This is what helps reduce some of the physical symptoms that occur when individuals stop taking opioids. But unlike other opioids, buprenorphine has a ceiling effect, meaning when a person takes a certain amount of buprenorphine, the effects level off. This ceiling effect helps reduce cravings which, in turn, helps prevent relapse.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the intoxicating effects of other opioids. This means that even if individuals were to relapse and start using opioids again, they wouldn’t experience the desired effects. This helps decrease the chances of misuse.
Although Suboxone is extremely effective at reducing cravings, preventing relapse, and reducing the severity of symptoms of withdrawal, the medication is still a controlled substance.
The Dangers of Controlled Substances
A controlled substance is any illegal or prescription drug that’s regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in the United States. Congress enacted the CSA to regulate certain medications that can lead to abuse and dependence. The act categorizes all federally regulated substances into 5 different “schedules” depending on their potential for danger.
- Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and no federally accepted medical use. Examples include gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and methaqualone.
- Schedule II substances also have a high potential for abuse, but they do have an accepted medical use. Examples include cocaine, methadone, methamphetamine, morphine, and phencyclidine (PCP).
- Schedule III substances have an accepted medical use and less potential for abuse than Schedule I and II substances. Suboxone, along with anabolic steroids, barbiturates, codeine, and hydrocodone, are Schedule III substances.
- Schedule IV substances have an accepted medical use and a lower potential for abuse than Schedule III substances. Xanax and Valium are two of the most commonly misused Schedule IV substances.
- Schedule V substances can be used medically and have the lowest potential for abuse and addiction. Cough medicine with codeine is an example of a schedule IV substance.
Even though many controlled substances have accepted medical use, they have serious risks and can lead to a range of complications, including:
- Abnormal thoughts and behavior
- Memory loss
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart attack
- Significant drowsiness
- Physical dependence
Suboxone Side Effects
Like most controlled substances, Suboxone does have some side effects. Depending on how much of the substance individuals consume, the side effects can be mild or serious. The side effects individuals experience can also vary depending upon whether or not individuals consume Suboxone as prescribed.
Some of the most common side effects individuals experience when taking Suboxone include:
- Back pain
- Body aches
- Abdominal cramps
- A rapid heart rate
- A burning tongue
- Redness in the mouth
- Weakness and fatigue
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
Even though most of these side effects aren’t life-threatening, they are uncomfortable. The good news is many of these side effects dissipate after a few days or a couple of weeks.
Serious side effects of Suboxone aren’t common, but they can occur. If they do, call your doctor right away. Some of the more serious side effects of Suboxone include:
- Breathing problems
- Adrenal insufficiency and other hormonal problems
- Liver damage
- Abuse, dependence, and addiction
Suboxone can also cause a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to Suboxone can vary from person to person, but generally include:
- Trouble breathing
- Skin rash or hives
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
When individuals experience any combination of these symptoms they should call their doctor or local poison control center right away. If the symptoms are severe, individuals should go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.
Is Suboxone Addictive?
Even though Suboxone is a prescription medication, long-term use of the substance can lead to dependence and drug-craving behavior. This can happen because Suboxone contains active ingredients that produce effects similar to opioids.
When consumed excessively, Suboxone can produce a mild high. The brain, which prioritizes repeating pleasurable experiences, becomes accustomed to the presence of Suboxone. This desire to continually experience Suboxone’s mild effects triggers cravings. The more these cravings are satisfied by the drug, the more individuals become dependent on Suboxone.
When individuals develop a dependence on Suboxone or any other substance, they need the drug in order to function. When they don’t consume Suboxone, the brain starts to function abnormally, which includes physical symptoms of withdrawal. Even though dependence isn’t the same as full-blown addiction, dependence can — and often does — lead to addiction. Here’s how.
- Dependence increases use. When individuals become dependent on Suboxone, they use the drug to function “normally.” Unfortunately, this increases the amount of Suboxone they consume. The more of the substance they consume, the more reliant on it they become. If this pattern of behavior doesn’t stop, individuals eventually lose control of their usage and start compulsively consuming Suboxone, which can be an early sign of addiction.
- Dependence triggers symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms start to occur not long after individuals dependent on Suboxone stop using the substance. Often, these symptoms are so uncomfortable that individuals look for a quick fix to make the discomfort stop. Many people turn to the substance they were previously using for “relief.” Unfortunately, doing so increases the risk of addiction.
- Dependence compels individuals to satisfy cravings. When individuals use Suboxone to feel “normal,” perform their daily tasks and responsibilities, or find relief from symptoms of withdrawal, they are satisfying a craving. Every time they do this, they allow their body to dictate what it wants instead of asserting their own authority. When this kind of behavior happens frequently, individuals start to lose control of their Suboxone consumption, which is the gateway to addiction.
Because Suboxone helps treat opioid addiction, many people have trouble classifying the drug as an addictive substance. But Suboxone is a habit-forming drug that can in fact lead to abuse, dependence, and sadly, addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction
Since Suboxone is a prescription medication, recognizing an addiction to the substance can be difficult. The good news is that there are some signs and symptoms that individuals tend to display when they are misusing, abusing, or addicted to Suboxone.
Five of the most common signs of Suboxone abuse to watch out for include:
1. Taking more Suboxone than prescribed
Doctors prescribe medications like Suboxone to match an individual’s specific medical needs. When individuals change this dosage, especially without consulting their doctor, they can experience more intense effects. These effects can be extremely addictive to someone in the process of overcoming opioid addiction. Running out of a prescription early is a common indication that an individual may be using a larger amount of Suboxone than the doctor prescribed. Doing this can increase an individual’s risk of abuse and dependence and can lead to addiction if the pattern of behavior doesn’t change.
2. Visiting multiple doctors to get more Suboxone
Individuals abusing or addicted to Suboxone tend to crave larger amounts of the substance than they can get with one prescription. This often compels some people to visit multiple doctors to increase their supply of Suboxone. This practice, also known as “doctor-shopping,” is one of the most common signs of substance abuse and addiction.
3. Strange or unusual behavior
Individuals abusing Suboxone tend to act differently. The changes in behavior can vary from person to person, but they generally include:
- Frequently talking about Suboxone
- A preoccupation with getting more of the drug
- Avoiding friends, family members, and other people individuals usually spend time with
- Acting defensively when confronted or asked about Suboxone use
- Showing less interest in activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
- Missing counseling appointments or support group sessions
4. Physical symptoms
Some of the most visible and recognizable signs of Suboxone addiction are physical symptoms that occur when individuals take extremely large amounts of the drug. When individuals abuse Suboxone, they may exhibit:
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Decreased coordination
- Runny nose
- Low sex drive
- Impaired or slurred speech
- Muscle aches
- Increased blood pressure
5. Psychological changes
Individuals addicted to Suboxone also tend to act erratically. This can take the form of reckless behavior, sudden disappearances, or random outbursts. Other changes can include:
- Poor memory
- Unexplained shifts in mood
- Impaired cognition
- Less emotional self-awareness
These changes can be as severe as physical symptoms. They can also make maintaining relationships challenging. Severed relationships, especially in conjunction with other symptoms, can also be a sign of Suboxone addiction.
Long-Term Effects of Suboxone Addiction
Prolonged Suboxone misuse and abuse can lead to a number of long-term negative effects. Some of the most common long-term effects associated with Suboxone addiction include:
- Hepatitis. When the body has to process large amounts of Suboxone quickly, the liver can become inflamed, which can lead to hepatitis. When this happens, individuals may experience nausea, dark urine, light colored stool, and jaundice.
- Serotonin syndrome. High levels of Suboxone disrupt the body’s natural production of serotonin. When this happens, individuals may experience increased body temperature, agitation, tremors, and excessive sweating.
- Overdose. Even though Suboxone overdose is unlikely, it is possible. This is especially true when individuals combine Suboxone with alcohol, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or hormonal contraceptives. These substances can interfere with the naloxone which helps prevent overdose. When this happens, individuals can overdose on Suboxone. Overdose on this drug generally leads to depressed breathing, abdominal pain, a slowed heartbeat, trouble remembering things, loss of coordination, and seizures.
Other long-term effects of Suboxone misuse and addiction can include:
- Hair loss
- Respiratory depression
- Confusion or delirium
- Emotional reactivity
- Decreased tolerance for pain
The good news is professional addiction treatment programs can help individuals overcome an addiction to Suboxone.
Treatment For Suboxone Addiction
- Detoxification. Like any other substance use disorder, detoxification is the first step toward addiction treatment. During the detox process, the body removes all the Suboxone in the bloodstream. Since the brain has become so accustomed to Suboxone, the body struggles to function properly, which triggers withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, cravings, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, pain, or fear of mental illness. Medically assisted detox allows individuals to adjust to life without Suboxone in a safe environment that is tailored to their specific needs. Once the brain and body stabilize, treatment can begin.
- Addiction Treatment. Addiction treatment usually falls into one of two categories: inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient treatment requires individuals to live onsite while they recover, while outpatient treatment gives individuals the freedom to live at home or in a sober living facility. We provide outpatient care and offer three different types of addiction treatment programs: outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization. All of our programs include behavioral therapy, group and individual counseling, mindfulness, meditation, 12- step education, clinical support, and peer support groups.
- Aftercare Support. After individuals complete an addiction treatment program, they need ongoing support to maintain their sobriety. Our aftercare services include employment assistance, nutritional counseling, help with continuing education, and a family support program.
Break Free From Addiction Today
Even though Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction, the drug can lead to dependence and addiction. Addiction treatment programs can help individuals regain their independence and get back on track to long-term recovery. Don’t let an addiction to Suboxone make you think recovery isn’t possible. It is. Let us help you reach and maintain that goal. Contact Meta Addiction Treatment today to learn more and talk to one of our recovery experts.