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Suboxone: Opioid Addiction Treatment

People with opioid addictions often struggle to stop using these drugs, but it’s important to know that treatment can help address challenges as you work toward long-term recovery. Prescription treatment medications like Suboxone can be an important part of a comprehensive treatment plan to help people recovering from opioid addiction, also known as opioid use disorder (OUD).1, 2

If you or someone you care about is trying to quit opioids, you should be aware of your treatment options, which may include medication. This article will help you understand what Suboxone is, what it’s used for, Suboxone side effects, the potential risks of Suboxone, and how to find opioid addiction treatment.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is brand name prescription treatment medication that combines both buprenorphine and naloxone.1 It is used to help people recover from opioid addiction by easing withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, which may help reduce continued opioid misuse and prevent opioid relapse.3 Suboxone is designed to be used as a part of a comprehensive opioid addiction treatment program that also involves counseling, behavioral therapies, and other psychosocial supports.1

What Is Suboxone Used For?

Suboxone is administered once daily as a sublingual (under the tongue) or buccal (on the inside of the cheek) film.1 It reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms and can prevent the euphoric effects of opioids when used as directed.3

People can take Suboxone on a short- or long-term basis.4 There is no maximum length of treatment with Suboxone, so people can continue to receive it for as long as needed.1 Because many people see a return to opioid misuse when medications for OUD are discontinued, your treatment team may advise you to remain on medications like Suboxone for as long as they provide a benefit.4

Suboxone contains 2 different medications to support people recovering from opioid misuse:

  • Buprenorphine is an opioid receptor partial agonist. This means that it attaches to and partially activates opioid receptors (the same receptors that are activated by the opioids you may have misused) to diminish withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings.3 Though it may lead to some opioid effects such as euphoria and respiratory depression at moderate doses, as a partial agonist, such effects are less intense than full opioid agonist drugs, like methadone.2 When used at prescription doses and when taken as directed, it can help people safely manage opioid withdrawal and cravings without pronounced reinforcing effects.2
  • Naloxone is an opioid receptor antagonist and is included in Suboxone as a deterrent to misuse. It blocks opioid receptor activation in the brain and blunts the euphoric effects of buprenorphine if misused (such as dissolving the film to inject it). It could also precipitate immediate opioid withdrawal, thereby reducing the likelihood of misuse.3, 4

Suboxone Side Effects

It is possible to experience Suboxone side effects and adverse reactions when taking the substance. If you experience Suboxone side effects that are bothersome or persistent, you should speak to your prescribing physician.2

Some of the common Suboxone side effects, and particularly those associated with buprenorphine, can include:1, 2

  • Headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Dizziness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Drowsiness and fatigue.
  • Attention problems.
  • Sweating.
  • Dry mouth and related tooth decay.
  • Muscle pain and cramps
  • Dilated pupils.

As an orally administered film, Suboxone may also be associated with specific adverse reactions like:1

  • Oral hypoesthesia (loss of sensation).
  • Glossodynia (burning sensation in the mouth).
  • Oral mucosal redness/swelling.

Suboxone’s safety has been supported by clinical trials and using Suboxone is typically considered safe when used as prescribed.1 However, Suboxone can present specific risks, especially if you use it in unintended ways.

Can You Overdose on Suboxone?

Since Suboxone contains buprenorphine, an opioid, it is possible to take too much if you misuse it.1, 2 However, buprenorphine is considered safer relative to many other opioids because it has a ceiling to its effects. This means that over-sedation and dangerous respiratory slowing won’t be as severe if you take increasingly more buprenorphine, which can lower the potential for overdose.2, 4

Someone who uses too much or has lowered tolerance due to previous abstinence may be at higher risk of overdose, even though Suboxone is formulated with naloxone, which is also used to treat opioid overdose.1, 4 The risk of significant respiratory depression and overdose can increase if you use Suboxone with benzodiazepines or other depressants, including alcohol.1

Additional Risks of Suboxone

Additional Suboxone risks include:

  • Opioid withdrawal. This can occur if you receive Suboxone too soon after your last dose of an opioid agonist, such as fentanyl or oxycodone.1, 5
  • Suboxone withdrawal when you stop using Suboxone. Quitting Suboxone should be gradual when you want to stop using it to prevent Suboxone withdrawal symptoms.1
  • Misuse and addiction. As buprenorphine is an opioid, it’s possible to misuse it or develop an addiction, although it has a much lower potential for misuse than other opioids like heroin or morphine.1, 5 The addition of naloxone is designed to minimize the risk of misuse, but it does not completely eliminate it.5
  • Cytolytic hepatitis and hepatitis. These are liver diseases that can cause severe liver dysfunction and potential death.1 For these reasons, liver function tests are usually advised prior to starting Suboxone.1

Find Opioid Treatment Near Me

Quitting opioids on your own can be difficult and uncomfortable. Opioid withdrawal symptoms such as muscle and bone pain, sleep problems, diarrhea and vomiting, goose bumps, uncontrollable leg movements, and severe cravings can all occur.6

However, supervised withdrawal as advised by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) may help ease the discomfort of withdrawal and set you up with a strong foundation for recovery.7

Professional support and supervised detoxification can help treat withdrawal symptoms when quitting opioids. You can receive medications like Suboxone, as well as medical support and 24/7 monitoring at an addiction treatment center. This can help you safely and comfortably undergo opioid withdrawal and become medically stable so you can start the path to long-term recovery.6 Treatment professionals can also help you understand potential Suboxone side effects to ensure it’s being used safely.

Finding the right treatment center for opioid use disorder can be an important start to a healthier life. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment, including opioid withdrawal, across the US. If you’re ready to start your recovery journey, we are here to help. Contact our free, confidential helpline at to speak to a caring admissions navigator and learn more about your rehab and treatment options.

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