Footprints to Recovery

What Is Suboxone, and Is It Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Lisa Tomsak, DO

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Suboxone is a controlled medication used to support people struggling with opioid addiction. People may take Suboxone to help with opioid withdrawal symptoms or cravings. When used appropriately in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), this substance can contribute in huge ways to helping people get their lives back on track.

That said, Suboxone does have the potential to be abused, so it’s important to know the risks.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is the brand name for a prescription medication aimed at treating opioid addiction. Suboxone contains two key ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone.

Buprenorphine itself is an opioid, but it’s considered a partial opioid agonist. That means it helps prevent other opioids (like heroin) from binding to opioid receptors in the brain. In other words, it blocks the pleasurable, euphoric effects people feel when they get high. Buprenorphine also helps reduce cravings and decrease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Many people know naloxone under its brand name: Narcan. Narcan is an opioid antagonist, which means it can reverse the effects of opioids. If someone injects Suboxone, the naloxone will trigger withdrawal symptoms. This effect often discourages people from abusing it.

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies Suboxone as a Schedule III narcotic. This classification means the drug has medicinal benefits, but it also has a significant risk for abuse. You can only legally receive Suboxone with a prescription.

Why Do Doctors Prescribe Suboxone?

A doctor might prescribe Suboxone during opioid withdrawal. Withdrawing from opioids can be a highly distressing time. Many people relapse to avoid the unpleasant symptoms. Suboxone can help them transition through this phase.

Some people also use Suboxone as a long-term opioid recovery solution. That’s because this medication can significantly reduce cravings. When it’s part of comprehensive substance abuse treatment, it can help with sustained recovery.

How Long Does Suboxone Stay in Your System?

Compared to other opioids, Suboxone has a fairly long half-life. A half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for a drug to be reduced by 50%. It can take up to 8 to 10 days before Suboxone is no longer detectable. But the true number of days Suboxone stays in your system depends on several factors that are unique to you. They include:

  • Your body weight and body fat
  • Your age
  • The size of the last dose you took
  • Your metabolism
  • The frequency of use
  • Your overall physical health

What Are the Side Effects of Suboxone?

All medications carry the risk of side effects. Common Suboxone side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Constipation
  • Mouth numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Concentration problems
  • Flu-like symptoms

More severe problems that warrant medical attention include:

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Intense dizziness
  • Excess drowsiness and problems waking up
  • Shallow breathing
  • Fainting
  • Severe confusion

Because Suboxone is a prescribed medication, be sure to take it exactly as your doctors instructs. Talk to your medical provider if you experience uncomfortable side effects.

How Do You Take Suboxone?

Suboxone comes in sublingual film strips. “Sublingual” means “applied under the tongue,” so Suboxone strips dissolve under your tongue. They may also be taken on the inside of your cheek. Most people take one dose once a day, but always take your prescription exactly as your doctor tells you.

Can You Abuse Suboxone?

Yes, Suboxone can lead to dependence. This risk goes up when people snort or inject Suboxone. While anyone is at risk for abusing Suboxone, it may be more common in people who:

  • Have previous histories of abusing opioids
  • Struggle with heroin addiction and want to avoid the withdrawal process altogether
  • Lack awareness or information about the potential risk for misuse

Some people buy Suboxone illegally to relieve opioid withdrawal. Instead of seeking treatment, they may take Suboxone whenever they experience withdrawal symptoms, leading them to become dependent on Suboxone.

If you’re struggling with dependence, you shouldn’t stop taking Suboxone without consulting your doctor. Stopping this drug abruptly can result in withdrawal symptoms. While these symptoms aren’t life-threatening on their own, they can be extremely uncomfortable, and this discomfort can lead you to relapse.

Can You Overdose on Suboxone?

Like any opioid, it is possible to overdose on Suboxone. Overdose remains one of the most serious risks of any opioid medication. Without intervention, an overdose can result in death. Symptoms of a Suboxone overdose include:

  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Constricted pupils
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Slowed or stopped breathing

If you suspect an overdose, contact 911 immediately. It’s crucial to get professional medical help as soon as possible.

Suboxone isn’t a cure for addiction, but it can be a powerful tool in helping you to get through withdrawal and in supporting your long-term recovery. At Footprints to Recovery, we support our clients in making the best choices for their well-being. If we think Suboxone is a good option for you, we’ll let you know why and answer any questions you have. We’re here for you. Contact us today to get the help you need.

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.

David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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