Suboxone is an opioid medication that helps people who are withdrawing from potent opioids, such as oxycodone and the illegal drug heroin.
The medication, available only through a doctor’s prescription medication, comes in the form of a tablet or a thin film strip that is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Both of these drugs have been effective in blocking the effects of stronger opioids, and they have both been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help people recover from opioid abuse.
Generally, buprenorphine eases uncomfortable opiate withdrawal symptoms, while naloxone blocks the highs of stronger opioids. A medical professional places a Suboxone strip under patients’ tongues, where it dissolves.
The therapeutic use of Suboxone is part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs, which have been recognized for how they help people who are working through overcoming their opioid dependence and addiction.
Despite its medical benefits, Suboxone is still a strong drug, and it can be habit-forming for those who use it regularly. Misuse can lead to overdose and death. The makers of Suboxone warn that the film strips can cause severe and life-threatening breathing problems. Slower-than-normal breathing and dizzy and confused feelings are all signs of an overdose, which requires emergency treatment.
Suboxone abuse occurs when users take too much of the drug. Some people who abuse the drug crush the tablets into a powder that they can snort or inject, or they could chew the pills and swallow them. Other people have been known to dissolve the strips and inject the substance that way.
Changing the drug’s form and using it for purposes outside of its medicinal purpose is illegal, and for some, a path to addiction. Buprenorphine poisoning is possible when Suboxone is abused. Casual, non-medicinal use killed a 20-year-old man from New York; the friend who gave the medication to him said he did not know a person could overdose on it.
Someone abusing Suboxone may have the following symptoms:
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people who have opioid use disorder (OUD) are not the ones who abuse Suboxone. Rather, those who don’t have OUD are more prone to abuse it for buprenorphine’s effects, which include euphoria and relaxation. People who have OUD could also use Suboxone to help them get through strong cravings for stronger opioids and other drugs.
Long-term or frequent Suboxone users who want to quit or cut back on their recreational use or cut back may feel the consequences of doing so, especially if they choose to “go cold turkey.” Quitting a substance after chronic use, however, can be dangerous. Doing so can harm the mind and body as both have become dependent on the drug. To drastically reduce its presence in the body could have adverse consequences.
Withdrawing from Suboxone works similarly to the withdrawal process of other opioids. How severe the withdrawal period is will depend on how long someone has used Suboxone and how large the last dose taken was in addition to other factors.
If you or someone you know has stopped taking Suboxone and you feel any of the above effects, you could be in withdrawal. These withdrawals can be challenging to manage on one’s own. To get through your withdrawal safely with the proper medical attention, consider reaching out to an accredited facility that specializes in treating patients with substance use disorders.
Suboxone generally follows the usual timeline as opioid medications do. However, it is a long-acting opioid, which means a person may have to wait up to three days before they notice any withdrawal effects. Generally, expect it to take at least a month to withdraw from chronic use of this medication.
First 36 hours – Suboxone’s initial withdrawal symptoms can start in this window after the last dose is taken. They could last up to three weeks. Minor symptoms could last up to a month after a person stops using Suboxone.
Within the first 72 hours: Withdrawal symptoms start to intensify in this period. The physical symptoms, including body aches and pains, start around this time. Discomfort usually increases and peaks by this point.
Week 1 and beyond: Physical discomfort usually eases up slowly. Users see less severe symptoms as the weeks pass. However, after the physical symptoms subside, users must still contend with lingering mental symptoms, including anxiety, depression, irritability, and other psychological disturbances. A person may still be vulnerable to relapse in this period, but ongoing addiction treatment that addresses post-acute withdrawal symptoms can help people manage these issues.
This is just a general timeline that gives a very general idea of what a person withdrawing from Suboxone can expect. Keep in mind that other factors shape the withdrawal timeline, and those will vary from person to person. Each person’s experience is unique, which is why it is difficult to pinpoint how withdrawal will take place. The following can affect a person’s withdrawal timeline:
Coping with Suboxone withdrawal can be uncomfortable, and unfortunately, there’s always the possibility of relapse. Many people who want to stop abusing drugs and alcohol find that they can’t because of intense cravings and feelings of sickness that can become unbearable to deal with. These adverse reactions happen because “going cold turkey” is usually too much for the body and mind to handle.
That’s not to say withdrawal is impossible. It’s just manageable when a tapering process is followed to give the body time to recover from not having the drug in its system in the amounts that it has become used to.
Addiction care professionals recommend undergoing medical detoxification (detox for short) to stop drug use safely. The medically monitored process also helps the person avoid relapse while working toward ending drug abuse for good.
Undergoing detox at an accredited facility that treats substance use disorders can give recovering Suboxone users peace of mind as they receive 24-hour care from medical professionals who understand addiction recovery and the unique needs of patients who need such care.
Patients may be given medication to help ease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and if any medical emergencies arise, there will be someone on staff who can respond. Once patients regain physical stability, they can consider moving to the next treatment step, which is a treatment setting that encourages them to focus on recovery and take a closer look at the underlying causes of their substance dependence and abuse.
Addiction treatment programs that encourage a view of the “whole person” go beyond just the physical aspects of addiction. There is a mental component as well that must be examined. Depending on how severe one’s Suboxone dependence or addiction is, they may need time to spend up to 90 days (or longer) in an on-site residential program to receive intensive therapy with mental health professionals and other care. A longer stay in addiction treatment is believed to lead to effective long-term results for patients.
If a person’s Suboxone dependence isn’t as severe, they may receive a recommendation to attend an outpatient program that allows them to come into a facility for therapy and other support for a set number of hours every week. When they are done for the day, they can return home and live independently.
Addiction rarely resolves on its own without outside help. Suboxone abuse can lead to a deadly overdose, even if it is an approved drug that helps people with opioid use disorder.
If you find that you cannot stop taking too much Suboxone, it is time to see an addiction care or medical professional who can get you the help you need. Withdrawal is a sign that your body has become dependent on a substance and can’t seem to function normally without it. The cycle of starting and stopping use can lead to relapse and overdose as well.
Many people abuse Suboxone with other drugs and even alcohol. Using the medication with either of these just increases the effects of all substances, which can harm the body. If you overdose on Suboxone and other substances, trying to reverse an overdose can become much more challenging, and the result could lead to death or permanent injury to the body.
The time is now to change your life. Reach out to an accredited facility that can help you take steps to recovery from addiction.
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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Buprenorphine. September 27, 2019. from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/buprenorphine
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last?” from www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment-usually-last