What are the Side Effects of Taking Suboxone
Suboxone is a medication used to help individuals abstain from opiates. A combination of methadone and naloxone, the latter being the drug used to reverse an overdose, Suboxone is a partial opiate agonist that essentially works to replace opiates, providing a “cushion” that helps patients along the road to recovery. Whether or not its successful, or even safe, is a topic of much controversy. As with any opiate replacement medication, there are always risks.
If you or someone you know is using Suboxone—or if they plan to—it’s imperative that you understand exactly what it is, how it affects the body, and you know what are the side effects of taking Suboxone that can ensue. Once it’s time for you to seek treatment, find medical healthcare professionals that can help you deal with your side effects and symptoms.
Ever wondered how does Suboxone work? Suboxone is a controlled Schedule III substance often prescribed to reduce opiate misuse. It’s a drug that treats dependence, helping those suffering with drug addiction “break the chains.” The FDA approved medication is meant for sublingual administration and comes primarily in two dosages:
- 2mg Buprenorphine/0.5 mg Naloxone
- 8 mg Buprenorphine/2 mg Naloxone
It was introduced as an alternative to Methadone—a full opioid agonist—being that the drug proved to have its own addictive properties. Sadly, time and time again medication that is used to help users detox and abstain from opiates turns out to be a “lesser of two evils.” While Suboxone is safer than other alternatives, it also coincides with this phenomenon and often leads to substance abuse.
What’s The Intention?
Suboxone is engineered to stop opiates from binding to our mu receptors, the mechanism responsible for our pain signals. Additionally, the naloxone inside removes the possibility of the “high,” being that if a user misuses Suboxone and injects it, there won’t be any reward. The intention is to replace a given opiate with Suboxone to provide the means for a patient to beat their addiction. A study done in the Journal of Psychiatry states:
“This form of replacement therapy has been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and feelings of euphoria in some patients. The second component of Suboxone, naloxone, is an opioid antagonist that functions as an abuse deterrent. The inclusion of naloxone in Suboxone decreases the likelihood of injection since naloxone negates any drug high that could be achieved by buprenorphine alone, thus decreasing the risk cases of injected buprenorphine-related deaths.”
The study further concluded that Suboxone has the same efficacy as Methadone (the flagship opiate substitute medication) yet poses a lesser risk of overdose, rendering it the more “appealing” medication. Lastly, it’s heralded as one of the most cost-efficient ways to beat opiate addiction, although statistics seem to say people are throwing their money in the toilet.
Suboxone & The Brain
To better understand the side effects that can ensue, it’s important to know what occurs when Suboxone is ingested. Inside our brain, we have opioid receptors, which are what opiates like heroin and morphine bind to once they’re ingested. This then “shuts them off,” causing pain relief, euphoria, a depression of the central nervous system (CNS), lowered heart rate, and the drowsiness commonly associated with opiate drug abuse.
Suboxone functions the same way—by binding to these receptors. Thing is, it does not “block them” as opiates do, instead it takes up space to block the opiates themselves. In many ways, this signals to the brain that the “fix” is satisfied, yet without the typical effects of an opiate high. This is why it’s effective in helping users beat their addiction to opioid medication and substances; it mitigates withdrawals, tricks the brain into feeling satisfied and doesn’t produce the “high” commonly associated with such substances.
This then allows the individual to:
- Function throughout their everyday lives without experiencing withdrawals or being “high”
- Experience a bout of clarity to make healthy decisions—like enrolling in a rehab program—to create a foundation for sobriety
- Taper off Suboxone once they’re ready, allowing the brain to regress to its normal and healthy state, the same as it was before the introduction of opiates (given no permanent damage occurred)
- Know that, even if they were to misuse their opiate alternative, it would be extremely difficult to get “high” from it; on the contrary, the naloxone inside Suboxone often produces immediate withdrawals if the substance is misused
Is It Dangerous?
If someone told you they had a 100% safe alternative to the deadliest type of drug in the world—opiates—that would mimic the same properties, not induce a “high,” and allow the person to safely go through a drug detox and live a sober life, would you believe them? Sounds a bit too good to be true, doesn’t it?
That’s typically the case with dependence treatment medication, seeing as the alternative needs to pay close similarities to the “evil” in order to function properly. While it’s heralded as the safest opiate treatment medication, it’s also known to be addictive, non-effective, and can cause a host of side effects. There are also many dangers of long-term Suboxone treatment that should be made aware of before consumption.
Side Effects of Suboxone
The side effects of Suboxone are many and can affect a variety of individuals. Like with any medication, there are always complications that can ensue, particularly if the individual has an allergic reaction or mixes in other substances.
The most commonly reported side effects of Suboxone include:
- Headaches: it should be no surprise that Suboxone can induce headaches, being that it’s working to replace opiates in the mu opioid receptors (what’s responsible for signaling/managing pain)
- Withdrawals: being that the brain is not exactly receiving what it craves from Suboxone, withdrawal symptoms can ensue. This can also be a byproduct of naloxone, being that the anti-overdose drug, if the patient is sensitive, can cause an onset of Suboxone withdrawal symptoms immediately
- Anxiety, Depression, Irritability: this can be a byproduct of the brain adjusting to the presence of Suboxone and not a direct side effect, but volatile moods can ensue
- Insomnia: again, this is often tied closely to withdrawal, but Suboxone has known to disrupt sleep cycles and cause insomnia
- Chronic Pain: some patients report weakness and fatigue in their body, accompanied by moderate to severe back pain. It’s not entirely understood why this occurs but is often thought to be part of the body’s natural process of regaining its pain stimuli. In other words: the chronic pain could’ve been present before, the opiates just masked it
- Burning tongue/Red mouth: patients have reported irritation in their mouths and redness in their tongue and gums
After stating the above, it’s important to note that—despite the characteristics—Suboxone is considered to be safer than its counterparts. Rarely do individuals experience serious side effects from the medication. Rather, the worst usually comes in the form of choosing against Suboxone and turning back to the former opiate.
However, serious side effects have been reported.
Severe Suboxone Side Effects
While these side effects are rare, they can occur.
- Diminished coordination: individuals taking Suboxone have reported that they lose coordination, balance, and a general hold on their movement
- Respiratory depression: one of the most dangerous side effects of Suboxone—being that it too depresses the CNS—users have claimed to experience difficulty breathing. This usually occurs when Suboxone is mixed with other drugs like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium), alcohol, or any depressants that flood the central nervous system
- Allergic reaction: if someone is allergic to any of Suboxone’s properties, they could have a reaction. This typically manifests as hives, a low blood pressure, swelling, itchiness, difficulty breathing, and fainting
- Abuse/Addiction: it’s a common phenomenon that users will try to abuse their treatment medications for the purposes of “getting high.” While this is usually thwarted by the naloxone found within Suboxone, it’s not impossible to achieve. This can lead to health complications, dependence, and addiction
- Extreme Withdrawals: this is usually dependent on the type of patient (how long they’ve used, the severity of their addiction, etc.) and how they respond to the medication. If extreme withdrawal occurs, then excessive sweating, diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, tremors, and bodily pain can ensue
Indeed, Suboxone is a doctor-prescribed medication often administered with strict supervision. This does not mean it doesn’t come with risks. The above, while not as common, has occurred.
The unique nature of Suboxone addiction is that it’s not usually euphoria-driven. What we mean to say is that individuals do not find themselves addicted because they’re adoring the “high” they’re experiencing. Instead, it’s a drug used for normalcy. Being that full abstinence from opiates can be difficult to achieve, users find the “middle ground” with Suboxone. They take a medication that satisfies their cravings, keeping them at bay, and yet doesn’t produce the same intense effects that an opiate would.
Over time, if the person is only using Suboxone, they can develop a physical addiction which eventually manifests into a mental one. This then begets tolerance, meaning they’ll take more Suboxone than recommended, reaching further and further for this “normalcy.” Thankfully, Buprenorphine, the primary active ingredient in Suboxone, does have the “ceiling effect,” meaning eventually it caps out and no longer affects the brain. This makes it difficult to abuse in significant dosages, as the further it’s misused the less that will happen.
Regardless, developing an addiction to Suboxone almost always results in its misuse. While this is a safer hypothetical than, say, someone falling to the dark side of Methadone, it will still beget withdrawal, poor decision making, and leave them hamstrung by the same disease they meant to treat in the first place. This is an important side effect to note, as it can occur.
With All That Said, Does It Work?
To paint Suboxone as specifically dangerous or evil would be a lie. The truth of the matter is that the medication has done wonders for certain patients, allowing them to break away from opiate addiction and eventually taper off the alternative. With current studies, there are certain therapies that integrate Suboxone which works better than others:
“Despite the supporting evidence which shows that Suboxone treatment which is a minimum of 30 days for adults and 12 weeks for adolescents increases the rate of successful opioid detoxification, follow-up research indicates that abstinence rates tend to decrease as time progresses. Therefore, maintenance regimens such as longer-term Suboxone treatments are necessary in order for recovering opioid-dependent patients to remain abstinent.”
Suboxone has been proven to work better when taken for a month or longer, and only when paired with some type of therapy. The idea is to keep the individual away from using opiates for just long enough, then equip them with tools to remain abstinent afterward. If the individual remains on Suboxone for too long, they have a higher chance of developing a new addiction. If the individual is in on it for too short a time, they don’t create enough distance to stop using.
The goal is to create a divide, then teach the patient how to cope with life without using substances as a crutch, eventually tapering them off the treatment medication—until they are clean of everything.
- Suboxone works when paired with certain therapies. In isolation, it’s likelier that an individual relapses
Should I Use Suboxone?
If you or someone you love is currently dealing with opiate addiction and needs the help of a long-term residential treatment center, it’s important to consider all your options. While the aim is to lead a sober, healthy life, the road to recovery has many different avenues.
If the idea of Suboxone is attractive, it’s imperative to reach out to a doctor or rehab facility in order to receive an assessment. These experts will either recommend or dissuade you from taking opiate treatment medication and provide valuable advice on the most effective way to handle your addiction.
It’s important to note that there’s no “miracle pill” which helps to rid an individual of opiate addiction. If that existed, there would no longer be an epidemic. Instead, Suboxone is merely an aid along the journey—a helper—that relieves the burden of full abstinence yet eventually leads a user to where they need to go.
But it’s most important to note that this “helper” can, in fact, do exactly the opposite, forcing the individual in the same place they were before. Regardless, all your questions and concerns can be answered by medical professionals at an in-person drug rehab center like Beach House Recovery. The road to recovery begins with a choice, one you’ve already made.
If you have asked yourself, “Do I need to detox from Suboxone?”, Beach House Recovery can get you the help you need for your substance abuse issue. Contact our Florida rehab center today for more information on Suboxone abuse and treatment plan options.
Journal of Psychiatry. Long-term Suboxone Treatment and its Benefit on Long-term Remission for Opiate Dependence. October, 2015.
Pain News Network. Study: Suboxone Usually Fails to Stop Opioid Use. February, 2017.
NBC NEWS. Addicts Get Opioids During, After Addiction Treatment, Study Finds. Feb, 2017.