Suboxone is one of several medications used to treat opioid dependency and addiction. It can also be habit-forming when misused because of its action on opioid receptors, which can lead to ongoing problems with addiction in those who started taking it to treat opioid addiction in the first place.
Here’s a closer look at Suboxone addiction and its symptoms. Learn what you can do if you or a loved one needs help recovering from a substance use disorder and is seeking suboxone treatment.
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is the brand name for a combination drug containing buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder, as it can help people achieve long-term abstinence from opioid use. MAT combines medications like Suboxone with counseling and behavioral therapy to offer a whole-person treatment approach to opioid use disorder.
How Does Suboxone Work?
Given how Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, it helps to know how each of these medications works on its own to treat opioid addiction.
Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. According to SAMHSA, this means it binds partially to opiate receptors in the brain to produce weaker effects than full opioid agonists like heroin and methadone. This drug is used in addiction treatment because it minimizes opioid withdrawal symptoms like nausea, insomnia, and muscle pain. However, it can produce euphoria or slowed breathing when misused or used at moderate doses.
Buprenorphine is proven safe and effective in the treatment of opioid use disorder. It reduces opioid withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, along with the risk of drug overdose among those in recovery. Side effects of this medication include constipation, sweating, and blurred vision, though its benefits often outweigh its potential risks when considering the dangers associated with ongoing opioid addiction.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. This means it binds to opiate receptors to block and reverse the effects of other opioids, including fentanyl, heroin, and morphine. Doctors and paramedics may use naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose in people who have used too many opioids, including those who are unconscious.
People who are using naloxone alone or in a drug like Suboxone will not feel the euphoric and pleasurable effects of other opioids in the event they relapse. This is why the medication is beneficial as an opioid maintenance medication. Naloxone is combined with buprenorphine in Suboxone to decrease the risk of opioid misuse.
Why is Suboxone Addictive?
While there are many side effects of Suboxone, Suboxone has the potential to be addictive because it contains buprenorphine. Even though buprenorphine is intended to be used as a therapeutic medication for opioid addiction, it is still part of the opioid drug class. This means it can still be misused, especially by those who have never used opioids or are not physically dependent on opioids.
Suboxone usually becomes addictive when it is misused in any way, which is a practice known as prescription drug misuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription drug misuse is defined as using a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed.
For example, prescription drug misuse could mean using a Suboxone prescription written for someone else or taking double doses of Suboxone to get high. It could also mean chewing or swallowing Suboxone instead of letting it dissolve fully under the tongue as it is meant to be taken.
Why Would Someone Misuse Suboxone?
A person might abuse Suboxone for the same reasons anyone would use illicit drugs or drink alcohol in unusually high amounts—such as getting high, relieving stress, or losing inhibitions when spending time with friends. Some people may even misuse Suboxone to cope with symptoms of a mental health disorder like PTSD or because they are simply bored and don’t know what else to do with their time. There are many reasons to become addicted.
Is It Possible to Overdose on Suboxone?
Suboxone is usually prescribed to people in recovery from opioid dependency and addiction. These individuals often have a higher tolerance for opioids than most other people and find that Suboxone helps reduce their withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings. Therefore, people who do not have a history of opioid use or addiction can easily overdose on Suboxone, given how their tolerance is likely much lower than those who take this medication as part of an addiction treatment program.
The signs and symptoms of a Suboxone overdose are the same as those that occur with any other type of opioid overdose. These symptoms, according to the National Library of Medicine, include:
- Respiratory depression, or slowed or stopped breathing
- Slowed or stopped heart rate
- Blue or purple lips and fingernails
- Vomiting or gurgling
- Pale and clammy skin
- Limp body
- Inability to speak
Contact emergency medical services right away if you see someone experiencing the above symptoms, as it could mean they are suffering an opioid overdose.
What are the Physical Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction?
The physical symptoms of Suboxone addiction are the same as those of any other opioid addiction. Opioid drugs produce sedative effects that slow down the central nervous system, which is why taking high doses can slow breathing and heart rate to the point of coma or death.
You may also notice that a person addicted to Suboxone might exhibit sudden, abrupt changes in mood, including irritability, depression, and erratic behavior.
What are the Behavioral Signs of Suboxone Addiction?
The NIDA defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued use despite harmful consequences. Addiction is considered both a complex brain disorder and mental illness characterized by a set of 11 diagnostic criteria.
Based on these criteria, the behavioral signs of Suboxone addiction are:
- Taking Suboxone in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- Wanting to cut down or control the use of Suboxone without successfully doing so.
- Spending lots of time obtaining Suboxone, using Suboxone, and recovering from its effects. For example, waiting outside an outpatient opioid treatment center to talk to patients about selling you their extra Suboxone.
- Experiencing strong cravings, desires, and/or urges to use Suboxone.
- Continuing to use Suboxone even though your drug use problem is causing you to have other problems with your job, education, or family.
- Continuing to use Suboxone even though it keeps causing or worsening social or interpersonal relationship problems. For example, you keep getting into arguments with your partner or friends because you show up to social events acting incredibly high.
- Giving up or reducing the time you spend engaging in vital social, occupational, or recreational activities because you’d rather spend that time using Suboxone instead.
- Continuing to use Suboxone in situations where it is physically hazardous, such as using it at work and operating heavy machinery.
- Continuing to use Suboxone despite knowing it is causing or worsening physical and/or psychological health problems, such as depression or heart failure.
- Developing a tolerance for Suboxone due to using it regularly and in high amounts.
- Experiencing Suboxone withdrawal symptoms after you stop using it for a period of time, or using Suboxone for the sake of avoiding or relieving withdrawal symptoms.
Meeting two or three of the above criteria can indicate a “mild” disorder, four or five can indicate a “moderate” disorder, and six or more can indicate a “severe” drug use disorder.
How Can Suboxone Addiction Be Treated?
Many addiction treatment programs use drug detox and behavioral therapies to help people recover from substance use disorders. Detox helps people recover from physical drug dependency, while behavioral therapies help people modify views and behaviors that may be contributing to their addictions.
Suboxone detox is usually accomplished with tapering. This means your doctor will gradually reduce your dosage of Suboxone over time until you are no longer physically dependent on this medication. Tapering allows your body to gradually adjust to lower doses, which is often effective at helping you avoid severe withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
Suboxone detox can be performed in either an inpatient, residential, or outpatient setting, depending on the severity of your dependency.
Inpatient detox is usually ideal for those who have comorbid health conditions that need close monitoring during detox, such as a history of heart problems. Residential detox is for those who need a quiet, safe place to recover away from distractions and access to drugs and alcohol. Outpatient detox may work better for those with a mild drug addiction and want to continue working and living at home while receiving addiction treatment.
If you are unsure which detox program is best for you, the doctors at prospective addiction centers can talk to you in greater detail about your treatment options.
During or after your Suboxone detox treatment, your doctors will have you start attending individual and group behavioral therapy sessions. The types of therapies you receive will be hand-picked by a team of addiction treatment professionals based on your unique story or situation with addiction. Many drug rehab programs are highly individualized, which means the therapies you receive will address the root causes of your Suboxone addiction.
For example, if you started misusing Suboxone to cope with a mental illness, you may receive dual-diagnosis therapy, which treats you for both your addiction and mental illness at the same time. As a result, you may learn how to cope with symptoms of depression and anxiety without resorting to Suboxone. Or, if you suffered a trauma that caused you to start abusing Suboxone, you may receive trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps you face and overcome the trauma.
Other behavioral therapies available at many addiction centers include family therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and dialectical behavior therapy. Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous may also be available and recreational therapies like art and music therapy.
The goal of behavioral therapy is to help you change negative thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors related to substance abuse so you can start living a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.
What is the Prevalence of Suboxone Misuse?
Suboxone misuse is highly common in the United States, where an estimated 1.6 million people suffer from opioid use disorder, reports the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC adds that in 2019, more than 70% of the 70,630 deaths that occurred involved an opioid.
The NIDA says that between 2019 and 2020, there were 16,416 overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids in the U.S. Suboxone overdose deaths were included in this statistic. Another report from the NIDA revealed that in 2020, an estimated 3.3% of Americans aged 12 and older (about 9.3 million people) reported having misused prescription opioids during the past 12 months.
Given the prevalence of opioid misuse in the U.S., it is often relatively easy to find an addiction treatment center that can help.
How Can I Find a Suboxone Recovery Center?
Before you start searching for a Suboxone recovery center, determine what you want to accomplish with treatment, then find a facility that can help you meet your treatment goals. If your goal is to repair broken relationships with friends and family, look for a treatment center that offers family programs. If you need treatment for a co-occurring mental illness, look for a treatment center that offers dual-diagnosis therapy.
Next, consider where you want to recover from addiction. Drug rehab centers are located all around the U.S., so you can travel to any city or environment of your choice that you feel would help you achieve long-term recovery from addiction.
Free Yourself from Suboxone with Indiana Center for Recovery
Indiana Center for Recovery offers Suboxone addiction treatment, along with treatment for many other types of substance use disorders. We can help you recover from the effects of opioid dependence and addiction with detox, counseling, and behavioral therapy.
Contact ICFR today at (844) 650-0064 to learn more about our many available treatment options for Suboxone addiction.