The Effect, Side Effects, and Dangers of Suboxone

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The Effect, Side Effects, and Dangers of Suboxone

In recent years, suboxone has become a popular go-to treatment for those struggling with opioid addiction. An addiction to opioids can develop for various reasons. For some, it arises out of treatment for chronic or acute pain. Prescription opioids are frequently used to treat chronic pain (from injury or an underlying medical condition) or as a short-term pain mitigation tool for someone recovering from surgery. Unfortunately, while these drugs are highly effective, they can also quickly become habit-forming and lead to dependence and addiction. Others struggle with addictions to non-prescription opioids or “street drugs” such as heroin.


Sometimes prescription medications like oxycontin are referred to as gateway drugs as it is not uncommon for someone to turn to drugs like heroin after using prescription pain medication. The addictive qualities of heroin and other manufactured opioids are equally as potent as prescription drugs. Suboxone and a similar drug, methadone, are both used to help treat opioid dependence.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a combination of two drugs, buprenorphine and naloxone. Together, these drugs help chemically decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms and reduce your dependence on opioids. As part of a medically assisted detox program at The Hills in Los Angeles, using suboxone under medical guidance and supervision can make the detox process from opioids more manageable for most patients.  Suboxone comes in two forms; a tablet and a dissolvable film that is placed in the mouth. Both forms are equally as effective, and the type each patient uses depends largely on the treatment center and personal preference.

How Does Suboxone Work?

Suboxone helps to reverse the side effects of opioids, including heroin and prescription pain medications. When used as part of medication-assisted therapy, suboxone prevents painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms caused during detox from opioid addiction. The separate components in suboxone act together as partial opioid agonists. This means they block the opiate receptors in the brain and help reduce cravings and urges they often become overwhelming during detox. An excellent way to understand the concept of partial agonists is to think of opioid receptors in the brain as a whole.


Without suboxone or a drug that inhibits access, the hole is wide open for opioid drugs to enter. When you take suboxone, that hole is partially full, limiting the ability of opioids to enter and attach to the receptors, thereby decreasing their effects. Naloxone (one of the two ingredients in suboxone) specifically helps to reverse the effects of opioids, making the detox process more comfortable as you will not feel the same “pleasurable” effects of the drug while taking suboxone. Suboxone has become the preferred method of treatment over methadone as it is less habit-forming. Suboxone is also helpful as a part of a relapse prevention program. Because suboxone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and remains there for several days. Should a person relapse and take an opioid, suboxone will block the high associated with that drug making the drug less desirable

Suboxone works best when used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program at an addiction treatment center like the Hills in Los Angeles, CA. When included as part of a plan that includes therapy, medical supports, and aftercare planning, suboxone works to eliminate opioid cravings altogether.

How is Suboxone Different from Methadone?

Both methadone and suboxone are still used as vital elements of opioid treatment programs. However, since the early 2000s, suboxone has been the preferred choice. Suboxone was developed with the express intention of fighting opioid addiction. Therefore, the medication was specifically engineered to have a far lower risk of dependency and side effects than its predecessor, methadone. Methadone has been used in addiction treatment since the Food and Drug Administration first approved it in the late 1940s.


However, as years passed, the unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects of methadone came to light. In 2010, overdose deaths attributed to methadone accounted for as many as one in three opioid-related deaths (approximately 39.8% of single-drug opioid deaths). Due to the growing dangers of methadone use, potential abuse, and addiction, suboxone was released in 2002. Methadone is a full opioid agonist, whereas Suboxone is a partial agonist. This means methadone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and activates them, creating a chemical response that leaves the individual vulnerable to dependence. Despite a reduction in use as treatment providers favor suboxone, methadone still accounts for as many as 5000 deaths each year. 

What Are the Side Effects of Suboxone?

One would be hard-pressed to find a drug, regardless of benefit, that does not have side effects. Suboxone is no exception; however, the side effects of Suboxone are generally relatively mild and predominately physical. The most common side effects you may experience with suboxone use include dizziness, sleeping difficulties, headache, vomiting, and numbness around the mouth.  Some people also experience problems concentrating or feelings of being “scattered.” In very rare cases, suboxone can result in more severe symptoms, but these cases are extremely rare.

What Are the Dangers of Suboxone Use?

Suboxone can be highly beneficial as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program; however, its use is not without risk. Although it does not produce the same high as opioid drugs, the effects of suboxone can lead to addiction if the drug is misused. Someone who abuses suboxone regularly is at risk for becoming addicted (although likely less risk than would be found with methadone). Some who are prescribed suboxone may take more of the drug than prescribed to achieve the opiate high they crave. Suboxone abuse occurs when the prescribed pills are snorted, or the film strips are dissolved and then injected. Suboxone that is snorted or injected produces a much stronger high than results from taking the drug as prescribed.

Suboxone Addiction and Withdrawal

Someone who uses suboxone and becomes addicted will generally exhibit the same symptoms as someone who struggles with an addiction to prescription pain medications or manufactured opioids such as heroin. Someone who is addicted to suboxone may exhibit a variety of physical, physiological, and behavioral symptoms. Some of the most common include doctor shopping, stealing prescriptions, nausea or vomiting, digestive disturbances, respiratory difficulties, difficulties concentrating, appearing high or sedated, and increased use of other drugs or alcohol (to get a more potent effect).


When someone who has developed a dependence on suboxone reduces their use of suboxone or stops using it entirely, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. As with other opioid addictions, the severity of these symptoms will depend on the severity of the addiction and other factors unique to the individual. Again, there are certain common symptoms that many will experience when detoxing from suboxone addiction. These will often include fatigue, difficulties sleeping, fly-like symptoms, sweating and shaking, mood changes, increased heart rate, aches and pains, gastric disturbances, and intense cravings to use suboxone (or other opioid drugs).

How is Suboxone Addiction Treated?

Suboxone is prescribed to treat opiate addictions, and therefore the treatment protocol for suboxone addiction itself is typically “medication-free.” When someone struggles with an addiction to prescription drugs or heroin, medication-assisted therapy, including drugs like suboxone, is often used. However, in a case where someone struggles with an addiction to suboxone, it is usually contraindicated to use other medications in supportive treatment. In these cases, the treatment process often begins with supervised detox from suboxone.


Supervised detox generally involves medical monitoring to ensure that the individual undergoing detox remains safe throughout the detox process. Withdrawal symptoms, vital signs, and other factors are checked and rechecked during the early stages of detox, making the process as smooth and comfortable as possible.


After detox, someone struggling with a suboxone addiction must participate in a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment program that includes therapy. At The Hills in Los Angeles, addiction treatment programs include various therapy types such as one-on-one counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and alternative therapies used in conjunction with traditional treatment models to offer the most holistic and complete treatment program possible.


Suboxone can be addictive. However, in the vast majority of cases, the benefits often outweigh the potential risks of further dependency as it helps someone struggling with addiction to far more harmful opioids achieve sobriety. The addictive potential of suboxone is far less than that of more potent opioids such as heroin and other prescription pain medications. Also, suboxone is frequently administered in a controlled setting, such as medically supervised addiction treatment settings at The Hills.


Therefore, trained medical providers can ensure that the medication is not abused or misused. If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to suboxone, it is essential to seek treatment at an addiction treatment center like The Hills in Los Angeles. Although the risk of becoming addicted to suboxone is far less than many other opioids, the challenges often faced when trying to overcome addiction are complex and, in some cases, dangerous.


Our dedicated and compassionate treatment staff will work with you or your loved one at The Hills to create a treatment plan that meets your unique treatment needs and goals. Our team will provide support and guidance throughout detox, counseling, and preparation for discharge. We will also ensure you have access to the most comprehensive aftercare planning possible to ensure your continued progress on your journey to sobriety and addiction recovery.


Overcoming addiction is not easy. Acknowledging a struggle with suboxone or any other substances is the first and most challenging step towards healing and a life free of the hold of drugs or alcohol. Don’t let addiction steal another day. Contact the admissions team at The Hills today to learn more about our programs.


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