What Is Suboxone Used For?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on March 10, 2021

Suboxone is a buprenorphine/naloxone combination drug that is FDA-approved to treat opioid use disorder. Suboxone has a low potential for abuse, but may be misused by people with a history of opioid abuse or polysubstance abuse.

Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on March 10, 2021
What Is Suboxone Used For?

Suboxone is the brand name for a combination drug containing the active ingredients buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist.

Primary uses for Suboxone include:

  • opioid/opiate withdrawal treatment
  • opioid use disorder treatment
  • pain management

Suboxone is most commonly used to treat heroin addiction and opioid use disorder (OUD). Suboxone is offered within medication-assisted treatment programs to reduce opioid cravings, ease withdrawal, and reduce the risk for relapse.

What Does Suboxone Do?

Suboxone is a prescription drug that is used within medication-assisted treatment programs to promote recovery from opioid addiction. It comes in several strengths, or dosage amounts.

Suboxone comes in the form of a film or sublingual tablet and is used in the following ways:

  • orally, placed under the tongue (sublingual)
  • orally, placed between the gums and cheek (buccal)

Suboxone is a long-acting drug. This means it takes longer for you to feel its effects and it stays in your system longer. This makes it similar to drugs like methadone, Subutex, and naltrexone.

Suboxone works in the body by acting on certain opioid receptors in the brain. This can boost the activity of the brain chemical dopamine and alter pain sensation.

Using Suboxone For Opioid Withdrawal Symptom Relief

Suboxone is one of several prescription medications that can ease symptoms of withdrawal among people with opioid use disorder.

Using Suboxone For Opioid Dependence Treatment

Opioid dependence is a condition that develops from the chronic use of opioid drugs such as oxycodone, heroin, and hydrocodone.

Opioid dependency can develop in people who take opioids as prescribed as well as those who misuse them.

Suboxone is commonly used within medication-assisted therapy, alongside behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to treat opioid dependence.

Taking Suboxone for opioid dependence and addiction can:

  • reduce drug cravings
  • reduce the risk of relapse
  • reduce overdose risk

Suboxone can also be prescribed for people with opioid addiction who are pregnant. This can reduce the risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in newborns who are exposed to opioids during breastfeeding or in the womb.

The use of Suboxone for opioid addiction is tailored to meet each person’s needs. A healthcare provider can determine an appropriate dose and provide instructions on how to take it.

Suboxone For Pain Management

Suboxone belongs to a class of strong painkillers that can be used for pain management. Buprenorphine, one of the active ingredients in Suboxone, has been shown to help treat severe pain in people with chronic pain conditions.

Treatment Programs That Use Suboxone

Many drug addiction treatment programs and providers offer Suboxone as a treatment for opioid addiction, in conjunction with other medical and behavioral treatment services.

Suboxone may be offered in the following types of treatment programs:

Side Effects Of Suboxone

Suboxone can cause some side effects after use. These side effects can be physical, mental, or psychological. They may be mild to severe in nature.

After taking Suboxone, side effects may include:

  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • nausea
  • fever
  • body aches
  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • blurred vision
  • tremors
  • sweating
  • stomach cramps

Not everyone reacts to drugs the same way. Talk to your prescribing doctor if you’re experiencing adverse effects after taking Suboxone.

Serious side effects such as respiratory depression (slow or stopped breathing) or hives may be indicative of an adverse reaction and may require medical attention.

Suboxone Abuse

Suboxone is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a schedule III controlled substance. This means it has a moderate to low potential for abuse.

Suboxone may be misused by people with a history of opioid abuse. Suboxone misuse can be generally defined as taking Suboxone in any way other than prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Examples of Suboxone misuse and abuse include:

  • taking higher doses than prescribed
  • taking it more often
  • taking Suboxone with other drugs (including alcohol) to get high
  • taking films from someone else’s prescription
  • taking Suboxone for longer than prescribed

Before taking Suboxone, tell your doctor if you or any immediate family members have a history of substance abuse or mental illness. This can increase your risk for developing a substance use problem.

Is Suboxone Addictive?

Suboxone has a low potential for abuse and addiction. Suboxone produces similar but weaker effects compared to short-acting opioids like heroin.

Although it can cause euphoric effects, these effects are less intense because of how Suboxone interacts with chemicals in the brain.

Suboxone can be a life-saving medication for people with opioid use disorders when taken as prescribed. Do not adjust your dosage or make any changes to your Suboxone use without first seeking medical advice from your doctor.

Can You Overdose On Suboxone?

There is a low risk for overdose when taking Suboxone. Unlike most other opioids, Suboxone has a “ceiling effect” that reduces the intensity of its effects on the brain.

Overdose can occur if you take Suboxone with excessive amounts of other drugs, including depressants such as opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol.

Signs of a drug overdose may include:

  • sedation
  • difficulty breathing
  • slowed or stopped breathing
  • rapid or weak pulse
  • changes in pupil size
  • seizures
  • unconsciousness

If someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a drug overdose, call 911 for immediate medical assistance right away.

Suboxone Withdrawal

Taking Suboxone for an extended amount of time may cause drug dependence. Withdrawal symptoms can develop if you suddenly stop taking Suboxone or if you reduce your dose.

Withdrawal symptoms from Suboxone may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • teary eyes
  • runny nose
  • hot or cold flashes
  • restlessness
  • muscle pain
  • sweating

Do not stop or reduce your dose without first talking to your doctor. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be more severe in people with a history of drug abuse and other medical conditions.

Opioid withdrawal may require treatment in a detox program, where healthcare professionals can monitor your vital signs and provide treatment to reduce discomfort.

Treatment For Suboxone Abuse

People with a history of opioid abuse or polysubstance abuse may misuse Suboxone for its effects. If you or someone you know is abusing Suboxone, treatment within a drug rehab program may be recommended.

Treatment programs for Suboxone abuse may integrate group counseling, behavioral therapy, and supportive medication to promote long-term addiction recovery.

Millions of people in the United States seek treatment for substance abuse every year. If you have concerns about the safety of Suboxone or are looking for treatment options, call our helpline today to learn more.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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