According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is no significant evidence to suggest that buprenorphine causes liver damage in most who take it.
Liver damage can occur through chronic misuse of buprenorphine.
Underlying risk factors can contribute to liver problems, but this is unlikely to be caused by the use of buprenorphine when taken as prescribed.
Causes Of Liver Problems After Taking Buprenorphine
During early research into the effects of buprenorphine, there were some concerns about whether the drug could cause liver problems, particularly in people with underlying risk factors.
Most research into this has demonstrated that buprenorphine is unlikely to cause liver problems when taken as directed.
However, there are some situations where buprenorphine might exacerbate or contribute to liver problems:
Although buprenorphine has a low potential for abuse, it can be misused. Misuse of buprenorphine, by taking it in any way other than prescribed, can have negative side effects.
This can include:
- injecting buprenorphine intravenously
- misusing sublingual formulations
- taking higher doses than prescribed
- taking doses more often than prescribed
One of the potential dangers of buprenorphine misuse is acute liver injury.
If someone is misusing buprenorphine, it’s possible they could develop liver problems requiring treatment.
People who take buprenorphine may be at higher risk for liver problems if they have a history of chronic and severe drug or alcohol abuse.
Even so, research shows that buprenorphine use is unlikely to worsen existing liver problems, although a doctor may need to monitor those who are at risk through regular testing.
Liver damage can occur as an adverse reaction to buprenorphine, or in cases of buprenorphine overdose.
If someone is showing signs of liver damage, this may indicate an adverse reaction or allergy to buprenorphine.
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Risk Factors For Liver Damage While Taking Buprenorphine
Certain factors can increase a person’s risk for developing liver problems while taking buprenorphine.
Risk factors for liver damage with buprenorphine include:
- buprenorphine misuse
- current use of illicit drugs
- history of excessive alcohol use
- impaired liver function
- having liver disease
- history of intravenous drug use
- having chronic hepatitis C or B
- use of other drugs that affect liver function
People without pre-existing liver problems, or a predisposition to develop liver issues, are unlikely to develop liver damage as a direct result of their buprenorphine use.
Signs Of Liver Damage While Taking Buprenorphine
If you or a loved one are concerned about potential liver damage while taking buprenorphine, there are certain physical signs you can look out for.
Physical signs of liver damage include:
- yellow skin
- yellowing of the white of the eyes
- stomach pain
- swelling of the stomach
- dark-colored urine
- pale stools
- loss of appetite
- unusual bruising
- chronic fatigue
- nausea or vomiting
According to NIDA, there are two liver enzymes that are released when liver injury occurs: alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase.
If the levels of these enzymes are elevated, this may indicate liver injury. Enzyme levels can be identified through a liver function test.
Buprenorphine And Liver Damage FAQs
Wanting to know information about the side effects of drugs like buprenorphine is common. Find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about buprenorphine and the liver.
❓ How Common Is Liver Damage From Buprenorphine?
✔️ Mild to moderate liver injury can occur while taking buprenorphine, but this is generally uncommon.
Liver injury can occur if a person misuses buprenorphine by injecting it or misusing sublingual forms. This can also occur with overdose or as a consequence of polysubstance abuse.
❓ Does Suboxone Cause Liver Damage?
✔️ Suboxone, which contains buprenorphine, can have effects on the liver if it is misused alone or in combination with other drugs that affect the liver, including alcohol.
Liver damage is not a common side effect of Suboxone.
❓ Is Buprenorphine Safe?
✔️ Buprenorphine can be safe and effective when taken as directed by a doctor. If serious side effects do occur while taking buprenorphine, talk to your doctor for further guidance.
❓ What Is Buprenorphine Used For?
✔️ Buprenorphine is an opioid-based medication that is used to relieve chronic pain and treat opioid use disorder.
Call Today To Learn More About Buprenorphine Treatment
Buprenorphine is one of several FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder, a life-threatening condition that affects over one million Americans.
Buprenorphine treatment can:
- prevent opioid cravings (including heroin cravings)
- relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms
- increase safety in cases of opioid overdose
Call our helpline today for more information about buprenorphine (Suboxone) treatment, potential side effects of buprenorphine, and to find opioid addiction treatment near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Mayo Clinic—Liver problems - Symptoms and Causes
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—Buprenorphine
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—SUBUTEX (buprenorphine sublingual tablets)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—BUTRANS (buprenorphine) label
- U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information: NCBI Bookshelf—Buprenorphine - LiverTox
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—Medications That Treat Opioid Addiction Do Not Impair Liver Health