The drug Suboxone is designed to help opioid addicts stop using drugs by tapering them off gradually. Opioid drugs like heroin, morphine, and pain relievers like hydrocodone and oxycodone are incredibly addictive and cannot be stopped cold turkey. Suboxone works to stop opioid addiction, but not become addictive itself. 

The drug has become a very popular solution to opioid addiction, selling more nationally than drugs like Adderall and Viagra ($1.55 billion). Suboxone is touted as safer than methadone. Its two main ingredients work to deliver small amounts of opioids, while blocking opioid receptors in the brain. The treatment phase looks like this:

  1. Induction Phase – 12-24 hours after opioid use
  2. Stabilization Phase – cravings are reduced and use is decreased
  3. Maintenance Phase – determined by timing and dosing adjustments based on how the patient responds to treatment

Suboxone’s effectiveness is a double-edged sword, however. In some cases it creates its own addiction that needs to be treated pharmacologically and psychologically. This is due to Suboxone’s active ingredient, buprenorphine, which is a low-dose opioid that has the potential to become addictive. 

How does Suboxone work?

Suboxone is a combination of 2 drugs: buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naloxone (a pure opioid antagonist). Drugs like heroin are full opioid agonists that completely trigger the brain’s opioid receptors. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist.  It works by delivering a small opioid dose to the patient who is addicted to a stronger opioid.  The patient is slowly weaned off opioids with minimal withdrawal symptoms.

Naloxone is a pure opioid antagonist, which does the opposite job of an agonist. Where agonists excite opioid receptors in the brain, opioid antagonists shut them down and even reverse their effects. Shutting down these receptors, however, can cause withdrawal symptoms for the patient.

Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Intense mood swings
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramping
  • Diarrhea

In cases of addiction to full opioid agonists like heroin, patients are at risk of respiratory failure and seizures.

Potential for addiction

The question surrounding Suboxone treatment is: Is there is a risk of giving someone who is a addicted to a substance a similar substance to treat their addiction? The answer is not that simple. On the one hand, the partial opioid agonist buprenorphine helps a patient avoid some bad side effects of withdrawal. Also, buprenorphine has a ceiling effect. This means the effects of the drug increase until a person takes a certain amount and the effects level off. This is meant to be a guard against creating a dependency. Naloxone also decreases the potential for misuse because it blocks and reverses the opioid receptors in the brain. Opioids are taken for their euphoria effects, but since buprenophine is only a partial opioid agonist, the risk for dependence is much lower. 

Next Steps

Are you or a loved one experiencing the pain of addiction? Do you need help with a drug dependence that has gotten out of control? Drugs like Suboxone are helpful in treating the chemical cause of addiction, but recovery is effective when you don’t do it alone. If you need advice on next steps, Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.