Suboxone: Uses, Side Effects & Addiction
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is an opioid prescription drug used to treat opioid dependence. It can be used as an induction agent to stabilize someone in withdrawal during the medical detoxification process as well as for maintenance treatment to promote recovery from opioid use disorder. It consists of a combination of two drugs: buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naloxone (an opioid antagonist) and is administered as a dissolvable film placed either under the tongue or in the cheek.1 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a generic buprenorphine and naloxone sublingual (applied under the tongue) in 2018.2
How Does Suboxone Work?
Buprenorphine is what’s known as a partial opioid agonist—an opioid medication that produces relatively weak opioid effects. This means that buprenorphine reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the full effect of other opioids (such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.), which can make it easier for you to stop using your opioid drug of choice.1
With high binding affinity, it may also block other opioids from binding to and activating your opioid receptors, which can deter misuse of other opioids.1,3
As a partial agonist, buprenorphine also has an upper limit to its opioid effects, even with escalating doses. The risk of misuse and overdose is lower than with other opioids because there is a limit as to how much your opioid receptors can be activated. This helps reduce the potential for respiratory depression (dangerously slowed breathing), which is a risk and symptom of opioid overdose.1,3
Naloxone is an opioid receptor antagonist medication that is combined with buprenorphine in Suboxone and similar generic combination formulations. Though naloxone is used on its own to reverse the deadly effects of opioid overdose, it is instead included in this combo to help discourage intentional misuse of buprenorphine, should it be dissolved and injected or inhaled nasally—doing so would result in the rapid onset of withdrawal in opioid dependent individuals.1,3,4
While it is an effective medication for opioid addiction, Suboxone is often utilized as part of a comprehensive treatment approach that incorporates not only medications, but behavioral interventions, mutual-help groups and, when needed, treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions (like depression or anxiety).
What Does Suboxone Look Like?
What is Suboxone Used For?
Suboxone is used to treat opioid use disorder, which is the clinical diagnosis for opioid addiction. Medications are increasingly becoming the standard of care for managing OUD. If you enter rehab for opioid addiction, you may receive medications for addiction treatment as an integral part of your program strategy. Medications like Suboxone for addiction treatment are one part of the treatment plan, which also incorporates counseling and behavioral therapy for substance use disorders.
Suboxone can be safe when used as prescribed for treating OUD. Recently, Suboxone revised some of the information contained in the dosage and administration section of the pharmaceutical packaging information, including the addition of the recommendation that healthcare providers also prescribe naloxone due to the potential of individuals with opioid use disorder to relapse, which puts them at risk for opioid overdose.5 Additionally, for individuals dependent on short-acting opioids, the recommended dose was cut in half to no more than 8 mg/2 mg of Suboxone on day 1 of acute opioid withdrawal.5
When used as directed, it has a low potential for overdose due to its ceiling of opioid effects discussed earlier.6 Misuse of Suboxone—such as injecting it, taking it in higher amounts than prescribed, using it while also drinking alcohol or taking sedatives, or taking it too soon after using other opioids—can place you at higher risk of experiencing adverse effects.1
Taking Suboxone too soon after using other opioids can elicit uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shaking, digestive upset, and anxiety. Other potential—yet usually rare—side effects can occur, such as overdose and respiratory depression, which may be more likely with misuse.7
Suboxone History and Statistics
Buprenorphine was first developed in the 1970s as a safer alternative to some other opioid pain medications. It was approved for use as a painkiller in 1985 when it was listed as a Schedule V substance, which are substances that have an accepted use and a lower potential for misuse than those in Schedules I-IV. Clinicians recognized that buprenorphine could also be a safe and potentially more accessible alternative to methadone, which was the primary medication used to treat opioid addiction.4,7,8 Pharmaceutical research eventually prompted the decision to combine naloxone with buprenorphine, in an attempt to further reduce the risk of misuse of buprenorphine. Suboxone received FDA approval to treat opioid addiction in October 2002.8,9
Benefits of Suboxone Use in Medications for Addiction Treatment
Buprenorphine is among the list of essential medicines maintained by the World Health Organization, and is an indispensable tool for helping people with opioid use disorder to ease moderate to severe opioid withdrawal and cravings.8 Some additional benefits of using Suboxone in addiction treatment include:9,11
- Increased overdose safety.
- Decreased risk of misuse.
- Long-acting effects may allow for alternate-day dosing.
Potential Side Effects of Suboxone Use
As with any medication, Suboxone is associated with certain side effects, even when taken as prescribed. Death from respiratory depression is rare with Suboxone but may be more likely when people use Suboxone in conjunction with other substances that slow breathing, such as benzodiazepines, sedatives, tranquilizers, or alcohol.1,3,9,12
Relatively common Suboxone side effects include:1
- Swelling in arms and legs.
- Mouth or tongue numbness, burning, and redness if you use the orally dissolvable film.
Less common but more severe side effects can include:1
- Low blood pressure when you stand up.
- Impaired liver function.
- Adrenal changes.
- Sleep-related breathing issues.
- Allergic reactions (if you are allergic to any of the ingredients).
Is Suboxone Addictive?
Suboxone can result in physical dependence with long-term use due to the inclusion of buprenorphine, which is an opioid.13 However, dependence is not the same as addiction—though to develop it even with prescription use means that you could experience withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop using it.
You should not stop using Suboxone unless directed to do so by your doctor. Your Suboxone use will be carefully monitored by healthcare providers throughout the course of treatment. Under the guidance of your physician, you will taper off Suboxone, which means gradually reducing your dose, when the time is right for you.1,13
As with any opioid, the buprenorphine component of Suboxone does confer an innate misuse liability. However, as a partial opioid agonist, it is incapable of eliciting the more profoundly euphoric effects of other, more commonly abused opioid drugs, such as heroin and oxycodone.1 Naloxone is specifically included in the combination formulation to additionally limit misuse potential, as attempts at achieving a euphoric high via certain unintended routes of use may instead result in opioid receptor blockade and precipitated withdrawal.4
It is also important to be aware that Suboxone use for treating opioid use disorder is not merely substituting one addiction for another. Instead, Suboxone helps people control their previously compulsive and harmful opioid use, allowing them to resume a normal, more healthy life.13
Does Insurance Cover the Cost of Suboxone?
Suboxone is typically covered by health insurance, but the extent of coverage can vary depending on your specific health insurance plan, behavioral health benefits, treatment provider, and more. According to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, most health care plans are required to apply the same rules to treatment of substance use and mental health disorders as they do to medical/physical health problems.4 However, it is advisable to verify your specific coverage with your insurance carrier. You can verify your insurance benefits and find out whether your rehabilitation may be fully or partially covered with our form below.
Can Suboxone Be Prescribed Online?
Many rural communities throughout the United States lack adequate access to substance use treatment and medications for addiction treatment, including those for opioid use disorder. Under the Ryan Haight Act of 2008, controlled substances can be prescribed by way of the internet.14 Under this act, the prescribing healthcare provider must have seen the patient for at least one in-person medical evaluation.14
The SUPPORT Act of 2018, however, requires the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to create a regulatory pathway for individuals to receive buprenorphine prescriptions via telemedicine, where the provider meets with the patient for a video or telephone consultation, but the DEA has yet to do this. Consequently, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, regulators waived the in-person restriction of the Ryan Haight Act to expand access to those in need of opioid use disorder treatment.14,15 Thus, federal regulatory changes set during the COVID-19 pandemic, may allow some addiction treatment providers, who use telemedicine, to prescribe buprenorphine to their patients without an initial in-person evaluation.16
Can I Get Same-Day Suboxone Treatment?
Same-day admission into a detox program may be beneficial if you or a loved one are experiencing or at risk of experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Call American Addiction Centers
In many cases, the right time to begin detox may be right now. But care must be taken. Abruptly quitting some types of drugs or alcohol can be uncomfortable and, at times, result in a dangerous withdrawal syndrome. At American Addiction Centers, you may be able to enter a program immediately in order to medically detox and then move on to treatment that can get you on the road to long-term recovery. If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder or an alcohol use disorder, please connect with one of our admissions navigators at You can also fill in our insurance verification form below in order to see if treatment may be covered by your insurance provider.