Is Suboxone Addictive?: Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction

4 min read · 9 sections

Suboxone is an opioid narcotic buprenorphine-based drug consisted of a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone that is used to treat individuals in recovery from opiate or opioid abuse. Buprenorphine reduces the withdrawal symptoms people get after stopping use of opioid drugs and Naloxone can reverse the effects of opioid use and overdose. Though not at first thought to be addiction-forming, some individuals abuse Suboxone.

Some of the reported physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of Suboxone abuse include:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Itching
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Lying to doctors to get Suboxone
  • Doctor shopping to get extra Suboxone

Suboxone abuse causes withdrawal symptoms to emerge when a person stops abusing this drug or significantly reduces their regular intake level. Withdrawal symptoms include cravings for Suboxone (or other opioids or opiates), diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, shaking, and/or muscle pain. There is a general recommendation that a person who wants to withdraw from Suboxone abuse do so under the care of a doctor who specializes in addiction treatment.

drug abuseAbuse of Suboxone (buprenorphine is a main active ingredient) provides evidence of how difficult it is to treat opioid abuse.

How Suboxone Works

Buprenorphine acts as an opiate partial agonist. When a person is in recovery from heroin (an opiate) or prescription opioid (pain relievers) abuse, buprenorphine helps to stop withdrawal symptoms from emerging. Buprenorphine has a low risk of abuse because, usually, the effects top out through what is known as a “ceiling effect” (i.e., effects increase until the person takes a certain amount; then, these effects level off and taking more has no additional effect).

Naloxone, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition, works only if opioids are present in the body. It will counteract the depressing effects of opioids on the lungs and central nervous system, so one can maintain normal breathing. There’s no potential for abuse, and it has been used individually for people who have overdosed on heroin and opioid-based substances. The presence of naloxone decreases the chances of misuse. In fact, the long-acting medication is often not needed in daily doses.

Buprenorphine is also the generic drug in the branded medication called Suboxone, which also contains the drug naloxone. Suboxone is available in a pill or dissolvable film format.

Like methadone, Suboxone is classified as an opioid substitution therapy. Research shows that the combination of buprenorphine and naloxone is as therapeutically beneficial as methadone and carries a lower risk of abuse. Suboxone does not reportedly confer the high that can be experienced if a higher-than-needed amount of methadone is consumed.


How Addictive Is Suboxone?

The effects of buprenorphine are mild; its onset is slow and the drug has a long duration. This makes it less addictive than heroin, morphine, and other opioids. According to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment , the risk of becoming addicted to it is low. The organization also says, despite the drug’s use in maintaining opioid dependence, any dependency can be resolved by gradually tapering the dose as the patient progresses through treatment.

Black and white image of a young woman crying and covering her fThose treated with buprenorphine are more vulnerable to opioid addiction than average. It’s rare that someone shows compulsion toward taking the medication. The possibility exists, however, to become addicted to anything that leads to pleasure.

However, Suboxone has become a drug of abuse. For instance, some individuals buy Suboxone on the street in order to prolong their heroin use (i.e., they use Suboxone to cope with withdrawal symptoms and then go back to using heroin). Although Suboxone was not at first thought to be susceptible to abuse, there are reports of it causing a high when abused.

According to one story published in The Fix, the first time the author took a sublingual film of Suboxone, he became extremely high. He had no history of narcotic or other drug abuse. He shares that Suboxone made him overcome his shyness, provoked him to be talkative, and covered his body in a warm feeling. He quickly lapsed in addiction and has struggled with it for the last several years. He reports that he has not made a full recovery, but he has learned how to better manage his Suboxone intake. His story shows how careful one must be not to abuse Suboxone, whether you have a history of substance abuse or not.

Physical Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction

It is helpful to distinguish between symptoms and signs of Suboxone addiction. Symptoms are the side effects of Suboxone use that a person feels. When one person sees another experiencing a symptom, that’s a sign. The following are some of the physical symptoms associated with Suboxone abuse or taking too much of this drug:

  • Poor coordination, limpness, or weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Problems with thinking
  • Blurred vision
  • Shallow breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the upper stomach
  • A pounding heartbeat
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite

The development of a substance use disorder is an inevitable physical consequence of ongoing Suboxone abuse, as it is an addiction-forming narcotic drug. If physical dependence sets in, when a person stops using Suboxone, withdrawal symptoms will emerge. This is a natural consequence of the body forming a dependency and then experiencing different symptoms to instigate the person to use the drug again and re-establish the status quo.

The following are some of the more common symptoms associated with Suboxone withdrawal:

  • Shaking or shivering
  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Feeling cold or very hot
  • Cravings for the drug

As The Fix explains, Suboxone abuse is also associated with a host of psychological symptoms. The following are some of the most commonly reported:

  • Poor memory
  • Erratic behavior
  • Shifts in mood
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

When Suboxone is used for its intended purpose, under the care of a doctor, there is little risk of severe side effects or death. However, individuals who abuse Suboxone have, so to speak, gone off the grid and are in dangerous territory. A Suboxone overdose can depress respiration to a fatal point. When a fatal overdose occurs, there is often alcohol or other drug abuse involved. The fact that some individuals mix Suboxone with alcohol or illicit drugs is a testament to how unaware people are of the potency of this narcotic.

Behavioral Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction

As The Fix discusses, it can be difficult for a concerned person to pinpoint Suboxone abuse based on physical or psychological symptoms. When people experience the behavioral symptoms associated with Suboxone abuse, people in their surroundings are likely going to take them as signs of a problem. The following are some of the most common behavioral symptoms of Suboxone abuse:

  • Loss of interest in activities, hobbies, or social outings that were enjoyed in the past
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends to abuse Suboxone or defend it from any challenges or criticisms
  • Having a hard time keeping up with family, work, job, or school responsibilities because of the Suboxone abuse
  • Sleeping excessively or having trouble sleeping
  • Draining financial resources to fund Suboxone abuse
  • Lying and manipulating others in order to protect and continue Suboxone abuse
  • Stealing in order to pay for Suboxone
  • Stealing the drug itself
  • Having obsessive thoughts and actions related to Suboxone, such as taking all measures necessary to ensure one does not run out of it

As Suboxone is a prescription medication, there is also the possibility that a person will visit multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions, or make repeated trips to an emergency room to get extra doses. Although some states are instituting a prescription monitoring system, in the past and still in some places today, it is difficult for a doctor to monitor the number and type of prescriptions a patient gets from other doctors. This has led individuals to visit different doctors, even paying out of pocket, and go to different pharmacies to fill prescriptions. If a person is doctor shopping, they will likely have a collection of prescription bottles that show the names of different doctors and pharmacies. Suboxone can also be purchased on the street, or sometimes obtained from those with a legitimate prescription. In that case, the Suboxone pills or film may be in baggies or folded in pieces of paper.

Addiction vs. Compulsion

Addiction is any behavior that is compulsive, dangerous, and uncontrollable. It has to do with the natural reward system in the brain. Whatever feels good releases dopamine, and people tend to repeat actions that feel rewarding. There are substances that trigger the same biochemical process, generating cravings that become part of a repetitive cycle.

The faster a substance can reach the brain, the higher its potential to lead to addiction. The strength of the effect impacts reinforcement while speed of onset, level of pleasure, and duration of the substance’s active cycle affect addiction too. Given buprenorphine’s slow onset, mild effects, and relatively long duration cycle, the effect on the brain’s reward system is minimal as is its potential for addiction.

Suboxone Treatment Phases

There are three main phases to administering buprenorphine or Suboxone, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The induction phase involves treating a patient with the medication starting 12-24 hours after opioid use. Cravings are reduced by the stabilization phase. By now, the person should have discontinued or at least significantly reduced use of the addictive drug. The person may need dosing and timing adjustments. If the person responds well, the maintenance phase begins. The treatment can be tailored to the individual on an indefinite basis unless a different approach, such as medically supervised withdrawal or other rehabilitative treatment, is chosen.

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Is Suboxone Safe?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 23 percent of people who use heroin develop an opioid addiction. Suboxone has become a common choice for treating this condition. Unless a person uses other illegal drugs, drinks alcohol, or takes medications that slow breathing, Suboxone is considered a safe treatment unless there’s an underlying health issue. Its components carry a low risk of addiction. Treatment can suppress withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and prepare individuals for long-term treatments that support a healthier future.

Suboxone Rehab Treatment & Detox

Research and clinical experience show that there are effective treatment methodologies available at rehab centers to safely and comfortably help a person recover from Suboxone addiction. As the withdrawal process can be intense, medically supervised detox is always most advisable. An attending doctor and addiction staff members will determine whether to initiate the detox process or start the recovering person on a substitution therapy program with the use of legally manufactured and prescribed narcotics. It may seem circular to use narcotics to help a person recover from narcotics abuse (especially Suboxone because it’s intended to be a substitution therapy) but this practice has proven effective in some cases.

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