When it comes to addictive substance, we often focus on the obvious threats, including alcohol, heroin, cocaine, prescription painkillers, and benzodiazepines. But what happens when a drug meant to help people is even more addictive than the substances it’s used to treat?
Suboxone has a long-established place in the addiction treatment world, but it’s also one of the most addictive pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, it can just as easily lead to severe addiction as it can help a person overcome opioid addiction, which is why it’s so important to have a thorough understanding of Suboxone, how it’s used, and why it’s so dangerous. The reality is that Suboxone addiction does happen, but Malvern Institute offers a variety of high-quality, evidence-based resources to help such individuals regain their sobriety and independence. But first, let’s take a closer look at Suboxone and why it’s both life-saving and life-threatening.
What is Suboxone?
If you’re even vaguely acquainted with addiction recovery, it’s likely you’ve at least heard of a pharmaceutical called Suboxone, which is frequently used in various types of addiction treatment programs. In particular, Suboxone is usually part of treatment programs that target heroin and painkiller addictions. There are other medications similar to Suboxone in that they contain buprenorphine, but Suboxone is notable for actually being composed of two substances: buprenorphine and naloxone.
Buprenorphine is a compound that’s proven especially useful in the treatment of opioid addiction as it’s a partial opioid agonist. This means that, when taken in place of an opioid, users are able to satisfy the same need they had for heroin or painkillers, but without experiencing the euphoria and high that they would by taking illicit opioids. In fact, buprenorphine puts what’s essentially a ceiling on one’s opioid use; if an individual were to attempt to use heroin or painkillers while buprenorphine is in his or her system, the individual would experience no effects from the opioids since buprenorphine has become bonded to all of his or her opiate receptors in the brain, leaving no open receptors for the illicit drugs. As such, medications containing buprenorphine are a favorite for opioid recovery treatments as they inhibit the effects of other opioids while satisfying an addict’s craving and preventing him or her from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. In short, buprenorphine all but prevents any further opioid use.
However, in addition to buprenorphine, Suboxone also contains naloxone. Rather than being a partial opioid agonist like buprenorphine, naloxone is a full opioid agonist, meaning that it not only blocks the effects of opioids, it basically reverses them. The main reason that Suboxone contains naloxone is to discourage or prevent the misuse of Suboxone. If an individual were to try to administer Suboxone intravenously in an effort to experience euphoria or attempt to abuse heroin or painkillers while taking Suboxone, the naloxone in the medication will block the effects of the opioids. In fact, it could even induce immediate withdrawal symptoms as the individual’s body begins rejecting and expelling the heroin or painkillers. Although technically effective on its own, Suboxone should only ever be used in combination with other forms of addiction treatment such as counseling and psychotherapy since these treatments address the underlying issues of one’s substance abuse.
Not a cure for Opioid Addiction
Although Suboxone is meant for the treatment of opioid addiction and contains measures that make it resistant to misuse, individuals who take Suboxone as a maintenance drug as part of a replacement therapy program will inevitably become dependent on Suboxone — physically as well as psychologically — in a manner similar to how they had been dependent on heroin or opiate painkillers prior to when they began taking Suboxone; in short, Suboxone merely replaces heroin or prescription painkillers with a drug that will satisfy the physical addiction without any of the euphoric or intoxicating effects. Therefore, some consider Suboxone the closest thing to a medicinal “cure” for addiction, but it’s important to remember that an individual taking Suboxone is still chemically dependent. If such an individual were to abruptly stop taking Suboxone, he or she would begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms in much the same way as they would while addicted to heroin or painkillers.
In order to stop taking Suboxone without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, one must essentially be weaned off the substance via a very slow or incremental taper. This provides a way for an individual to adjust to smaller and smaller amounts of buprenorphine in his or her system without triggering any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Typically, a Suboxone taper must be done under professional supervision in order to ensure that an individual’s taper isn’t too abrupt; in some instances, tapering off Suboxone may take many months or even a couple years in order to minimize post-acute withdrawal syndrome, a form of withdrawal that can occur and continue long after an individual has stopped using the drug.
Although many physicians favor Suboxone because it doesn’t offer the intoxicating effects of heroin and painkillers, the drug could still offer a small level of euphoria when misused. Whether from replacement therapy or misuse, addiction to Suboxone can occur with the most common signs being comparable to those of other opioid addictions, including respiratory depression, severe drowsiness or difficulty maintaining consciousness, and so on. Moreover, Suboxone addiction has shown to cause poor coordination, erratic behavior, and mood, very small pupils, poor memory, and slurred speech.
Overcoming Suboxone Addiction at Malvern Institute
As stated above, a person who has been taking Suboxone for an extended period of time, whether as part of a maintenance program or from abusing the drug, should not simply stop taking Suboxone and attempt to detox on his or her own. Suboxone has an extremely long half-life — the amount of time it takes for half a dose of Suboxone to work its way out of a person’s system — which means that Suboxone withdrawal symptoms will last for a much longer period than even heroin and painkillers. And much like alcohol and benzodiazepines, there’s the potential for Suboxone detox to become dangerous, meaning that someone attempting an unsupervised Suboxone detox is risking his or her well-being.
Rather than attempting Suboxone detox on one’s own, we encourage anyone who has become chemically dependent on Suboxone to come to Malvern Institute and take advantage of our unique programming. The Malvern Model of Care is our one-of-a-kind, evidence-based addiction treatment program that will help you or your loved one overcome Suboxone addiction. By guiding a patient through our continuum of care — detoxification, followed by induction, inpatient care, and outpatient treatment — we help patients regain their health and achieve lasting sobriety.