Opioid dependence has become an increasingly deadly problem in the United States. Dependence is a term that refers to the physical need to continue taking opioids. When someone is dependent on these drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin, they use them to avoid withdrawal.

Withdrawal from opioids is an uncomfortable experience, and it’s one of the biggest obstacles to recovery for many people. Medication-based options are available to help people deal with at least the physical component of opioid withdrawal. One such option is Suboxone. Suboxone is a promising medication-assisted treatment option, but it’s not also without its own risks and side effects.

Opioid Withdrawal

It doesn’t take long for most people to become physically dependent on opioids, including a prescription medication they may have been given to treat pain. Physical dependence doesn’t necessarily mean someone is psychologically addicted to opioids. Addiction and dependence can occur together or separately from one another. The severity of opioid withdrawal is likely to increase the longer and more heavily someone uses the drug and. Some of the initial symptoms of opioid withdrawal include agitation and anxiety, aches, tearing of the eyes, insomnia, sweating and yawning. Once the initial stage of opioid withdrawal passes, later symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, goose bumps, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal usually begin within 12 hours of the last exposure to the drugs.

People may decide on different routes to alleviate the symptoms as they go through withdrawal. One option is to detox at home, but this is painful and difficult, so it’s not recommended for most people. The majority of people who successfully go through opioid withdrawal do so at a professional detox facility. In a detox center, patients can receive medical interventions to keep them safe and comfortable. In cases where symptoms are severe, hospitalization may be required, but this is rare with opioids.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a brand name combination drug that includes buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone is intended to be part of a treatment program to helps people dependent on opioids go through detox. Naloxone is included in Suboxone to block the effects of opioids if someone tries to abuse the drug. If someone tries to snort or inject Suboxone, naloxone can block the sensation of pain relief as well as feelings of euphoria or well-being.

The buprenorphine element in Suboxone is an opioid, but it’s unique because it’s a partial opioid agonist. When taken as instructed and at appropriate doses, buprenorphine provides some of the effects of other opioids, but there are less euphoria and physical dependence associated with this drug. There is also a ceiling on the opioid effects. Even if someone takes a large amount in an attempt to get high, they will not feel effects beyond a certain point. Buprenorphine also has a relatively mild withdrawal profile. The goal of administering buprenorphine to someone dependent on opioids is to help fend off withdrawal symptoms, combat drug cravings, block the effects of other opioids, and, ultimately, to help an individual remain in treatment.

Suboxone is a prescription film that is intended to be used as part of a drug treatment program. The goal of combining the opioid buprenorphine is to reduce cravings. And when it’s combined with naloxone, buprenorphine can help prevent misuse of any other opioid. If someone tries to abuse the medication for Suboxone film (by, for example, injecting it), they will likely go into immediate withdrawal.

Are There Risks of Suboxone?

Suboxone can sound like a wonder drug for people dependent on or addicted to opioids, but are there risks or possible side effects? Serious side effects are possible; these include liver problems, drowsiness, dizziness and a decrease in blood pressure. Using Suboxone can also lead to opioid withdrawal syndrome. Dependence is also possible. Some people fear that Suboxone is a means of replacing one drug dependence with another. Due to the buprenorphine, physical dependence can occur with Suboxone, as can psychological addiction. However, the risk is low.

Can You Overdose on Suboxone?

A Suboxone overdose is another risk of using this medication during opioid withdrawal. Suboxone does carry the risk of respiratory depression, and it can be fatal. The company marketing the drug warns that the risk of a Suboxone overdose is even higher when people pair it with other central nervous system depressants. These can include sedatives, alcohol or tranquilizers. The drug’s warning states that it is very dangerous to take these medications, which can include benzodiazepines like Xanax, while using Suboxone. Drinking alcohol while on Suboxone can also lead to loss of consciousness or death. Additionally, one could experience a Suboxone overdose if he or she attempts to use this drug recreationally and isn’t opioid dependent.

Suboxone does have benefits as part of a drug treatment program to address opioid dependence and addiction. However, because it contains an opioid, a Suboxone overdose is possible, as are other serious side effects. Dependence on and addiction to Suboxone are also possible. It is important to follow the instructions of a healthcare provider carefully when using this drug.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid dependence, please call The Recovery Village to learn more and explore your options.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.