How Suboxone is Used in Addiction Treatment

Every day in the U.S., an average of 130 people die from drug overdoses. Opioid drugs, both prescription and illegal drugs, account for the majority of overdose deaths. Unfortunately, large areas of the country have been completely devastated by the opioid crisis, and it has been declared as a national emergency.

When it comes to opioid addiction, these drugs are incredibly powerful and cause intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms when users attempt to quit. Opioid produce a strong and powerful euphoria that impacts the way a person feels both physically and emotionally. This euphoria is very addictive. Opioid drugs are incredibly dangerous because users can build up a tolerance to the substance quickly, needing more and more of the drug to maintain equilibrium and avoid withdrawal symptoms. Attempting to quit opioids without outside help and intervention increases the risk of relapse and decreases the chances of someone achieving and maintaining sobriety.

For people who wish to get clean from opioids, outside intervention, and participating in a comprehensive and integrated treatment plan is a must. A combination of behavioral therapy and medication assistance is ideal for managing addiction disorder. There are several prescription medications on the market today that are used specifically to treat opioid addiction, and Suboxone is one of the most commonly prescribed treatment options for treating people in recovery.

Using Suboxone for Addiction Treatment

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a brand-name medication that is a combination of both Naloxone and Buprenorphine. The medicine is primarily used to treat opioid addiction disorder, but it can be used as a mild painkiller, although this is rare. Suboxone comes in several forms, but it is most commonly used as a tablet or a sublingual film.

Why would someone need to use Suboxone?

Suboxone is a medication that can help people in recovery from opioid addiction avoid cravings and withdrawals. The medicine is primarily used to help those in recovery maintain sobriety from opioids and prevent a relapse. Suboxone has been touted as a “miracle drug” when it comes to treating opioid addiction. But it is critical for readers to understand that medication is not a cure-all for addiction disorder. Suboxone is one part of a treatment plan, but plans must include a combination of different treatment methods to offer patients the greatest chances of success. While it’s true that Suboxone can be very effective at promoting abstinence from opioids, the medication does come with a risk of side effects and other potential hazards.

How does Suboxone work?

To fully appreciate how Suboxone works, it’s essential to understand how medicine’s unique combination of Buprenorphine and Naloxone works.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means it delivers a minimal dose of opioid chemicals in patients addicted to stronger opioid drugs and chemicals. Buprenorphine gives patients a safe way to wean themselves off opioid drugs without experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms that would otherwise occur during a cold-turkey detox.

Buprenorphine, since it is a partial agonist, activates the same receptors in the brain that are activated when someone gets high on an opioid drug. For example, heroin is a full opioid agonist, meaning it completely triggers opioid receptors in the brain. This is one of the reasons why heroin is such a powerful drug. However, Buprenorphine does not activate these receptors as strongly as heroin or other opioids. It is only a partial agonist, after all. Buprenorphine won’t produce an intense high in people who are recovering from addiction to stronger opiates.

On the other hand, Naloxone is a pure opioid antagonist. Antagonists shut down the opioid receptors in the brain instead of triggering them like an agonist. So, the Naloxone in Suboxone will block people from getting high on opioid drugs if they relapse, and Naloxone can also reverse the effects of potent opioid agonists. So taking Suboxone while in recovery will do several things:

  • Prevent withdrawals and cravings
  • Block opioid highs
  • Reverse the effects of opioids in the user’s system

But, Naloxone’s ability to shut off opioid receptors means that people who are currently using an opioid, and take Naloxone, can trigger severe withdrawal symptoms. People who are addicted to potent opioid agonists like heroin should not use pure Naloxone, because it can trigger dangerous withdrawal symptoms like seizures and respiratory failure. Because of this risk, Naloxone is mixed with Buprenorphine as Suboxone, a much safer version of these two drugs.

How effective is Suboxone for treating opioid addiction?

Suboxone is an incredibly popular and effective drug for treating opioid addiction. Studies on Suboxone treatment have found that extended use of Suboxone is incredibly useful for improving the outcomes of people in recovery for opioid addiction. Around 9 million prescriptions for Suboxone are filled every year.

How does someone use Suboxone safely?

Suboxone should always be taken exactly as prescribed by a doctor. It’s not safe to take more Suboxone than prescribed. Patients should also take Suboxone as either a sublingual film or buccal, depending on what their doctor has advised. It’s recommended that patients keep the Suboxone inside the child-safety pouch it is prescribed in at all times until they are ready to take a dose.

Although Suboxone comes with some risk of side effects, it is not safe to suddenly stop taking Suboxone before speaking to a doctor. Sudden cessation can lead to intense withdrawal symptoms and also increase the risk of relapse. Patients can be tapered off Suboxone, have their dose lowered, or be switched to a different medication for treating opioid addiction. But quitting the drug cold-turkey is never advised without a clinicians input.

Can Suboxone be abused?

Because Suboxone is a partial agonist, it can produce a mild euphoria in people who have not used powerful opioid drugs before. It is ironic and also unfortunate that a prescription so effective at managing opioid withdrawals and cravings can also come with a risk of abuse and addiction. While it’s true that people can abuse Suboxone to get high, this is rare. Most people who abuse Suboxone are people who are addicted to heroin. People will obtain Suboxone on the black market to prevent withdrawals if they can’t get a steady supply of heroin.

What are the signs of Suboxone addiction and abuse?

Most of the signs of Suboxone abuse are behavioral and mirror symptoms present in other addiction disorders.

  • Making drug-seeking behavior and actions a priority
  • Lying about drug use
  • Doctor shopping
  • Stealing another person’s prescription
  • Changes in behavior and mood swings

How can someone prevent Suboxone abuse?

It’s critical that patients keep their prescription in a secure place and out of the reach of children. Taking the medication exactly as prescribed, and not sharing it with anyone else can also go a long way towards reducing addiction risk. Also, continuing with therapy and other treatment methods, and not relying on Suboxone as the only method for treating opioid addiction is critical. For people who are tempted to abuse the drug, it’s vital to speak to their therapists before choosing to abuse Suboxone.

What can be done to treat Suboxone abuse?

Because Suboxone is a medication used to treat addiction to opioids, most treatment protocols for Suboxone abuse will require patients to abstain from other partial opioid agonists. The process for treating Suboxone abuse and addiction typically begins with a medically-supervised detox and tapering off schedule. Withdrawal symptoms are monitored, and it is possible for patients to take safe, non-addictive medications for dealing with withdrawal symptoms, such as anti-nausea medications.

Once someone has safely detoxed from Suboxone, it is critical that they attend one-on-one behavioral therapy. Drug addiction and drug abuse are complex disorders that encompass a range of triggers and compulsions to use. In therapy, patients can explore their reasons for drug use, and develop methods for coping with painful emotions and distressing situations that don’t lead to drug abuse.

There is a strong, emotional component to drug use that therapy can uncover. Addressing these issues in a professional setting with an experienced clinician can give patients the tools they need to maintain sobriety. Additional support from family and other people in recovery is also useful for helping people abstain from drugs. Inpatient and outpatient treatment models give patients access to these critical components of an effective treatment plan.

After initial detox and sobriety are obtained, patients can also begin working on developing maintenance plans to support their ongoing recovery efforts. This will look different for everyone. It may include an extended stay in an inpatient rehab facility or spending time in a sober living home to adjust to living without access to drugs, alcohol, or harmful outside influences. Attending support groups, and attending one-on-one therapy at pre-scheduled intervals may also be warranted. The most effective treatment plans are tailored and customized to the individual patient’s needs and medical history.

Regardless, addiction is a chronic illness that requires continuous care and management from a team of professionals and experienced clinicians. If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s never too late to reach out for help. Please contact Mission Harbor Behavioral Health today to learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs for addiction and drug abuse.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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