How to Taper Off Suboxone

Opioid abuse and addiction have reached crisis proportions in the United States. Addiction and abuse rates of these powerful painkillers have increased so much since the early 2000s that it has been declared a national emergency. In areas where opioid abuse rates are highest, foster care systems and other government agencies are struggling to deal with the aftermath.

Tips for Tapering off Suboxone

Opioid derivative drugs are some of the most potent painkillers in existence. While they are highly effective at alleviating severe pain, even using opioids correctly can come with a risk of dependence and subsequent addiction. Anyone who takes an opioid drug is at risk of becoming addicted, and many different factors can either increase or decrease a person’s risk profile. However, it’s impossible to predict who becomes addicted and who manages to use opioids without triggering substance use disorder.

No matter how someone obtains opioid drugs, these powerful substances are responsible for the vast majority of overdose deaths in the United States — using even a legal, prescription opioid increases someone’s risk of turning to illegal heroin to prevent withdrawals. On the other hand, people who are addicted to heroin can abuse opioid replacement drugs such as Suboxone, to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.

What is an addiction to opioids, and how do these drugs impact the human brain?

Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone. People can become addicted to a drug, a substance, or even a behavior. Drug addiction is when someone has an intense craving to use a substance despite the negative consequences they experience as a direct result of addictive behavior. The mechanisms behind opioid addiction involve the brain and other bodily systems. When it comes to opioids, these drugs significantly impact the brain’s risk and reward neural pathways.

Taking an opioid drug will cause the brain to flood itself with “feel good” neurochemicals and endorphins. Endorphins lessen a person’s feelings of physical and emotional pain, and can significantly increase feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well-being, but when the high from an opioid drug wears off, endorphin levels crash.

A person who is physically and psychologically dependent on opioids will experience physical and mental withdrawal effects, which can vary in intensity and duration. Severe opioid withdrawals can cause aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, and other physical issues which can make it impossible for someone to function. Emotional withdrawal symptoms can include things like anxiety, depression, and an intense craving to use opioids.

Re-taking an opioid eliminates these withdrawal symptoms, which is one of the reasons why it is so hard for someone to quit without outside help and intervention. However, opioid replacement drugs like Suboxone can be used to lessen cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms while someone works on achieving and maintaining sobriety from opioids.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a strong, prescription medication that is used to help treat addiction to short-acting opioids like heroin and some prescription painkillers. The medication Suboxone will reverse the side effects of the drugs, preventing someone from getting high and overdosing. Suboxone also helps someone avoid symptoms of withdrawal, which can significantly help people in recovery achieve and maintain sobriety. While it is possible for someone to obtain Suboxone on the black market, Suboxone prescriptions are highly regulated. People who are given a prescription for the medication must adhere to strict guidelines, and they can only obtain the medication at select clinics.

Suboxone is similar to other opioid replacement drugs like Methadone and Buprenorphine. Suboxone is a combination of Buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is considered a partial opioid agonist, in that its primary mechanism is that it blocks the opiate receptors in someone’s brain and decreases their urges to use.

Abusing opioid drugs activates these natural receptors when the addictive chemical compounds in the opioids bind the receptors. During withdrawal, the brain is used to having opioid compounds bound to these receptors. In the absence of opioids, withdrawal symptoms occur when nothing is in a person’s system to attach to the receptors. Buprenorphine will block these receptors and stop someone from going through cravings and withdrawals.

Naloxone works differently than Buprenorphine. Instead of blocking opioid receptors, reducing the effects of opioids. Many accidental opioid overdoses occur after someone achieves initial sobriety. During the course of opioid addiction, the body builds up a tolerance to opioids quickly, but the opposite is also true. After achieving sobriety, the body rapidly loses its tolerance to opioids. But people who relapse on opioid remember how much of the drug they took before getting sober. Unfortunately, people can take far more of an opioid than is safe, thinking they need more of the drug to get the desired effect. Naloxone can help prevent fatal overdoses if someone relapses and re-takes opioids.

Combined, these two chemical compounds form a powerful defense against opioid withdrawals and addiction in the form of prescription Suboxone. Suboxone is similar to methadone, but it is often prescribed more frequently since methadone comes with a higher risk of abuse. However, Suboxone comes with a chance of abuse and addiction, too.

Why would someone abuse Suboxone?

Suboxone usually isn’t abused as a way for someone to get high. Instead, people who are in active addiction to heroin will abuse Suboxone obtained on the street as a way to prevent painful heroin withdrawals. In rare cases, people who aren’t addicted to powerful painkillers like heroin may abuse Suboxone to get high. Suboxone will still impact the brain’s ability to produce endorphins, so in people who have not been addicted to opioids for long, Suboxone can produce a mild high and euphoric effect. While the high won’t be as powerful as the high someone can get with full-blown opioid drugs, it can last a long time. Suboxone that is obtained on the street illegally is sometimes called:

  • Bupe
  • Sobos
  • Oranges
  • Stop Signs

What are the statistics on Suboxone use?

It is hard for researchers to pin down the exact numbers of Suboxone abuse. However, there have been numerous studies on the effects of Suboxone treatment. Half of all people who use Suboxone in combination with other rehab and therapy methods for opioid addiction can reduce their painkiller abuse after at least 12 weeks of continuous Suboxone treatment.

Discontinuing Suboxone, however, is associated with a significant drop in sobriety rates. Success rates for achieving a reduction in painkiller abuse drop to only 8.6 percent in people who discontinue Suboxone use before 12 weeks. Studies have found that people who received intensive counseling for addiction did not have better outcomes, either.

What are some Suboxone myths?

It is a common misconception about Suboxone that people frequently abuse the medication. While Suboxone is a type of opiate, and any opiate can be abused, Suboxone is just a partial agonist of the opiate receptors in the human brain. As such, it causes far less of a euphoria or high than other opioid drugs like heroin or prescription OxyContin. The people who are most likely to use Suboxone illegally are people going through heroin withdrawals.

Because opioid derivative drugs come with a high risk of overdose, people may mistakenly fear that it’s easy to overdose on Suboxone, but this isn’t true. The low risk of overdose with Suboxone has to do with the fact that the medication is a partial opiate receptor agonist. Unlike other opiate drugs, Suboxone has a built-in ceiling to how intensely it will work and produce a slight euphoria. The opioid receptors in someone’s brain when they take Suboxone can’t be activated to the same degree as other opioid drugs. The risk of overdose associated with other opioids occurs because these drugs suppress breathing. This doesn’t happen on Suboxone alone. But mixing Suboxone with other substances that suppress breathing, like benzodiazepines and alcohol, increase a person’s risk of harm.

Another false and harmful belief is that people who take Suboxone to treat opioid addiction are not really in recovery. Drug addiction and abuse are lifelong, chronic disorders that require a combination of different tactics to manage. Using medications like Suboxone is one method of treating addiction, and it is a highly effective one. Stigmatizing Suboxone treatment is not based on the current science surrounding effective methods for treating addiction and drug abuse.

What can be done to help people who abuse Suboxone?

It is ironic that a medication that is highly effective for helping people recover from opioid addiction also comes with a risk of abuse. In most cases, people who have a history of Suboxone abuse are given a replacement medication that also acts to block opiate receptors in the brain and lessen the severity of withdrawals and cravings. Combining replacement medications with integrated therapy models explicitly aimed at combating opiate addiction are the most effective models for helping someone achieve and maintain sobriety.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction to opioids or Suboxone abuse, it’s never too late to reach out for help. The experienced counselors at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health are standing by to assist. Please contact Mission Harbor today to explore your options for addiction treatment.

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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