There are a lot of questions and opinions surrounding suboxone. Is it a painkiller? Can it be used to treat heroin addiction? Is it dangerous or addictive? What are the side effects? What happens if you become dependent?

Here at Hawaii Island Recovery, we are always available to answer your questions and help you process and sort through the overwhelming information available to you surrounding suboxone and other drugs.
Read on to learn more about suboxone, including what it is, how it’s used, what the side effects are, and what you should do if you find yourself addicted to suboxone.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a drug that combines buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist opiate analgesic prescribed in low doses since 1985 for pain management. Naloxone is an opiate antagonist that counteracts the effects of opiates in your body.

Is this sounding a bit too much like high school chemistry class? Let’s back up.

Opiates are drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, the areas that control pain and emotions. Prescription opiates are used to manage pain, but can also produce a strong euphoric high with feelings of calm and inflated self-confidence. When an opiate binds to and fully activates those receptors, it’s called a full agonist opioid.

Opium, morphine, hydrocodone, heroin, and oxycodone are all examples of full agonist opioids. Full agonist opioids can be highly addictive, and it is not uncommon for prescription painkiller abusers to turn to heroin when their tolerance increases.

Partial agonist opioids also bind to opioid receptors, but they activate them to a lesser degree. Buprenorphine, found in suboxone, is a partial agonist.

Antagonists attach to opioid receptors but don’t activate them at all. Instead, they block full agonist opioids from activating the receptors and prevent the associated high from occurring. Suboxone’s naloxone is an antagonist.

Because Suboxone combines a partial agonist with an antagonist, it blocks the effects of the full agonist a user is addicted to but also lessens painful withdrawal systems. It is often prescribed to aid recovering opiate addicts as they detox and heal.

What are the side effects of suboxone?

Suboxone is a depressant, which means it slows down the body’s systems. In small doses, this can have pleasant effects, including relaxation, decreased stress, an inflated sense of well-being and calm, a mild euphoric high, and powerful pain relief. Suboxone is 20-30 times more powerful than morphine in relieving pain.

However, too much suboxone can have harmful side effects, including sleepiness, confusion, nausea, respiratory depression, constipation, and pinpoint pupils.

Why is suboxone so controversial?

Although suboxone was prescribed for pain management as early as 1985, it didn’t become controversial until 2002, when it was approved for the treatment of narcotic or opiate addiction in the United States. It is often used to limit withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, and ultimately wean the user off of their addiction.

As a partial agonist opiate, the reduced stimulation of suboxone can help lessen painful withdrawal symptoms for those addicted to full agonist opiates, but the drug is still an opiate. This means that users can become dependent on and addicted to suboxone.

Some get addicted when they use suboxone to achieve a high and don’t have a pre-existing dependence on heroin or other narcotics. Suboxone provides a euphoric high, not a treatment for withdrawal when used in this case. Others may start using it to treat narcotic addiction but then abuse it, injecting greater doses to achieve a high.

Users who become addicted to suboxone can experience painful withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal include diarrhea, joint pain, insomnia, irritability, and dilated pupils. Recovering addicts often feel flu-like symptoms approximately 48 hours after they stop using the drug. The symptoms may linger for up to a week.

Stephen H. Denzer, M.D., FACP | Board Certified in Addiction and Internal Medicine

What should I do if I’m abusing suboxone?

Suboxone has proven to be helpful in treating narcotic addiction when used how it is intended. However, the drug is easy to abuse with harmful effects and painful withdrawal symptoms.

As with other addictive substances, suboxone addiction should not be self-treated at home. Instead, users dependent on suboxone should seek professional help and be medically monitored throughout Opiates. Medical professionals can help users manage the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, increasing their chances of a successful recovery.

If you believe you or someone you know has an unhealthy dependence on Suboxone, please contact Hawaii Island Recovery today.