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Suboxone Withdrawal

October 15, 2021

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Individuals suffering from opioid withdrawal symptoms may find Suboxone to be helpful in treating its effects. Though an opioid itself, Suboxone can be a crucial step in the journey to recovery. Its relatively weak effect in comparison to other opioids can make it a more stable substance to use while working toward being opioid free. However, suboxone withdrawal can still happen, especially if it has been abused. 

What Is Suboxone?

The branded version of this substance, Suboxone, actually contains two similar substances in an uneven ratio. Buprenorphine and naloxone combined form the primary acting agents within Suboxone. Each has a specific action in the body, and together they create an interaction that can excel at helping individuals overcome opioid misuse. 

Ingredients of Suboxone

Buprenorphine is the substance that takes up the majority of the combination. As its name may suggest, this substance shares some similarities with morphine. Notably, both substances are derived from the poppy plant, and they are both types of opioids. Unlike morphine, however, buprenorphine’s effects in the body are significantly weaker than that of morphine.

Though both substances impact the same receptors in the brain, buprenorphine only activates the receptors partially, as opposed to morphine activating them entirely. This important distinction makes buprenorphine a valuable medication for use in patients suffering from mild or chronic pain, as well as individuals suffering from opioid addiction.

The second substance that appears in Suboxone is naloxone. The ratio of buprenorphine and naloxone in Suboxone is four to one. Though there is only a fourth of the amount of naloxone in a dose of Suboxone, its effects can be crucial in treating opioid withdrawal symptoms, and preventing overuse.

Medically, an inhaled version of naloxone can be used to weaken the symptoms of opioid overdose, and it is sometimes the first response to be used for a patient suffering from one. In the brain, naloxone interacts with the same receptors that opioids interact with. However, naloxone forms stronger bonds with those receptors, which in turn causes the effects of the opioids to stop.

Together these two substances make a medication that can treat pain, but excels at helping individuals overcome opioid dependence. With the effect of buprenorphine, the effects of opioid use are simulated, but weakly. The additional effect of naloxone ensures that buprenorphine’s effects do not grow too strong, and may help prevent abuse.

Suboxone Packaging. Text: Suboxone falls into a special category of drugs that can help treat addiction and is used in medication assisted treatment (MAT).

Abuse Potential of Suboxone

Though uncommon, Suboxone can be misused before. Buprenorphine, albeit weak, does have addictive potential. The presence of naloxone is specifically meant to deter its addictive properties, but sometimes it falls short.

In such a scenario, an individual who forms a dependence to Suboxone may start experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. Suboxone withdrawal may be uncomfortable, but the weakness of buprenorphine means that even if one develops, the symptoms are typically mild, though long lasting.

What Is MAT Therapy?

Suboxone falls into a special category of drugs that can help treat addiction. Almost like fighting fire with fire, this kind of therapy is known as medication assisted treatment (MAT). Suboxone’s usefulness in treating the withdrawal symptoms of opioid dependent patients make it one of the best choices for MAT therapy, in the right cases. However, there are many things to consider about MAT therapy. While there are plenty of benefits that come with this kind of treatment, there are also several drawbacks to consider.

Drawbacks of Medication Assisted Treatment

The most worrying element of MAT therapy may be the most obvious one: addiction potential. Though certain medications may be helpful in mitigating the symptoms of substance abuse, those same medications might in turn become a problem over time.

If an addiction to the substance forms while MAT therapy is occuring, it may seem like the entire process has backfired. One of the substances in Suboxone, buprenorphine, has the potential for abuse.

This is also true for methadone, another substance used in MAT. While these substances can be addictive, a dependence on these medications is both easier to treat and less dangerous than more potent opioids, like heroin.

Another potential drawback that comes with this type of treatment is its restrictive application. Individuals who participate in MAT therapy must stay in close contact with counsellors and medical supervisors to ensure the process goes smoothly. Compared to other forms of treatment, this may make individuals who participate in MAT therapy feel confined. Though constant contact may seem like a hassle, the payoff that MAT can offer may outweigh the short-term sacrifice.

Lastly, a lack of research about MAT therapy is one more drawback to consider. While opioid withdrawals can be reliably treated with the process, individuals suffering from other types of substance abuse will not have much luck with MAT therapy.

This effectively means that this type of therapy is only applicable in patients who suffer from opioid use. While that still means there are millions of patients who can be treated with this method, there exists a large group of suffering individuals outside of that demographic.

Image of pills. Text: Buprenorphine is the primary ingredient in Suboxone, and is a type of opioid.

Considering the Benefits of Suboxone

At a closer look, there are still a few problems that can arise with MAT therapy. However, the reliability of treatment and the results that it produces make it hard to argue against. As with nearly all substances, those involved in treatment therapy can be misused. However, with the correct application, Suboxone and similar medications can do more good than harm.

If you would like to learn more about substance abuse treatment options and our approach to rehabilitation, explore our programs.