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There is a serious and ongoing problem with drugs in the US, and addicts find ways to abuse various substances every day. Some of the ones that have been abused the heaviest throughout history, like cocaine and heroin, always seem to be the ones that come to mind when detoxing. However, many other substances can cause dependencies and withdrawals and are available legally in some circumstances.

These abused substances can ruin lives, not just the lives of the people trapped in a daily use cycle, but of those who love and care for them. It frequently results in the user losing good standing at school or their job, with their performance gradually worsening over time. This is commonly seen in their relationships as well, with the users neglecting or forsaking domestic and professional relationships and not being able to maintain a level of performance in either environment.

One of these drugs is called Suboxone, which can be addictive even when used according to the doctor’s orders. It is often prescribed to help those living with substance use disorders that revolve around opioids, either illicit or prescription, to help manage the withdrawals associated with treatment or maintenance. Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it prevents the body from engaging in withdrawal symptoms by directly engaging with some of the opioid receptors in the brain.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a formulation of buprenorphine and naloxone that has been designed to help treat narcotic addiction to opioids. It can be prescribed to those living with a daily opioid addiction. Similar to how methadone works, Suboxone binds with the opioid receptors to help reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and the severity of cravings. In addition, it is a more viable alternative to narcotic agents because it has a low relative potential for addiction.

Suboxone comes in a form different from most other medications. It comes as a sublingual strip. This strip is placed under the tongue when it is taken, where the strip quickly dissolves and is absorbed through the mucous membranes, taking effect just a few seconds after administration. This allows it to be taken only once the withdrawal symptoms are serious enough and discreetly enough that it can be done anywhere, without something to drink.

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What is a Partial Opioid Agonist?

When dealing with drugs that affect or interact with the brain, an agonist is a term used for a substance that activates specific receptors in the brain. When full agonists attach to receptors in the brain and activate them, the opioid receptor activation results in the user feeling the full opioid effect. You have probably heard of full agonists before. They are some of the most popular opioids, like heroin, methadone, morphine, and opium. 

Other drugs, known as partial agonists, bind to the receptors and either do not activate them or only activate them to a small degree. These drugs are usually used to treat or mitigate opioid addictions and include substances like Buprenorphine.

Chemicals that bind to the receptor but do not activate the receptor at all or prevent activation are known as antagonists. Antagonists are drugs that can completely block and prevent the feelings caused by full agonists like heroin. Drugs in this category include Naloxone and Naltrexone.

What Are the Side Effects of Suboxone?

The most common side effects of Suboxone use, misuse, or abuse include a strong and persistent headache, constipation & diarrhea, and nausea. When used, it can still provide a very mild, opiate-like relaxation, which is why many users are drawn to Suboxone. This can be the foundation for a strong addiction or dependence, leading to easier relapse. There are additional side effects, both short-term and long-term.

One of the features of the Suboxone brand of buprenorphine is that it contains a naloxone component as well. This allows the management of the withdrawals in the long-acting formulation, but it is defeated if the drug is not taken sublingually and is injected instead. If Suboxone is injected, the naloxone component can send the user into immediate withdrawals since it is a full antagonist and will stop any other opioids from binding with the appropriate receptors.

Short-Term Side Effects of Use

Suboxone is a “long-acting” opioid since it can remain functional in the user’s system for up to four days. This also means the overall risks are slightly lower since the doses are spread out and less intense. Even at higher doses, Suboxone is known to cause fewer breathing-related complications than other opioid addiction-management compounds, like methadone.

Taking Suboxone with alcohol or benzodiazepines can result in:

  • Dangerous sedation
  • Nausea
  • Depressed breathing
  • Possibility of coma and death

These risks are often taken in pursuit of the desirable effects of Suboxone use. These effects include:

  • Significant pain relief
  • Mild euphoria
  • Lessening of opioid cravings
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion

Side-Effects of Addiction & Chronic Use

When Suboxone is abused, it will be used for longer than intended, creating side effects for many users. The primary indications that Suboxone may have been taken for too long include constipation, nausea & vomiting, achiness, sleep disruption, moodiness and irritability, and fever.

When someone is using Suboxone to treat a legitimate addiction, taking it for long enough can also result in its tolerance and the buildup of physical dependence on it. This means that suddenly stopping Suboxone use may result in the onset of withdrawal symptoms. The Suboxone withdrawal symptoms will often include anxiety, yawning & restlessness, red or teary eyes, and dilated pupils.

Long-Term Effects

The most common symptoms seen with chronic abuse of Suboxone are depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, or insomnia. Other risks of using Suboxone simultaneously with other opioids include:

  • State of confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dangerous drop in blood pressure
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Seizure
  • Coma 

There are also secondary effects often seen as a result of long-term opioid use, whether from Suboxone or another, and they are often indicative of a problem that has been building for some time. These problems include:

  • Difficulty effectively maintaining relationships
  • Trouble meeting personal, educational, professional, or domestic responsibilities
  • Financial challenges presented by the use of the drug uncontrollably
  • Legal problems created by the use of the drug and subsequently getting arrested either for use or related behavior

Why Long-Term Use of Suboxone & its Side Effects May Not Help a Successful Long-Term Recovery

Even though the side effects of Suboxone supposedly make it a safer alternative to more powerful and dangerous opioid agonists like heroin, long-term use is still dangerous and can present several risks. Not only is long-term use loaded with potential physical and psychological risks, but it does nothing to address the underlying issue of addiction. It just makes the addiction somewhat safer.

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Since Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist, it can be difficult to use the drug to help stay off of full agonists, but since it still gives some of the opioid effects, it provides a reward for the user. Even though this reward diminishes greatly for those simply trying to use it for maintenance, it doesn’t entirely discourage Suboxone use and still presents some risk of addiction.

Suboxone has also been shown to have other long-term use side effects that could be difficult or even painful to deal with. The primary substance in Suboxone, buprenorphine, is known for increasing the overall risk for dental problems while taking the drug. These issues can include tooth decay, cavities, tooth loss, and an increased prevalence of oral infections.

These are all reasons that Suboxone should only be used for addiction treatment on a short-term, temporary basis. If there has been an issue detoxing from Suboxone or the other drugs that Suboxone was prescribed to help with, then it may be time to seek help from addiction professionals. Solo efforts to quit opioids rarely succeed, but personalized treatment plans have a much higher long-term success rate.

How to Detox From the Side Effects of Suboxone or Other Drugs

Suppose you or someone you know is trying to detox from Suboxone or another opioid while taking Suboxone. In that case, the process can be incredibly difficult and may require professional help to be successful. The first step is to reach out today to a local rehab facility and begin to discuss and create a personalized treatment plan confidentially. 

Detoxing alone at home can work, but it’s rare, and there can be complications. By working with local addiction professionals, you can detox and complete the withdrawal stage in a comfortable, safe, and medically-supervised environment. You can be given the proper attention if any complications arise. In addition, working with local experts can help you lay the strong foundation you need to make your recovery long and successful for years to come.

Sources:

Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed July 1, 2022. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/cocaine
Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed July 1, 2022

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