Does Suboxone Provide a “Heroin High”?

Can You Get High Off Suboxone?

Opioid addiction can begin under many different circumstances. The vast majority of people with opioid use disorders develop their dependence on opioids while taking prescription painkillers. A significant number of others begin using opioids in the context of recreational drug experimentation. No matter why a person initially uses opioids, they generally continue to abuse them for one primary reason: opioids provide a feeling of euphoria and sedation that is colloquially known as a “high.” 

These feelings are so pleasurable that it can be difficult for a person to say no even before they have developed a physical dependence on opioids. However, opioid misuse and abuse quickly lead to physical dependence and addiction. With addiction comes a wide range of devastating consequences that can quickly ruin a person’s life. 

At that point, a person may recognize a need to quit using opioids but find that they are unable to do so. For anyone with an opioid use disorder, seeking outside help in the form of an addiction treatment program is a necessity.

Many outpatient treatment centers recommend Suboxone treatment for people who are withdrawing from opioids. Taking Suboxone in the context of a medication-assisted treatment program can alleviate cravings and the most severe opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

Suboxone is a medication that contains a combination of two drugs, buprenorphine and naloxone. It may come as some surprise to readers that both of these drugs are actually opiates. Why would an addiction treatment program recommend other opiates to treat an opioid addiction? The answer to this question resides in the nature of the opioid high.

What Causes a Heroin High?

Heroin is perhaps the most notorious recreational opioid. With no recognized medical uses, this Schedule I drug is sold on the streets to people whose only goal is to get high. But how does heroin get people high?

Heroin, like other opioids, works by activating opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are naturally located in people’s brains, digestive tracts, and spinal cords. When these receptors are activated, two events happen simultaneously: pain signals are blocked and dopamine is released. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain’s motivation and decision-making centers. Dopamine is how the brain rewards itself. Activities that can naturally release dopamine include sex, playing sports, and listening to music. When the brain releases dopamine, a person feels pleasure and is more likely to repeat the activity. 

Heroin and other recreational opioids, however, release quantities of dopamine that far exceed natural levels. The result is an intense feeling of euphoria.

This same explanation holds true for many prescription opioids that do have medically recognized uses. While prescription opioid analgesics like fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone codeine, and morphine are useful in medical contexts for the treatment of pain, they also release enormous quantities of dopamine. For that reason, prescription opioid pills that get you high can be just as addictive as heroin. 

In fact, prescription opioids like fentanyl, which are 50-100 times more powerful than morphine and many times more powerful than heroin, can offer highs significantly more powerful than heroin. A stronger high means a higher potential for addiction — and overdose.

Why Is There No Suboxone High?

What makes Suboxone different from other opioids? The two components of Suboxone, buprenorphine and naloxone, are opioids — but they affect opioid receptors differently. Recreational opioids that get people high are opioid agonists, meaning they fully activate opioid receptors and release high quantities of dopamine. Buprenorphine is unique in that it functions in multiple ways on opioid receptors. 

Buprenorphine works primarily as an opioid partial agonist. Partial agonists like buprenorphine attach to opioid receptors but do not fully activate them. That means that buprenorphine can satisfy the physical cravings that individuals who are dependent on opioids experience, but it satisfies these cravings without getting them high.

Buprenorphine is the primary active ingredient in Suboxone that is responsible for reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings. While buprenorphine offers very limited euphoric effects when taken as prescribed, buprenorphine can be modified and injected. This form of abuse can make buprenorphine suitable for recreational users who are trying to get high. 

Naloxone is added to buprenorphine to prevent Suboxone injection. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of other opiates. In fact, taking naloxone alone can send a person who is high on opioids into immediate withdrawal. On its own, naloxone is an effective tool for reversing opioid overdoses and can therefore save lives. 

However, it is added to Suboxone merely as a preventative measure. When Suboxone is taken as prescribed via Suboxone strips, Suboxone film, or the Suboxone pill, naloxone has a limited effect. However, people who try to abuse Suboxone through a Suboxone injection or by snorting Suboxone will immediately encounter the effects of naloxone. Abusing Suboxone via these non-recommended routes of administration results in immediate opioid withdrawal, which is definitely not the intended result for people who are trying to get high!

How to Get Suboxone Treatment

If you or someone you love suffers from an opioid use disorder, Suboxone treatment can be an extremely effective tool. It is important to understand, however, that Suboxone alone is insufficient for addiction recovery. People trying to manage their substance use disorders on their own by taking illicitly purchased Suboxone without a Suboxone prescription will often only exacerbate their addiction. It is crucial to reach out for help.

Outpatient addiction treatment centers can prescribe Suboxone in the context of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan. Medication-assisted treatment is an approach to addiction treatment that takes a “whole patient” philosophy to addiction recovery. Suboxone is merely one tool in the MAT arsenal. While pursuing a MAT plan at an outpatient addiction treatment program, a person participates in a variety of treatment methods, ranging from cognitive-behavioral therapy to support groups. 

Suboxone helps people get more out of these treatment modalities by mitigating their cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Over time, once their sobriety is on firmer ground, their physicians can help them slowly taper off of Suboxone entirely. For people who are willing to seek help and participate in an outpatient treatment program, opioid addiction can rapidly become a thing of the past. Ready to get started? Get in touch with us today!

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