What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is the brand name for a medication that consists of two different drugs, naloxone and buprenorphine. It is commonly prescribed as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan for opioid use disorders. Suboxone, like methadone, can be used in opioid replacement therapy to reduce the impact and decrease the side effects of opioid withdrawal.
It is an important tool that makes it easier for people to treat their addictions using a variety of other treatment modalities without being overly burdened by the excruciating pain of opioid withdrawal. The drug is available primarily via two routes of administration, Suboxone film and Suboxone tablets, both of which are dissolved sublingually.
What is Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine, the active component of Suboxone, works by activating opioid receptors in the brain. Buprenorphine was designed to activate opioid receptors without providing users with the same intensity of euphoria that recreational opioids offer. As such, it is able to satisfy the needs of people addicted to opioids without getting them high.
Buprenorphine functions in multiple ways, depending on which opioid receptors it is activating. It can function as an opioid agonist, a partial agonist, and an opioid antagonist. As a partial agonist and antagonist, buprenorphine actually blocks the effects of other opioids. That means when someone is on buprenorphine, not only do they experience a reduction of cravings and withdrawal symptoms, it is actually difficult to use recreational opioids effectively.
What is Naloxone?
Naloxone is the second major component of Suboxone. When Suboxone is taken properly as prescribed by a physician, the naloxone component of Suboxone is actually not processed by the body. Rather, naloxone is included in Suboxone as a preventative measure to decrease the likelihood that a person will abuse the medication.
Buprenorphine, while difficult to abuse, can be dissolved and injected by users who intend to get high. When naloxone is injected, however, its opioid antagonist properties actually send people into immediate opioid withdrawal. This unwanted side effect greatly discourages Suboxone abuse and makes the medication safer than buprenorphine alone.
How Long Does Suboxone Stay in the Body?
It is important to understand that Suboxone does not literally block opioids. In fact, Suboxone is an opioid. Rather than block the effects of opioids, Suboxone shot replaces the opioids that addicts habitually abuse. There is no Suboxone high in the same way there is a heroin high, however, so when people take Suboxone they are able to satisfy their opioid craving without harming their cognitive abilities.
Suboxone’s elimination half-life of 37 hours makes it most effective for short-acting opioids, however. Suboxone remains most effective in the body for approximately 24 hours, though it can continue to alleviate some symptoms of opioid withdrawal for up to three days.
How Does Suboxone Work?
Suboxone treatment is generally conducted over the course of three stages. The initial stage begins after a person has stopped taking their recreational opioid of choice. When they begin taking Suboxone, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal, but Suboxone quickly begins alleviating many of these symptoms — as well as drug cravings. It does so by activating the very same opioid receptors that recreational opioids activate.
However, because the active component of Suboxone, buprenorphine, only offers a limited high, Suboxone is a suitable opioid replacement therapy option in the context of a treatment program. During this initial stage, physicians monitor how an individual responds to Suboxone. Most people are prescribed Suboxone by physicians who work at an outpatient treatment center.
During the initial stage of Suboxone treatment, individuals begin receiving other forms of treatment for opioid addiction, ranging from cognitive-behavioral therapy to support groups. This enables them to come to a better understanding of the underlying causes of their addiction as well as develop the skills and tools they need to avoid relapse over the long term.
As individuals progress in their addiction treatment, their physicians will settle on an appropriate maintenance dose of Suboxone. By staying on a maintenance dose, individuals in addiction treatment can fully commit to the therapies offered by their outpatient addiction treatment program without being distracted by severe opioid withdrawal. The maintenance phase is of variable length.
For some, it lasts for a few months. Others, however, remain on a steady dose of Suboxone for years. Ultimately, neither approach is better than the other. The length of a person’s maintenance phase depends upon the severity of their addiction, their mental health, and their unique needs.
The maintenance phase is followed by the tapering phase, during which physicians guide patients in gradually lowering their Suboxone dosage. This phase is also of variable length and is designed to be as painless as possible. While people will inevitably experience some degree of opioid withdrawal during the tapering phase, the skills and confidence they have gained through their outpatient treatment program will make the process significantly less likely to result in relapse.
Beginning Suboxone Treatment
If you are addicted to opiates and want to stop, the prospect of beginning a painful detox can be intimidating. Taking advantage of opioid replacement therapy can simplify this process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Suboxone is as effective as methadone at helping people withdraw from opiates. Suboxone is unique, however, in that is can be prescribed on an outpatient basis.
If you are interested in taking Suboxone as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, reach out to an outpatient addiction treatment center today. On-site physicians can develop an individualized treatment plan for you that includes Suboxone as well as other behavioral and emotional treatment modalities.
This comprehensive approach, combining medication with therapeutic treatment, reduces the severity of withdrawal while providing recovering individuals with the tools they need to stay sober over the long-term. Ready to take a step in the right direction? Get in touch with us today!