Will Suboxone Treatment Cure an Opioid Addiction?

Use Of Suboxone For Opiate Addiction

Suboxone is a prescription medication that is an effective tool for treating opioid addiction. It is generally prescribed in the context of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, along with behavioral therapies. Physicians can prescribe Suboxone once a person has stopped taking recreational opiates. The medication can help individuals deal with the detoxing process by mitigating the withdrawal effects and cravings that normally occur. 

However, it is important to understand that opioid addiction cannot be “cured” by Suboxone treatment alone. Suboxone increases the likelihood that a person will successfully withdraw from opiates and decreases their chances of relapse. Medication-assisted treatment programs use Suboxone as a tool that is not meant to be relied on exclusively. Addictions are complex medical conditions, and treating them requires a broad range of treatment modalities.

Signs of Opiate Addiction

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes so-called “street drugs” such as heroin and prescription medications like oxycodone and fentanyl. Ultimately, prescription medications are no safer when it comes to abuse and addiction. Both legal and illicit opiates can provide people with a “high” by activating opioid receptors in the brain. When these receptors are activated, the body releases enormous quantities of dopamine. 

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter implicated in the brain’s decision-making and motivation centers, is sometimes known as the brain’s reward chemical. After a heroin high or an oxycodone high, the surge in dopamine will reinforce the drug-taking behaviors.

Over time, opiate-users develop a tolerance to opiates, requiring them to take greater and greater doses to achieve the same effects. As this occurs, they will be faced with more and more acute withdrawal effects. These two occurrences, which characterize physical dependence, can make it very difficult to stop taking opioids. 

Opioid abuse leads to a wide range of catastrophic consequences, including legal difficulties, interpersonal conflict, job problems, and serious physical and mental health disorders. A person who suffers from opioid addiction may recognize the severity of these consequences and try to manage or stop using opiates entirely, but they will rarely be able to do so for long without outside help.

Among medical professionals, opioid addiction is known as opioid use disorder. Common signs of opioid abuse include:

  • Extreme cravings
  • Altered sleep habits
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Significant weight loss
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • Difficulty controlling opioid use
  • Sleepiness
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Decreased libido
  • Social isolation
  • Stealing from friends, family, or the workplace
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal difficulties

How Does Suboxone Work?

Suboxone is a medication containing two different drugs, buprenorphine and naloxone. It may come as a surprise to learn that Suboxone, despite being an effective treatment for opioid use disorder, contains two distinct opiates. However, buprenorphine and naloxone affect the brain’s opioid receptors in a manner different from recreational opioids. 

Recreational opioids are opioid agonists, meaning they fully activate opioid receptors, which leads to the dopamine release associated with the opioid high. Buprenorphine and naloxone, however, are opioid partial agonists and opioid antagonists, respectively. 

As a partial agonist, buprenorphine activates opioid receptors without causing the same spike in dopamine. Naloxone, as an opioid antagonist, actually blocks opioid receptors, meaning that it prevents people from getting high entirely.

Suboxone effects stem from its active ingredient, buprenorphine. When people who are addicted to opiates take buprenorphine, they can satisfy the needs dictated by their addiction without getting high. A suboxone prescription can therefore reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that normally occur during the detox process. 

Naloxone also plays an important role in Suboxone treatment. Naloxone is not very bioavailable when a person takes Suboxone medication as directed by their doctor, but it has a strong effect when a person misuses their medication via a Suboxone injection. 

When a person abuses Suboxone in this manner, they enter immediate withdrawal. Because the presence of naloxone makes Suboxone abuse more difficult, Suboxone is safer and more effective than buprenorphine on its own.

The Role of Suboxone Treatment

Suboxone treatment is considered a type of opioid replacement therapy. Research shows that Suboxone is just as effective as methadone for addiction treatment. While opioid replacement therapy can make the detox process easier, Suboxone is by no means a “cure” for addiction. 

Rather, it generally functions as a component of a more wide-ranging treatment plan for an opioid use disorder. Outpatient treatment centers most frequently prescribe Suboxone in the context of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan. These holistic treatment plans utilize medications like Suboxone as well as behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and support groups. Suboxone is useful because opioid withdrawal symptoms can often be so severe that people are liable to drop out of their treatment programs; even people who remain enrolled in treatment programs often find it difficult to gain much from behavioral therapies while they are distracted by their suffering. 

Suboxone treatment makes people more receptive to other treatment modalities and increases the likelihood that they will remain in treatment long enough to develop the skills and tools they need to avoid relapse. While it is not a cure for opioid use disorder in and of itself, it plays a pivotal role in the recovery process.

Unlike methadone, which can only be prescribed at residential treatment centers, Suboxone can be prescribed on an outpatient basis. If you or a loved one suffers from an opioid use disorder and is ready to make a change, reach out today to discuss treatment options. An outpatient treatment center can develop a medication-assisted treatment program that meets your unique needs. Get in touch with us today!

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