How Long Should I Stay on Suboxone? Learn All About Suboxone Treatment Duration

November 26, 2022

Table of Contents

Longer treatment times are associated with Suboxone success. In one study, people who stayed on the medication for 15 to 18 months were less likely to visit an emergency room for complications from OUD compared to people who took the drug for just six months.[1]

The amount of time you need/choose to take Suboxone may vary depending on your health, preferences, and addiction history. 

Short Term Side Effects of Suboxone

Some people want to discontinue Suboxone due to side effects. While Suboxone, like most medications, can cause some side effects, they tend to be mild and fade with time. Your doctor can also provide medical monitoring to ensure that you don't experience serious health problems due to your medications.

These are a few of the issues people experience: [2]

  • Aching muscles 
  • Blurred vision
  • Dental issues, including dry mouth and tooth decay
  • Digestive issues, such as constipation and nausea 
  • Dizziness 
  • Fatigue 
  • Fever 
  • Headache
  • Inattentiveness 
  • Insomnia 
  • Sweating 
  • Tremors

If these side effects are bothersome or won't go away, a dose adjustment may help. 

Long-Term Side Effects of Suboxone 

Studies show that Suboxone is safe for long-term treatment.[3] In fact, getting treatment lowers your risk of relapse and overdose, so it's safer than not addressing your opioid use disorder at all. Overall, there are no long term adverse outcomes of Suboxone use to any major organs including kidneys, liver, or lungs. 

How Do I Discontinue Suboxone?

If you have been on Suboxone, you may have some physical dependence on the medication, and you should come off it slowly to prevent withdrawal side effects. This can be done quickly (“short taper”) or more slowly (“long taper”). In general, a longer duration of treatment seems to lead to better outcomes overall.[1] However, a shorter taper may be reasonable for some people. 

Short Tapers

A short taper may be appropriate for someone who has only been using Suboxone for a short period of time or at a low dose, and who does not experience significant withdrawal symptoms if they miss or skip a dose. In these cases, Suboxone can often be stopped entirely after a few days. 

Long Tapers

On the other end of the spectrum, a patient with a history of heavy opioid use may use suboxone for months or even years, sometimes at high doses. If a taper is preferred by the patient, the dose can be slowly decreased over the course of weeks or even months, to prevent withdrawal symptoms. 

Effectiveness of Suboxone as a Long-Term Maintenance Medication 

Suboxone is a safe and effective medication that can help people overcome severe and life-threatening opioid use disorders. The research is clear. Using this medication could save your life.In one study, 75% of people using medications like Suboxone were sober one year later, compared to almost zero patients who did not use medications. [4]

People using 16 mg of buprenorphine per day are almost twice as likely to stay in treatment as people given a placebo.[5] The longer you stay in therapy, the more you build relapse-prevention skills and learn how to build a healthy life without drugs. For many people, Suboxone makes that possible. 

How Long Will My Suboxone Taper Last? 

If you have made a decision to discontinue Suboxone, the next question is “how quickly should I do it?”

To help you and your doctor decide how quickly to taper Suboxone, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my motivation for a rapid tapering? If it’s not urgent, can it be done more slowly?
  • How heavy is my opioid use? How high is my dose? Higher doses and longer duration of use might warrants a slower taper.
  • Do I have other conditions present that would make tapering difficult or dangerous? Individuals with chronic pain or other mental or psychiatric conditions might be at more risk of deteriorations in these conditions with suboxone tapering, and might warrant a slower taper.
  • Have I previously been successful/unsuccessful in my attempts to taper off Suboxone?  An individual who has repeatedly tapered off buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) only to find themselves relapsing would be ill-advised to discontinue Suboxone again without changing their underlying circumstances.[9] If they are determined, a taper should be done very slowly with frequent check ins with a treatment team.

With all this in mind, the setting for a successful taper might include the following:

  • A critical assessment of the motivation for tapering
  • A values-based balance between the risks and benefits of tapering
  • Realistic expectations of the process
  • Vigilance about danger signs, such as overwhelming cravings and withdrawal symptoms

Most of all, listening and minding your body’s signals leading up to and throughout the tapering process is crucial to avoid unnecessary relapse. Prioritizing function (as measured by engaging in the aspects of life an individual prioritizes, such as family, work, or other activities) over time-based goals can help to keep a person on track.

Bicycle Health can help throughout the spectrum of Suboxone use, from rapid tapers off to long-term maintenance and everything in between. To learn more about the success rates and safety of Bicycle Health’s telemedicine addiction treatment compared to other common treatment options, call us at (844) 943-2514 or schedule an appointment here.

Suboxone Treatment Duration FAQs

How long can you take buprenorphine?

Indefinitely. Buprenorphine is a safe and effective medication that many people take for years or even the rest of their lives. There is no cutoff point for buprenorphine. As long as you benefit from therapy and follow your doctor's orders, you can take the medication as long as you need to.

What is the relapse rate for Suboxone?

Relapse is a part of addiction, and it doesn't mean that therapy doesn't work. Instead, relapse gives people an opportunity to amend their treatment program and close gaps that lead to experimentation and relapse.

In one study, about half of daily opioid users taking Suboxone relapsed at least once. [11] On average, they relapsed within about five months. People with underlying mental illness or those who used other substances (like alcohol) were more likely to relapse. 

What does Suboxone do to the body over time?

Suboxone can help you achieve a lasting recovery from opioid misuse. It's a safe and effective medication to take over the long term.

Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

Is Suboxone treatment a fit for you?

Contact us directly to speak with a specialist.

Citations

  1. Discontinuing Buprenorphine Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder: What Do We Not Know? The American Journal of Psychiatry. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19121245. February 2020. Accessed August 2022.
  2. Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. July 2022. Accessed August 2022.
  3. Safety and Efficacy of Long-Term Buprenorphine Maintenance Treatment. Addictive Disorders and Their Treatment. https://journals.lww.com/addictiondisorders/Abstract/2011/09000/Safety_and_Efficacy_of_Long_term_Buprenorphine.5.aspx. September 2011. Accessed August 2022.
  4. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/. 2018. Accessed August 2022. 
  5. How Effective Are Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/efficacy-medications-opioid-use-disorder. December 2021. Accessed August 2022. 
  6. Discontinuing Buprenorphine Results in Adverse Outcomes. Healio. https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20191204/discontinuing-buprenorphine-results-in-adverse-outcomes. December 2019. Accessed August 2022.
  7. Discontinuation of Buprenorphine Maintenance Therapy: Perspectives and Outcomes. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382404/. May 2016. Accessed August 2022. 
  8. Predictors of Relapse in Patients with Opioid Addiction During Buprenorphine-Naloxone Maintenance Treatment. HSOA Journal of Addiction and Addictive Disorders. https://www.heraldopenaccess.us/openaccess/predictors-of-relapse-in-patients-with-opioid-addiction-during-buprenorphine-naloxone-maintenance-treatment. February 2015. Accessed August 2022. 
  9. Loss of Tolerance and Overdose Mortality After Inpatient Opiate Detoxification: Follow Up Study. BMJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC153851/. May 2003. Accessed August 2022.
  10. The Helping to End Addiction Long Term Initiative. National Institutes of Health. https://heal.nih.gov/. Accessed August 2022. 
  11. Predictive Factors for Relapse in Patients on Buprenorphine Maintenance. American Journal on Addictions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922612/. January 2015. Accessed August 2022.

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