Suboxone withdrawal isn’t typically dangerous, although it can be uncomfortable. Before undergoing Suboxone withdrawal, talk to a doctor.
It’s usually recommended that a person take Suboxone long-term when using it to treat an opioid use disorder. There is no reason to stop taking Suboxone if it continues to support your recovery.
What Is Suboxone Withdrawal?
Some drugs can cause physical dependence if taken for an extended period. This is when a body slowly adjusts to a drug’s continued presence. When that drug is absent, it causes a person to experience negative symptoms due to a phenomenon called withdrawal.
Dependence isn’t the same as addiction, although many people addicted to a substance will also be physically dependent on it.
Suboxone withdrawal, therefore, is when one experiences withdrawal symptoms as a result of suddenly stopping use of the drug or reducing the amount of Suboxone one was taking. It isn’t typically life-threatening, but it can be uncomfortable and increase a person’s risk of relapsing into the misuse of more dangerous opioids.
What Causes Suboxone Withdrawal?
The main active ingredient in Suboxone is buprenorphine, an opioid partial agonist. This is a type of opioid that binds imperfectly to opioid receptors in the brain.
While it may seem paradoxical to treat an opioid use disorder with an opioid, buprenorphine can suppress drug cravings and opioid withdrawal without causing a strong euphoric high. It has low misuse and addiction potential, so it can be very useful for helping a person quit misusing much more dangerous opioids.
At the same time, buprenorphine is still an opioid, which can cause physical dependence. If the brain adjusts to the continued presence of opioids and then a person suddenly stops taking them, they will experience withdrawal. With that said, buprenorphine withdrawal isn’t as intense as is typical of withdrawal from more powerful opioids.
What Are the Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Suboxone?
Suboxone withdrawal is a mild form of opioid withdrawal. Opioid withdrawal is generally associated with “flu-like” symptoms, including these:
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Muscle aches
If you experience these symptoms and they seem intense, you should talk to a doctor. This may actually be the result of Suboxone causing you to undergo withdrawal from more powerful opioids that were still in your system if you took Suboxone earlier than is typically recommended.
How Long Can Withdrawal Last?
Suboxone is a long-acting opioid, and these drugs are associated with longer lasting withdrawal symptoms that are usually less intense than the symptoms associated with short-acting opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
The acute withdrawal phase, which is typically what people mean when they refer to withdrawal, can last between 10 and 20 days. This is where withdrawal symptoms are most intense, usually slowly increasing in intensity, peaking, and then falling in intensity.
After that is a much longer period called the protracted withdrawal phase, where one will experience drug cravings and may feel generally unwell, although not as intensely as they did during the acute withdrawal phase. This phase can last up to six months.
Factors Impacting the Length of Withdrawal
Typically, the longer a person has been on a drug and the higher a dose of a drug they’ve taken, the longer withdrawal will last. This isn’t a linear relationship, meaning taking Suboxone 10% longer than another person doesn’t result in a 10% longer withdrawal period, but it can be a factor in withdrawal length.
Exactly what impacts buprenorphine dependence and withdrawal isn’t a well-studied topic, as dependence and withdrawal from this drug are typically considered a less serious issue than dependence on other more dangerous opioids. Broadly, bigger individuals require more of a drug for the same effect, as do cisgender men compared to cisgender women, and this generally holds true for drug dependence as well.
Suboxone Withdrawal Timeline
The following is a basic timeline of what to expect from Suboxone withdrawal, although it’s important to keep in mind that the specifics can vary depending on an individual’s specific circumstances:
- Withdrawal symptoms begin: 12–48 hours since last taking Suboxone
- Acute withdrawal phase: 10–20 days
- Protracted withdrawal phase: Up to 6 months
During withdrawal and after one has gone through withdrawal, you should be in regular contact with a mental health professional, especially if you currently struggle with opioid use disorder or have in the past. This can help you prevent a relapse into opioid misuse and allows you to quickly react to a relapse to minimize the harm it might do to your recovery.
Detoxing From Suboxone
Before detoxing from Suboxone (undergoing the withdrawal process), first talk to a doctor about whether quitting the drug is a good choice for you.
Long-term Suboxone use for the purpose of addiction recovery has been shown to generally produce better outcomes compared to shorter term use. It’s also been shown to be better than using no medication at all. At the same time, Suboxone isn’t for everyone, especially if you have experienced serious health issues while on the medication.
If you decide to detox, clear your home of any opioids to reduce the temptation to misuse them once you start experiencing opioid cravings. Some people may decide to detox at an addiction treatment facility, although this isn’t typically necessary for undergoing Suboxone withdrawal.
A middle ground you may wish to consider is telehealth monitoring, where you can detox from home but also routinely check in virtually with an addiction treatment professional who can give advice as needed. Emotional and psychological support is important to ensure you can effectively get through the detox process.
How to Deal With Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms
Some tips that may help make the withdrawal process easier include the following:
- Make sure to stay hydrated, as opioid withdrawal symptoms can cause significant fluid loss.
- Try to get time off work, school, or other big obligations, so you can more easily focus on recovery.
- Set up your home to be as comfortable as possible and prepare ahead of time by stocking your house with groceries and supplies.
- Try virtual therapy during (and after) your withdrawal, which can allow you to talk to an addiction treatment professional online without needing to leave your home.
If you do relapse and engage in opioid misuse, keep in mind that your drug tolerance is likely much lower than it was previously. What was once a “normal” amount of opioids for you may now cause an overdose.
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD
Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More
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