Suboxone is a prescription medication for opioid use disorder (OUD). If you have OUD and use your medication as directed, addiction is extremely unlikely.
You may become physically dependent on your medication and feel unwell without it, but you won’t develop a psychological attachment to the drug. You also won’t develop unhealthy behaviors (like lying about your medication or stealing to get more) to support your Suboxone use.
If you don’t have OUD and use Suboxone recreationally, you could develop an addiction. Treatment from a qualified team can help you get better.
How Does Suboxone Work?
Suboxone contains two ingredients to address OUD: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, and it can be misused, especially by people with no opioid experience. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, capable of rendering opioids inactive when people take too much.
The medication is designed for at-home use, allowing people to take a daily dose without needing to head to a public clinic or hospital. Strips or tablets melt in the mouth, delivering powerful medication to ease symptoms of opioid use disorder.
Suboxone intoxication in people with OUD is rare, experts say, and it’s typically caused by one of the following actions:
- Combining Suboxone with other drugs
- Not following a doctor’s dosage directions
- Using Suboxone with stronger opioids
Because of naloxone, it’s almost impossible to overdose on Suboxone. But combining it with other drugs is never smart.
Is Suboxone Addictive?
People with OUD rarely develop an addiction to buprenorphine products like Suboxone.
An OUD is characterized by compulsive drug use. People take more and more with little control over their doses. This syndrome is much less likely when people with OUD take Suboxone as prescribed.
About three-fourths of people using buprenorphine products don’t misuse them. Instead, they take them to keep their OUD symptoms under control.
Buprenorphine is considered less addictive than other substances due to the following attributes:
- Weak action: While buprenorphine latches to receptors used by drugs like heroin and OxyContin, it is much weaker than these other drugs. People with an OUD may not feel high when they use it.
- Reduction in cravings: Suboxone can ease the urge to use opioids, making misuse less likely for people with OUD.
- Ceiling effect: Taking increasing doses of buprenorphine doesn’t cause a similar rise in intoxication. The drug has a ceiling effect, meaning it stops producing a high when taken to excess.
But long-term use of Suboxone can lead to physical dependence. When people feel in control of their OUD and want to stop taking Suboxone, doctors use tapering (slowly decreasing doses over a period of time) to help the body adjust. Quitting the medication cold turkey can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Physical dependence is not addiction. Many people take Suboxone for years without misusing the medication in any way. But their bodies become accustomed to the drug, and they need help stopping their daily dose. Plenty of people remain on Suboxone indefinitely. As long as it is supporting your recovery, there’s no reason to stop taking it.
Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction
People with no history of OUD can misuse Suboxone, and a small number of people with OUD misuse their medication. Understanding what addiction looks like can allow you to offer help when needed.
People with Suboxone addiction may show the following symptoms:
- Stealing money or objects for Suboxone
- Visiting multiple doctors to get Suboxone prescriptions
- Claiming their prescriptions were lost or stolen (so they can get more doses close together)
- Severe intoxication
As the OUD deepens, people may lose their jobs, relationships and financial health due to their Suboxone misuse. They may not understand that treatment is both available and effective. Talking to treatment providers could help them work toward a lasting sobriety.
How Is Suboxone Addiction Treated?
Suboxone treatment typically involves both medications and therapy. Drugs like methadone can help soothe cravings, and since they’re given in supervised settings, misuse is much less likely. Therapy helps people uncover why they misused Suboxone and how their lives could be better if they quit.
With the right treatment program, people with Suboxone addiction can stop misusing the drug and feel better about their lives. The sooner they get started, the better.
- Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. January 2023. Accessed March 2023.
- Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/. 2018. Accessed March 2023.
- Buprenorphine Misuse Decreased Among U.S. Adults with Opioid Use Disorder from 2015 to 2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2021/10/buprenorphine-misuse-decreased-among-us-adults-with-opioid-use-disorder-from-2015-2019. October 2021. Accessed March 2023.
- Buprenorphine: Potential for Abuse. U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs10/10123/10123p.pdf. September 2004. Accessed March 2023.
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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