Suboxone is a prescription medication containing two ingredients, including an opioid. People in recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD) are accustomed to powerful doses of opioids, and they rarely feel high when taking their medication as directed.
But people who misuse Suboxone, including people with no history of OUD, can get high from it. And those who misuse Suboxone face risks that are similar to those who misuse other opioids, including overdose.
If your Suboxone dose is too low, you may be tempted to misuse your medication, as your OUD isn’t fully controlled. Talk to your doctor if you’re tempted to cheat. And always keep your medications in a safe, secure spot, so others can’t take it and misuse it.
How Does Suboxone Get Someone High?
Suboxone contains buprenorphine, a long-acting partial opioid agonist. It attaches to receptors used by opioids like heroin and OxyContin, and it triggers chemical changes within your brain cells.
Researchers say buprenorphine is weaker than other opioids, and it does not cause intoxication in people with OUD. Manufacturers added a second element to ensure you can’t misuse the drug.
The naloxone inside Suboxone kicks in when people take too much, removing buprenorphine from receptors and triggering full withdrawal and sobriety.
If you have OUD and take your medication as directed, you won’t get high. But you could develop opioid intoxication with Suboxone if you fit these criteria:
- You have no OUD history. Brain cells unaccustomed to opioids can overreact to Suboxone. You could get high with a small dose.
- You manipulate your doses. Crushing, sniffing, or snorting doses could produce a mild high, unless naloxone blocks that action.
- You mix your drugs. Adding benzodiazepines or other drugs to Suboxone could cause intoxication.
- You don’t process Suboxone properly. Health issues, including severe liver damage, could allow your medication to build up and cause a high.
If you’re using Suboxone properly to treat OUD, you will not feel high. If you do feel intoxicated, talk with your doctor.
How Does Suboxone Treatment Work?
Doctors prescribe Suboxone to people in recovery. Regular appointments and drug tests ensure that no patients are misusing the medication.
Counseling sessions used in combination with Suboxone help people rebuild their lives. This is all part of the comprehensive approach in programs that offer medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD).
Is Suboxone Addictive?
Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, does trigger mild euphoria in people with no drug use experience, and it is technically considered addictive.
Buprenorphine is an opioid, and all drugs in this class can cause substance use disorder. Suboxone can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly, just as other addictive substances do.
Officials study how often people misuse (or divert) prescription drugs. In these reports, medications like buprenorphine and methadone combined represent 15% of all cases. To put this in perspective, oxycodone and hydrocodone appear in 67% of cases.
6 Myths About Suboxone Treatment
Of all prescription medications, Suboxone might be one of the most misunderstood. Myths about what the drug is and how it works could keep people from enrolling in lifesaving programs that restore and maintain sobriety.
These are a few common myths about Suboxone:
1. Myth: Suboxone Is Often Abused or Misused
Some people use Suboxone with or without a prescription to “get high.” However, most people with a prescription for Suboxone take it as prescribed.
About 75% of people who misuse Suboxone do so because they’re trying to address withdrawal symptoms from an insufficient dose of Suboxone. If this is the case, they should be encouraged to talk to their doctor about safely and legally increasing their dose.
2. Myth: Using Suboxone Is Just Substituting One Addictive Drug for Another
Suggesting that people on Suboxone are just substituting one addiction for another is far too simplistic of a way of thinking about opioid use disorder. Patients on Suboxone are not just replacing one bad habit with another. Instead, they choose a much safer substance to avoid dangerous drug use and heal themselves.
Patients seeking addiction treatment with Suboxone should be supported, not shamed for their inability to be “substance free.”
3. Myth: You Can Overdose on Suboxone
It is very difficult to overdose with Suboxone due largely to the ceiling effect. It is much safer than other opioids like oxycodone and heroin. In most overdose cases involving Suboxone, the person also took other drugs like fentanyl, cocaine, or alcohol.
4. Myth: Suboxone Is for Detox Only
Some people may only need to take Suboxone for a short period to combat the acute symptoms of withdrawal. However, most people continue to have cravings for weeks, months, or years after discontinuing use.
For those people, it can be helpful or even necessary to take Suboxone for a more extended time to help prevent cravings and/or relapse. Suboxone can be taken on a lifelong basis if required to avoid relapse.
5. Myth: Suboxone Gets People High
It is true that, particularly for people who are “opioid naïve” and whose bodies are not used to opioids, Suboxone can cause a high. It is a weak opioid.
However, if taken as prescribed, people do not feel at all high or sedated. If you feel lethargic, sleepy, or otherwise high, talk to your doctor about slightly lowering the dose.
6. Myth: Anyone Can Get Suboxone
Doctors must follow strict protocols to prescribe Suboxone, including monitoring their patients carefully. While Suboxone can be diverted illegally and sold, it’s uncommon. Dealers often sell much stronger drugs, such as heroin and oxycodone.
In a perfect world, Suboxone would be easier to attain when people need it for legitimate purposes, such as addiction management.
- Suboxone Product Information. European Medicines Agency. https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/product-information/suboxone-epar-product-information_en.pdf. Accessed January 2023.
- Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/. 2018. Accessed January 2023.
- What Is the Treatment Need Versus the Diversion Risk for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/what-treatment-need-versus-diversion-risk-opioid-use-disorder-treatment. December 2021. Accessed January 2023.
- A Review of Buprenorphine Diversion and Misuse: The Current Evidence Base and Experiences from Around the World. Journal of Addiction Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177012/. September 2015. Accessed January 2023.
- Opioid Overdose Deaths with Buprenorphine Detected in Postmortem Toxicology: A Retrospective Analysis. Journal of Medical Toxicology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32648229/. January 2021. Accessed January 2023.
- FAQs About the New Buprenorphine Practice Guidelines. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/become-buprenorphine-waivered-practitioner/new-practice-guidelines-faqs. March 2022. Accessed January 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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