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Does Suboxone Get You High?

The answer depends. When taken properly per a doctor's orders, Suboxone should not get you high. Some people try to misuse Suboxone and hope they will get high, but they are often disappointed as it does not tend to cause euphoria to the extent of other opioids.

In reality, "Does Suboxone get you high?" is the wrong question. Instead, we should all ask, "How does Suboxone help people stop getting high?" Myths about this prescription medication can keep people from getting the help they need. 

How Does Suboxone Work?

Suboxone is a prescription medication containing two active ingredients. Both can help people recover from opioid use disorder. Only one has a slight misuse potential.

These are Suboxone's two active ingredients:

  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It attaches to opioid receptors, just like heroin. However, unlike heroin which is a full opioid agonist, Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist, thus it can provide only a small high even if taken in excess and has a much lower risk of overdose than heroin for that reason.
  • Naloxone: Naloxone is not absorbed when a person takes the suboxone sublingually as prescribed. However, were the individual to attempt to inject the Suboxone, the Naloxone is absorbed along with the buprenorphine. It binds to receptors preferentially in the body over the buprenorphine and prevents the individual from getting high or overdosing. In this way, buprenorphine is included in Suboxone as a way of reducing misuse and risk for overdose.

Doctors prescribe Suboxone to people in recovery. Regular appointments and drug tests ensure that no patients are misusing the drug.

Counseling sessions used in combination with the drug help people rebuild their lives. This is all part of the comprehensive approach used in Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT).

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. It is, after all, an opioid medication, and opioid medications have the potential to cause addiction. Suboxone can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly in the same way as other addictive substances.

Officials study how often people misuse (or divert) prescription drugs. In these reports, medications like buprenorphine represent 15% of all cases. To put this in perspective, oxycodone and hydrocodone appear in 67% of cases.[2] 

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. Suboxone Is Often Abused or Misused

It is true that some people do use Suboxone either with or without a prescription to “get high”. However, the vast majority of people who have a prescription for Suboxone do not reportedly misuse the drug, but instead take it as prescribed. [3]. About 75% of people who misuse Suboxone do so because they're trying to address withdrawal symptoms from an insufficient dose of Suboxone.[3] If this is the case, they should be encouraged to talk to their doctor about safely, and legally, increasing their dose. 

2. Using Suboxone Is Just Substituting One Addictive Drug for Another

This is untrue. Suggesting that people on Suboxone are just substituting one addiction for another is way too simplistic of a way of thinking about drug addiction. Patients on Suboxone are not just substituting one bad habit for another. Instead, they are making a choice to use a much safer substance in an attempt to avoid dangerous drug use and to heal themselves. Patients who seek out addiction treatment with Suboxone should be supported in their efforts, not shamed for their inability to be “substance free”. 

3. You Can Overdose on Suboxone

This is and is not true: It is very difficult to overdose dangerously on Suboxone by itself, due largely to the ceiling effect. In this way it is unique, and therefore much safer, than other opioids like oxycodone and heroin. In most overdose cases where Suboxone was involved, the person also took other drugs like fentanyl, cocaine, or alcohol.[4]

Suboxone alone includes protections against misuse as described above. However, if you combine Suboxone with other drugs, your risk of overdose rises. 

4. Suboxone Is for Detox Only

Some people may only need to take Suboxone for a short period of time to combat the acute symptoms of withdrawal. However, the most common situation is that people continue to have cravings and impulses to use opioids 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 period of time to help prevent cravings and/or relapse. Suboxone can be taken life long if necessary to prevent relapse. 

5. Suboxone Gets People High

It is true that, particularly for people who are “opioid naive” and whose bodies are not used to opioids, Suboxone can make you feel high. It is, after all, an opioid, albeit a weaker one than a full opioid like oxycodone or heroin. However, if taken as prescribed, it can be dosed at a low enough dose that people do not feel at all high or sedated. If you do feel like your Suboxone prescription is making you lethargic, sleepy or otherwise “high” talk to your doctor about slightly lowering the dose. 

6. Anyone Can Get Suboxone 

This is certainly not true. In fact, there is a national shortage of providers who can prescribe Suboxone to patients in need. Doctors have to follow strict protocols to prescribe Suboxone, including monitoring their patients carefully.[6]

It is true that Suboxone can be diverted illegally and sold, but this is a much less common scenario than the selling of full opioids 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. That is why it is particularly important, if you are pursuing MAT for OUD, to have a good relationship with a provider that can help prescribe and manage your Suboxone on a long term basis.

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.

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