Suboxone is an opioid medication and it can cause a “high” in patients, particularly those who have not been on opioids before (often called “opioid naive” patients). But Suboxone’s euphoria is typically more subtle and mild than what you’d experience with full opioid agonists like heroin or prescription painkillers.
Suboxone has three key features that can block its full euphoric potential:
Suboxone as a “Partial” Agonist
Your brain and body are full of opioid receptors. A full agonist (like heroin) binds tightly to those receptors and turns them on, producing euphoria. Suboxone is not a full agonist, but a partial agonist, of opioid receptors.
Partial agonists attach to those same opioid receptors but don’t turn the receptors on as strongly as their full agonist cousins. Thus, there is a limit to how “high” a person can get even with high doses of Suboxone.
Suboxone’s Ceiling Effect
Unlike pure opioids, Suboxone has a “ceiling effect”: the euphoric effects of Suboxone will level off after a certain dose. This trait makes it hard to overdose or really get high on Suboxone, unlike with other opioid medications, which will continue to get patients more and more high with higher doses.
Even so, you can get a high feeling from Suboxone if you’ve never used it before. The drug sometimes has street value, meaning people will sell it to others who use it to get some euphoric effects.
The addition of Naloxone
Naloxone is added to Buprenorphine to form the brand name medication “Suboxone”. Naloxone is added as an additional safety mechanism:
Naloxone is an antagonist, meaning it turns off opioid receptors. When a person ingests Suboxone sublingually, as intended, the buprenorphine is absorbed but the naloxone is not, and the person only gets the buprenorphine in their system. However, if a person attempts to misuse Suboxone by injecting it, the Naloxone enters the bloodstream along with buprenorphine, binding to opioids receptors preferentially over the buprenorphine and preventing it from causing euphoria or getting the patient “high”. In this way, it prevents an overdose if a person attempts to misuse Suboxone and serves as an additional safety mechanism.
Words of Warning
Never experiment with your dose of Suboxone in an attempt to get high. If you’re tempted to do so, talk to your doctor. You might need a dose adjustment or additional counseling to keep your opioid use disorder in check.
- Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. July 2022. Accessed July 2022.
- Opioid Agonists, Partial Agonists, Antagonists: Oh My! Pharmacy Times. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/opioid-agonists-partial-agonists-antagonists-oh-my. January 2018. Accessed July 2022.
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 ... Read More