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How Long Should You Take Suboxone?

Suboxone is a prescription medication used to help people recover from an addiction to opioids like heroin or Oxycodone. Using Suboxone means lowering your relapse risk. People who use Suboxone for less than six months tend to relapse.[1] Many people take it much longer, or even lifelong.

Only you and your doctor know how long you should take Suboxone. But in general, most people take the medication for months or even years.

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition. If you need help for the rest of your life, Suboxone may be a great medication to help you maintain your recovery. 

Length of Suboxone Use: How Do Doctors Decide?

Suboxone prescriptions require close monitoring by a physician. You must visit your doctor regularly - usually on a monthly basis - to get your prescription.

You and your doctor should look for a few things when considering tapering you off your medication:[2]

  1. Your desire to quit: Why do you want to stop taking Suboxone? How committed are you to quitting?
  2. Your sobriety history: Have you failed any recent drug screening tests? 
  3. Your support system: Do you have stable housing? Do you have friends and family to lean on? Are you free of legal problems?

If you meet these requirements, you and your doctor can start talking about tapering your dose. Together, you'll come up with a schedule to help you stop taking Suboxone. 

What are the Advantages to Taking Suboxone Long Term?

Even if you meet every guideline and follow every step, your doctor might recommend staying on Suboxone. We know that people who take Suboxone for long periods (like 18 months or longer) stay out of hospital emergency rooms due to overdose when compared to people who take it for shorter periods.[3]

As you take Suboxone and stay away from hard drugs, your brain cells heal. Discontinuing Suboxone does run the risk of relapse and falling back into old habits.

It's safer to keep taking your Suboxone until you're absolutely sure you will not relapse. And that could take longer than you imagine. Some people prefer to be “better safe than sorry” and continue Suboxone indefinitely. 

Suboxone Side Effects

As you become accustomed to Suboxone, any initial side effects tend to go away. But some people do experience persistent side effects, including:[4]

  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sexual dysfunction

If these symptoms prompt you to consider quitting, talk with your doctor. A smaller dose or a different medication could help. Your doctor can help you determine what will work best for your situation. 

Minimizing the Risk of Suboxone Misuse

Prescription Suboxone is difficult to misuse. Your doctor and pharmacist monitor your medication closely to ensure you're not using too much or too little.[5]

If you want to quit because you're tempted to misuse or divert your Suboxone, talk with your doctor. If your current dose isn't keeping your cravings in check, it's time for an adjustment. Your doctor may recommend gradually raising your dosage of Suboxone, so you don’t feel cravings for opioids.

When you're taking the right amount of Suboxone, you'll be less likely to misuse your prescription. Communication is key: talk openly with your doctor about how long you should take Suboxone in your personal journey toward recovery.

References

  1. Guide for Families: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder. Providers Clinical Support System. https://pcssnow.org/resource/guide-for-families-medications-for-opioid-use-disorder/. June 2021. Accessed June 2022. 
  1. TIP 40: Clinical Guidelines for the Use of Buprenorphine in the Treatment of Opioid Addiction. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://lib.adai.washington.edu/clearinghouse/downloads/TIP-40-Clinical-Guidelines-for-the-Use-of-Buprenorphine-in-the-Treatment-of-Opioid-Addiction-54.pdf. 2004. Accessed June 2022. 
  1. Discontinuing Buprenorphine Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder: What Do We (Not) Know? American Journal of Psychiatry. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19121245. February 2020. Accessed June 2022. 
  1. Buprenorphine Therapy for Opioid Use Disorder. American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2018/0301/p313.html. 2018. Accessed June 2022. 
  1. Buprenorphine. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459126/. May 2022. Accessed June 2022. 

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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