Suboxone, which contains both buprenorphine and naloxone, is prescribed to treat dependence on and addiction to opiate drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers.
Buprenorphine is in a class of drugs called partial opioid agonist-antagonists, and naloxone is an opioid antagonist. Opioid agonists mimic the effects of opiates, while opioid antagonists block their effects.
When Suboxone is used to treat addiction, it relieves symptoms of withdrawal, while also reducing drug cravings.
Suboxone can be used on a short-term basis during the beginning of the recovery process, or it can be used long-term as a maintenance medication. Suboxone can have many different effects on the body, even when used only on a short-term basis. Long-term use may have additional effects, including physical dependence and even potentially addiction.
Effects of Short-term Suboxone Use
In addition to reducing withdrawal symptoms and preventing drug cravings, Suboxone can have unintended side effects. Side effects typically subside on their own when Suboxone is used as directed. Common short-term side effects of Suboxone use include:
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Blurred vision
- Back pain
Suboxone is typically administered as a dissolvable strip that is placed under the tongue. This can cause mouth numbness or pain. The immediate side effects of Suboxone can be more severe if the medication is abused. More serious side effects of Suboxone use include:
- Skin rash
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Swelling in the face, mouth, throat, or extremities
- Trouble breathing
- Difficulty staying awake
- Slurred speech
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
- Low energy
- Decreased appetite
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools
Effects of Long-term Suboxone Use
Physiological effects of long-term Suboxone use have not been extensively researched at this point. It is unknown if using Suboxone for an extended period of time has any negative consequences for physical health. The primary negative effect of long-term Suboxone use is an increased risk of physical dependence and addiction.
Physical dependence occurs when the body becomes reliant on a substance in order to function normally. Withdrawal is the result of the body becoming re-accustomed to functioning without the drug. Addiction is a disorder in which a person compulsively seeks out and uses a substance despite negative consequences. As a result, a person can be physically dependent on a substance without having an addiction to it. In addition, people can be addicted to certain substances that don’t cause physical dependence, such as marijuana or cocaine. That being said, the majority of people who are addicted to Suboxone are also dependent on the drug.
Withdrawal from opiates and opioid-agonist medications like Suboxone can be unpleasant, but it is not usually dangerous. The symptoms of the Suboxone withdrawal syndrome are similar to those experienced from withdrawal from heroin and narcotic painkillers. Symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Runny eyes and nose
- Abdominal cramps
- Dilated pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
Treatment for Suboxone dependence and addiction typically begins with medical detox and is followed by a long-term treatment plan, generally incorporating medication and behavioral therapy. Treatment can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on the individual’s personal circumstances and home environment. Many people begin treatment in an inpatient or residential program, eventually transitioning to outpatient treatment as recovery is established. Addiction affects every area of an individual’s life and can be difficult to overcome, but with effective treatment, recovery is possible.