According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, up to 10 percent of people will misuse opiates at some point in their lives.
When an individual develops a dependence on opiates and wants to quit, stopping abruptly is not an option. Opioids affect the chemistry of the brain, and stopping them suddenly can result in withdrawal symptoms that have potentially life-threatening complications.
According to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT), buprenorphine, which is an opioid itself, is an effective way to treat addiction in those who are dependent on opioids. Suboxone is the brand name for a medication that contains buprenorphine and naloxone, and doctors typically prescribe it to patients who are trying to kick an addiction to opioids.
NAABT reminds loved ones that using Suboxone to quit opioids safely is not simply replacing one addiction with another, and when coupled with therapy, it can be an effective treatment method that results in recovery; however, it is still possible to develop a physical dependence on, and even an addiction to, Suboxone, especially if an individual does not use it according to a doctor’s recommendations. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reminds readers that there is a very real difference between addiction, dependence, and tolerance.
Addiction is a chronic neurobiological disease that can occur due to environmental, genetic, or psychosocial factors. It is characterized by impaired control due to drug use, compulsive behaviors related to getting the next “hit,” intense cravings, and continued use of the substance despite the harm it might cause. Ideally, Suboxone helps individuals go from addiction to dependence, which is a reliance on a substance that would result in the onset of withdrawal symptoms if the individual stopped taking said substance. If an individual reaches the dependence stage using Suboxone, it is then possible to get to the tolerance stage, which is merely the state at which an individual experiences a discontinuation of at least one of the substance’s effects over time. It is important to note that in the tolerance stage, individuals no longer have intense cravings for the substance they were once addicted to.
Suboxone can be an effective way for people to taper off opioids, but that’s not the only reason why doctors prescribe it. According to a report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 5 percent of physicians use Suboxone to treat pain. Suboxone is an effective medication for pain relief because it is a partial opiate that blocks pain receptors in the brain.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Suboxone, not everyone stops at pain relief or when they get to the tolerance stage. Instead, some people end up developing an addiction to Suboxone itself, which means they experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it and they abuse or compulsively use the medication.
If a loved one appears to have developed a dependence on Suboxone, medical detox is needed to safely wean the individual off the medication. The first step of treatment is undergoing medical detox. Though it’s natural to feel nervous about going through withdrawal, doing so with the help of healthcare professionals can ease some of the discomfort, making it fairly manageable.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
The duration and intensity of Suboxone withdrawal varies among users and ultimately depends on the extent of their addiction; however, there are generally a few constants when it comes to withdrawal. Symptoms typically last for a few weeks, and the physical symptoms gradually get less severe over time. The most common symptoms of Suboxone withdrawal are:
- Muscle aches
- Fever or chills
- Difficulty concentrating
Just as the exact symptoms vary for everyone, the timeline does too, but there are some general phases that most people going through medical detox can expect. For example, physical symptoms typically peak about 72 hours after the last dosage. Within one week of quitting Suboxone, individuals often experience body aches and pains, mood swings, and insomnia. Two weeks following the last dosage, it’s common to have feelings of depression, which may last for up to one month. Individuals are also likely to experience cravings up to one month after quitting Suboxone, but those feelings will ultimately diminish with time.
Though the above are the most common withdrawal symptoms, stopping any opioid can have other consequences for some individuals, and there is no way of knowing how someone’s body will react before detox begins. For that reason, undergoing medical detox can be an effective way to manage symptoms. According to NAABT, Suboxone is effective at oppressing symptoms during opioid withdrawal, but withdrawing from Suboxone can still present symptoms of its own that trained healthcare professionals know how to manage for clients.
During medical detox, individuals have access to a dedicated healthcare staff 24/7, and they are trained to act in medical emergencies.
Going through withdrawal for Suboxone may be uncomfortable, but it is entirely possible to come out on the other side unscathed and ready to face the world sober.
Many people start taking Suboxone with the best of intentions, which often includes plans of only taking it temporarily; however, regardless of where they took it to ease chronic pain or as part of opioid replacement therapy, they can still develop a dependence on it. If a loved one appears to have developed an addiction to Suboxone, it’s critical to get the help of a healthcare team experienced in treating substance abuse.
Some people may think they know how to control their substance abuse, especially if they started taking Suboxone to treat a different addiction and it had seemingly positive effects on their recovery, but the FDA urges people not to switch from Suboxone to other medications without speaking to a doctor first. It may seem reasonable to simply switch from one version of buprenorphine to another that has less abuse potential, but that strategy can have serious complications if a doctor is not monitoring the results.
Complications of Suboxone Withdrawal
Because Suboxone is commonly used in opioid replacement therapy, it’s easy to write it off as a mild drug; however, it can still be incredibly dangerous, especially considering it is becoming more accessible for people to abuse. According to SAMHSA, visits to the emergency room that involved buprenorphine increased from 3,161 in 2005 to 30,135 in 2010.
Despite the fact that Suboxone is often used to help people overcome addictions to powerful opioids, that statistic indicates that it is a powerful drug on its own, and complications can arise both while using it and while trying to quit it. Medical detox is important because if clients experience any complications during withdrawal, they will access to a team of medical professionals. In addition, these professionals can help make clients more comfortable during withdrawal.
Complications that might arise during opiate withdrawal include vomiting and then breathing the stomach contents into the lungs, a condition called aspiration, which can cause an infection in the lungs. Vomiting and diarrhea can also result in severe dehydration, which can have complications of its own without proper medical intervention.
In most cases, though, severe complications are not a major part of the recovery process. If a loved one is showing signs of Suboxone abuse, the first step is enrolling in a medical detox program. Following medical detox, intensive inpatient programs that incorporate various types of therapy can be effective at encouraging individuals to stick to sobriety. After completing an inpatient program, an outpatient program is an effective way to help a loved one ease back into everyday life slowly while acquiring the tools needed to stay in recovery.