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How Does Suboxone Work in Treating Opioid Dependency?


So how does Suboxone work?

When you or a family member/friend has made the decision to seek treatment for an opioid dependency, there can be a lot of questions about what the recovery will look like. With all of the different treatment plans and options out there, it can feel intimidating to know which one will lead to the desirable outcome of sobriety and healing. The two most common treatments are either going cold turkey (stopping all opioids and medications), or medication-assisted treatment (using closely-monitored medications to slowly wean opioid dependency).

Handling Withdrawal

An opioid-dependent body requires opioids to be able to function properly, so once the dosage is decreased or stopped altogether, withdrawal symptoms will begin to surface. Withdrawal symptoms are very difficult to endure, especially without any type of medical supervision or treatment. In fact, most patients who try to quit opioids cold turkey have a much lower success rate of remaining for just one year. Using Suboxone in a medication-assisted treatment has a much higher success rate, measured by retention in treatment and achieving one-year sobriety.

Why Suboxone Helps

Suboxone (also known as buprenorphine) is a medicine that is used for opioid-dependent patients that seek medication-assisted treatment. It is a “partial opioid agonist,” which means that it tricks the brain into thinking that it has the opiates that it’s craving, but does not create a euphoria or “high.” This means that the chances of abusing this drug are much lower than being treated with methadone.

How Suboxone is Used

Enduring withdrawal symptoms and cravings can make it difficult for patients in a treatment program to focus on the counseling and emotional aspects of healing from opioid-dependence. By taking Suboxone in a closely monitored environment, the brain’s withdrawal symptoms are suppressed. Here is a basic breakdown of how Suboxone works:

  • First, the patient needs to be experiencing mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms before Suboxone is administered. Suboxone cannot work unless the opioids have started to wear off and leave the brain’s opioid receptors.
  • The Suboxone will enter the brain’s receptors, thereby blocking the opioid withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and the effects of any other opioids in the brain. After a dose, a patient will have a full 24-hours where the opioid receptors in the brain will be blocked. Even if a patient takes an opioid during that period, they will find that they won’t be able to get high or feel pain relief. After a few days of steady treatment, any opioid’s effects would be significantly reduced.
  • With the physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings greatly reduced, it is easier to wean patients off of the opioid dependence and keep them focused on their entire recovery process.

There are some side effects with the use of Suboxone, including headaches, stomach pain and/or vomiting, difficulty breathing, and blurred vision. Make sure you discuss any side effects you may experience with your doctor.

The success of Suboxone is becoming more widespread, which has led to a surge in popularity in many treatment facilities. Make sure you discuss all medication options with your doctor while discussing the treatment plan.

Related: Psychological vs. Physical Addiction