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Suboxone Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Suboxone is a medication prescribed to treat opioid use disorder. It mitigates opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings, helping people to sustain.

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Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) is a prescription medication doctors use to help people with opioid use disorder (OUD). Two formats are available: strips and tablets. Both dissolve in the mouth and are typically prescribed for once-daily use

Suboxone is typically part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program that combines prescriptions with therapy. Plenty of evidence suggests that these medications can help people stay in therapy and learn to rebuild their lives. 

Here’s what you need to know about Suboxone treatment for opioid use disorder. 

Key Facts About Suboxone

Key Facts

  • Suboxone is a prescription medication that contains buprenorphine and naloxone.[1]
  • Both strips and tablets are available. They dissolve within the mouth, placing the medication in the bloodstream directly, as buprenorphine is hard to extract from the digestive system.[1]
  • Suboxone is only approved for opioid use disorder treatment, not for pain relief.[1]
  • People must start Suboxone slowly, as taking it too close to a dose of opioids can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.[1]

Understanding the Basics of Suboxone 

This table can help you understand how Suboxone works and what it’s typically used for:[1-5]

What is it used for?Opioid use disorder 
FDA approval date 2002
Generic available? Yes
Formats available Strips and tablets 
Cost $40 for 14 generic films; $25 for 14 generic tablets 
Covered by insurance? Typically 
DosagesFilm: 2 mg buprenorphine to 12 mg buprenorphineTablets: 8 mg buprenorphine 
Administration Place the strip or tablet below the tongue and let it dissolve 
Drug classification Schedule III (buprenorphine)None (naloxone) 
Abuse potential Buprenorphine is capable of producing euphoria 
Side effectsOral side effects, headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, constipation, insomnia, swelling, pain, and constipation 

The Role of Suboxone in Addiction Treatment 

Suboxone treatment typically begins at least several hours after the person has last used opioids. When given too soon, buprenorphine can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting.[1,2]

When the time is right, doctors provide a low Suboxone dose and look for signs that withdrawal symptoms are fading and people aren’t too sedated to participate in therapy. It can take several days to find the right dose.[1,2]

The length of time people use Suboxone can vary. Sometimes, people use the medication indefinitely.[6] As long as you’re at risk of relapse, using the medication could be helpful. 

How Does Suboxone Work?

Suboxone contains buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist. Buprenorphine is an opioid, so it can produce symptoms like euphoria and slow breathing at high doses. However, it’s not as strong as other opioids like heroin and methadone.[7]

At low doses, buprenorphine offers enough of an opioid effect that it can help people quit using drugs without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.[7] The drug can also diminish opioid cravings, so people aren’t consumed with thoughts about drugs.[6]

Suboxone also contains naloxone. This substance has been added to ensure people don’t abuse the drug via injection. When taken properly, naloxone is inert. However, when the drug is injected, naloxone will cause immediate withdrawal symptoms.[7] 

Side Effects of Suboxone 

While Suboxone is safe and effective, it can cause side effects even at the proper doses. 

Common side effects include the following:[1,2]

  • Mouth changes, such as numbness, burning sensations, and swelling 
  • Headache 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Sweating
  • Constipation 
  • Insomnia
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Pain
  • Feeling tired or sleepy

Suboxone side effects can vary by gender too. Suboxone side effects in women are often different than Suboxone side effects in men. 

Quitting Suboxone suddenly can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and aching muscles. Researchers say the episodes are typically less severe than those seen with full opioids like heroin. However, they can be very uncomfortable. It’s best to taper your doses when it’s time to stop rather than quit abruptly.[1]

Suboxone Success Rates 

Researchers have examined how Suboxone works and who benefits from it. The results suggest that this medication could be helpful for people struggling with OUD. 

In one study, researchers examined 150 patient charts of people who completed an addiction treatment program. They found that the risk of relapse within 115 days of discharge was much lower in people who used Suboxone than in people who did not.[8]

In a separate study, people looked at claims from more than 40,000 people diagnosed with OUD. They compared the success rates of several different types of treatment plans. They found that only treatment with medications was associated with a reduced overdose risk. Using medications also meant a 32% decline in serious opioid-related acute care at three months.[9]

In a third study, researchers examined close to 6,500 people using buprenorphine between 2016 and 2020. They found that people using a prescribed daily dose of 16 mg were at a higher risk of dropping out of care than those using a 24 mg dose.[10] This result stresses the importance of finding the right dose of medications to help you stay sober. One size doesn’t fit all people. 

Common Myths About Suboxone 

While Suboxone is helpful, it’s not used as often as it should. In fact, in one study, only 12.5% of people with OUD got medications.[9] Common Suboxone myths could keep people from getting the help they need. These are a few of them:

Suboxone Is a Substitute 

Researchers say that long-term drug use can change brain function, making it harder to control drug-using impulses.[11] People with these brain changes need medications to help them correct the drug damage that’s been done. They’re not swapping one drug for another, but they are using medications to help them feel better.

Abstinence Is More Effective 

People with OUD often want to quit using drugs, but it’s hard for them to do so. MAT can help, as researchers say up to 90% of people who use MAT remain sober at the two-year mark.[11] MAT makes that happen for them. 

People Use Medications to Get High

When taken as directed, people with OUD do not get high from their medications.[11] Instead, Suboxone helps them to gain control over their behaviors and stay sober. In fact, if people attempt to misuse Suboxone, the naloxone component will activate, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

Is Suboxone Right for Me?

People with OUD may benefit from using Suboxone to help them get and stay sober. You could be one of them if you like the idea of using medications at home rather than going to a methadone clinic to get your medications. You may also be a good candidate if you’re sure you can keep your medications safe from children and others in your home who might abuse them. 

Other OUD therapies exist, including methadone. If you’d rather take your medications in front of a medical professional in a supportive setting, this could be a better fit. 

If you don’t want to take daily medication for OUD, you could consider injectable forms of buprenorphine. Once per month, you’ll make an appointment and visit your doctor for the help you need. You won’t have to remember to take daily doses with this approach.

Your doctor can help you decide if Suboxone is right for you or if another form of therapy seems better for you. 

Suboxone Therapy at Boca Recovery Center 

At Boca Recovery Center, we use Suboxone as part of a long-term treatment plan for people in recovery from OUD. We combine medication management with therapy to help people develop a deep understanding of their addictions and their path to a healthy recovery. If you’re interested in Suboxone and aren’t sure how to get started, we could provide just the help you’ve been searching for. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Suboxone

These are the questions we often hear about Suboxone treatment for opioid use disorder:

Does Suboxone treat alcoholism?

No. Suboxone is only FDA-approved as an opioid use disorder therapy.[1,2]

What Does Suboxone treat?

Suboxone is FDA-approved for opioid use disorder treatment.[1,2]

How long does Suboxone stay in your system? 

Suboxone is typically dosed once per 24 hours.[2] That means the medication is usually effective for an entire day. It can appear in urine tests for much longer, however. Sometimes, it shows up in urine drug tests for 14 days.[12]

Is Suboxone used to treat chronic pain?

No. Suboxone is not considered an appropriate therapy for people dealing with chronic pain.[2] Other forms of buprenorphine may be available for this purpose.[13]

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 6, 2024
  1. Suboxone tablet prescribing information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published December 2011. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  2. Suboxone film prescribing information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published March 2021. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  3. Generic Suboxone film. GoodRx. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  4. Buprenorphine. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published May 2022. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  5. FDA approves first generic versions of Suboxone sublingual film, which may increase access to treatment for opioid dependence. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published June 14, 2018. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  6. Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published January 30, 2024. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  7. Supporting recovery from opioid addiction: Community care best practice guidelines for buprenorphine and Suboxone. Community Care. Published January 2013. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  8. Exploring the impact of buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) use to length of sobriety after opioid detoxification. Khalili M. Pain Management Nursing. 2023;24(2):236.
  9. Study highlights effectiveness of methadone and buprenorphine. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published February 28, 2020. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  10. Buprenorphine dose and time to discontinuation among patients with opioid use disorder in the era of fentanyl. Chambers L, Hallowell B, Zullo A. JAMA. 2023;6(9):e2334540.
  11. 10 things to know about medication-assisted treatment. State of South Dakota. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  12. Opioid testing. Testing. Published September 28, 2022. Accessed February 29, 2024.
  13. Buprenorphine for chronic pain: A safer alternative to traditional opioids. Dalal S, Chitneni A, Berger AA, et al. Health Psychology Research. 2021;9(1).
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