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What is Suboxone Prescribed to Treat?

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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Medication-Assisted Treatment

Suboxone can be prescribed by a doctor. A nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant who has completed specific training can also prescribe it. 

This prescription medication is used to complement comprehensive opioid addiction recovery. Medication for opioid use disorder is often part of a program known as medication-assisted treatment or MAT.

MAT has been proven to lower the risk of fatal overdoses by 50 percent, and it also reduces the risk of non-fatal overdoses.

In 2019, nearly 50,000 people died from opioid-involved overdoses in the U.S. MAT plays an important role in responding to this crisis.

What Is Suboxone? 

Suboxone helps to prevent withdrawal symptoms from opioids. It contains two ingredients, buprenorphine and naloxone. 

Buprenorphine blocks opioid receptors in the brain, helping to reduce a person’s urges for opioid drugs. Naloxone works to reverse the effects of opioids, so it is the abuse-deterrent component of the medication.

Suboxone is available in two forms: a pill and a sublingual film

Suboxone is currently the preferred medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder. It is often used instead of methadone, which has been found to be habit-forming. 

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a study of 600 people found that by taking Suboxone, approximately 49 percent of participants reduced their misuse of prescription painkillers.

How to Use Suboxone

If you are taking the film form of Suboxone, allow it to dissolve under your tongue. Do not swallow or chew the film, and try not to talk while it is dissolving. 

It is essential to take the medication according to the specific instructions of your doctor. Do not vary your dosage amount.

Suboxone Side Effects

While Suboxone can be a vital part of managing opioid use disorder, there is a level of physical dependence involved when you take it regularly. 

Because of this, stopping Suboxone use abruptly can trigger symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal. Symptoms may include jittery feelings, diarrhea, insomnia, irritability, stomach cramps, restlessness, runny nose, body aches, and joint pain. 

Possible negative side effects from Suboxone use include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling in arms and legs

A potential side effect of taking the Suboxone film may be numbness in the mouth, redness, and pain.

Some other medications should not be taken in combination with Suboxone, including these:

  • HIV treatment drugs
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Cholesterol-lowering medication
  • Acetaminophen

Talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements you take when you are prescribed Suboxone. This will help to avoid interactions and complications. 

How Is Suboxone Used in Addiction Treatment?

While Suboxone is used to manage symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping opioid misuse, it is recommended as part of a holistic treatment program. An ideal comprehensive treatment plan includes medications, therapy, coaching, support groups, and other forms of support, such as assistance with securing housing and employment.

While Suboxone can be used by anyone who needs assistance in stopping opioid misuse, it is particularly effective for people who are dependent on short-acting opioids, such as prescription painkillers and heroin. 

Suboxone is not a standalone treatment for opioid use disorder. It can help some people sustain their recovery, but additional treatment, such as therapy, is needed to address the contributing factors to opioid misuse..

How Does Suboxone Improve Recovery?

Addiction treatment to address opioid use disorder is often viewed as two phases:  withdrawal and maintenance.

Often, withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable with severe cravings for opioids. Suboxone helps to reduce the painful experience of withdrawal. It reduces cravings, eliminates withdrawal symptoms, and helps individuals feel normal.

With the supervision of your physician, you can move to the maintenance phase of addiction treatment. 

You may continue taking Suboxone while you work in therapy to understand your underlying motivations for misusing opioids. As you find new ways to cope with stress and manage pain, your doctor may reduce your Suboxone dosage over time.

Suboxone often helps to provide a sense of well-being. People taking the medication may feel the following:

  • Relief from pain
  • Less worry
  • Lower levels of stress
  • Feelings of calm

Who Can Prescribe Suboxone?

Suboxone is usually prescribed by a physician. To expand access to this medication, nurse practitioners and physician assistants can apply for a waiver to be eligible to prescribe this medication. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers an online map to locate practitioners in your region who are authorized to treat opioid dependency. 

Talk with your doctor or health care prescriber about dosages, what to avoid, and what to expect.

If you miss a dose of Suboxone, take it as soon as you remember. Do not double up or increase the dosage. Do not take a different brand of buprenorphine without consulting your physician.

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 October 17, 2023
Resources
  1. 5 Myths About Using Suboxone. (October 2021). Harvard Health Publishing.
  2. Opioid Overdose Crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse
  3. Mental Health Medications. National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  4. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. (March 2018). The Ochsner Journal.
  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.
  6. Painkiller Abuse Treated by Sustained Buprenorphine/Naloxone. (November 2011). National Institute of Health.
  7. Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  8. Buprenorphine Practitioner Locator. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
  9. Opioid Dependence Treatment: Options In Pharmacotherapy. (August 2010). Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy.
  10. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. (Spring 2018). The Ochsner Journal.
  11. Evaluating Buprenorphine Prescribing and Opioid-Related Health Outcomes Following the Expansion of the Buprenorphine Waiver Program. (January 2022). Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
  12. Lowering the Barriers to Medication Treatment for People With Opioid Use Disorder. (January 2022). University of Pennsylvania.
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