Suboxone is a class of prescription drugs used in the treatment of opioid addiction. While treating addiction and drug abuse generally requires a comprehensive addiction treatment program addressing underlying issues via behavioral therapy, suboxone treatment can greatly increase the chances of recovery by limiting the intensity of the opiate withdrawal that addicts suffer when they quit a drug like heroin or oxycodone
Short Term Side Effects of Suboxone
Suboxone, which received FDA approval in the United States in 2002, is a combination of two substances: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning it somewhat activates the same opioid receptors that drugs of abuse such as heroin and oxycodone do. By activating these receptors only partially, addicts can mitigate some of the withdrawal symptoms while avoiding a high. Buprenorphine on its own can thus be very helpful to opioid addicts in recovery.
However, when buprenorphine is injected against medical advice, it can offer recovering addicts a high and thereby becomes a drug with a high potential for abuse. It is for this reason that in the case of suboxone, naloxone is added to the mix. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opioids. If a user were to try to get high off of suboxone by injecting it, they would go into withdrawal immediately — which is quite the contrary of a high.
Used for a limited period of time, the short term side effects of suboxone tend to be relatively mild. Using suboxone as part of a treatment plan for opioid withdrawal can still allow for some opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as body aches, abdominal cramps, and rapid heart rate.
Suboxone itself can also present a range of symptoms, including headaches, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, depression, constipation, nausea, weakness, back pain, burning tongue, and redness in the mouth. These symptoms are usually mild and can be resolved by speaking to a physician about them.
Long Term Effects of Suboxone
There is nothing wrong with using suboxone for a long period of time. Some recovering addicts use it for years. Doing so can allow a recovering addict to develop the tools necessary for long term recovery. Treating the underlying issues behind a substance abuse problem often takes time. Some recovering addicts consider it a lifelong process. By slowing down and mitigating the withdrawal process using suboxone, recovering addicts can focus on the more comprehensive work necessary for treating their addiction.
The side effects of suboxone when using for a long period of time can, however, increase the risk of certain medical problems. One of these problems is addiction and dependence, which is ironically the condition that suboxone is designed to treat. However, taking suboxone for too long can also result in liver damage and hormonal problems such as adrenal insufficiency, which occurs when cortisol is too low.
Adrenal insufficiency can cause a range of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, dizziness, depression, and low blood sugar. If left untreated, adrenal insufficiency and other associated medical conditions can become life threatening.
Side Effects of Taking Suboxone
Aside from those major medical conditions, the other side effects of suboxone when using for the long term are often considered mainly annoying, but not dangerous. 12 percent of people taking suboxone, for instance, report constipation. 36 percent of people taking suboxone report experiencing headaches. Some people taking suboxone have even reported hair loss, though this is not an officially listed symptom.
Studies have also demonstrated that the long term use of suboxone can alter users’ emotional states. These studies show that despite being an effective treatment, suboxone causes long term users to display a “flat affect,” meaning less emotional expressivity. They also demonstrate less self-awareness of their own emotional state. Long term users of suboxone can have difficulty recognizing their own feelings of happiness, depression, or anxiety. This can make treating negative emotional states difficult.
Negative Effects of Suboxone
Perhaps the most worrying issue with long term use of suboxone relates to its efficacy. Suboxone is often touted as a crucial harm-reduction method for dealing with opiate addiction. However, some studies show that a sizeable population uses it long term as a way to continue to use higher doses of heroin and other illegal drugs without suffering from the withdrawal side effects of suboxone.
This form of suboxone abuse involves rapidly starting and then stopping a treatment plan. While there is nothing wrong with using suboxone over the long term, it is important to remember that it is just one tool among many in a comprehensive addiction treatment plan.
Getting involved in a recovery community such as Narcotics Anonymous, seeking behavioral therapy, and dealing with the underlying issues behind one’s addiction is ultimately more beneficial for long term sobriety. Suboxone is useful for making that recovery path feel more accessible to recovering addicts. But it is still important to take that path. Long term suboxone use without taking any steps in recovery can be a recipe for stagnation.