Consider how upsetting this scenario would be. You or a loved one have struggled with an opioid addiction for quite some time. Finally, you seek professional help and, as part of your treatment plan you’re given a medication designed to gradually wean you off of the overpowering urge for the opioid that has caused so much destruction in your life. Finally, things are starting to look up.
But that’s just a mirage. You become addicted to the drug that was supposed to make you healthy again. As cruel as this sounds, it sometimes happens. Opioid users seek treatment and become addicted to Suboxone, the medication that’s supposed to help them with withdrawal from other problem opioids.
Fortunately, there’s help. Here at Harmony Place in Los Angeles to understand the problem of Suboxone addiction and we’re helped others break free and start new lives free of all opioid addictions, including to Suboxone. We can do the same with you.
Suboxone, an Important and Necessary Medication
As recently as 2018, an average of some 218 Americans died every day for causes related to ovioid addiction1. You know the scope of the opioid addiction problem in America. You’ve seen it in the news and experienced it in your own life. But quitting opioids “cold turkey,” or by simply giving up the drug at one time, is not usually the answer.
Using “withdrawal management” medications is “almost always recommended over trying to quit ‘cold turkey.2’” That’s according to a statement from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). When those addicted to heroin or other opioids try to take this sudden and dramatic approach to quitting, “it can lead to stronger cravings and continued use,” ASAM continues in the statement.
Another drawback to cold turkey withdrawal is that the person trying to quit this way is likely to be suddenly slammed with the full array of flu-like and worse withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the opioid in question and other factors, this can include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, head and body aches and other pain and discomfort over the course of at least several days and often for longer. Those trying to go through heroin withdrawal on their own might experience even harsher symptoms, including seizures and respiratory failure.
Regardless of which opioid it is that has you under its control, the symptoms brought about by cold turkey withdrawal could be so severe that they might encourage you to give up. You might feel under intense internal pressure to simply go back to your opioid of choice to make the pain and discomfort go away.
Treatment facilities like Harmony Place know of safer, less physically and emotionally taxing and more effective ways of getting better. A drug called Suboxone can be an important withdrawal management medication. It’s at the heart of what is referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction.
But here’s where we come to the unfortunate irony of the fact that while Suboxone can be and has been the salvation of so many people, for others the drug might simply be one more addictive opioid for abuse.
Let’s take a closer look at Suboxone and in its value in addiction treatment. You’ll also learn how it can, in itself, become an addictive drug, and the help that is available if you or a loved one experiences Suboxone addiction.
Agonist and Antagonist: How Suboxone Works
Suboxone is a combination of two separate drugs, buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is what’s called a “partial opioid agonist.” Naloxone is a “pure antagonist.”
So what are those two terms－agonist and antagonist－besides odd and confusing?
An partial agonist is a drug that delivers a very small dose of an opioid to a user trying to quit. The goal here is to partially wean the user from the more powerful opioid with a substitution. The opioid receptors in the patient’s brain get only a diluted dose of the opioid it craves.
A drug such as buprenorphine is called a partial agonist because its effect on the opioid receptors in the brain is much weaker than that of heroin or other full agonists still in the system. In this way, the buprenorphine in Suboxone might minimize the withdrawal symptoms and get the patient ready to start the work it will take to achieve full recovery.
While buprenorphine only partially hits those opioid brain receptors, the purpose of naloxone is to do the exact opposite and shut them down. The problem of using an antagonist such as naloxone is that, while it can neutralize the effect of the full agonist opioids already in the central nervous system of the addicted user when treatment begins, that sudden blockage of opioids will trigger the harsh withdrawal systems.
So Suboxone uses both types of drugs have jobs to do: the antagonist to nullify the full agonists coursing through the patient’s system and the agonist agent to deliver a diluted opioid dose to the brain and keep the body from going through the full load of withdrawal symptoms. The result is the more gradual and less painful withdrawal experience that you or your loved one deserves.
Incidentally, while Suboxone is part of a MAT plan, much like methadone, and while both are agonists, there’s a very big difference between the two recovery treatment drugs. Methadone is a full agonist, while Suboxone’s status as a partial agonist means that the diminished dose of opioid the user receives is less potent. It’s less likely to be abused or lead to addiction.
Is Suboxone Effective?
A 2008 news release from the National Institutes of Health reported on a clinical trial comparing Suboxone results with standard treatment for opioid withdrawal. The authors wrote, “…participants who received counseling and Suboxone (buprenorphine-naloxone) for 12 weeks had substantially better outcomes than those who received the standard treatment of short-term detoxification and counseling.3”
That’s a pretty good endorsement of the drug, and from a highly credible source. It supports the reality of the situation, that Suboxone has a definite and positive role to play in recovery. It provides a wealth of what might literally be lifesaving benefits to many of those who feel lost to addiction. But to a smaller population, the drug can come with its own risks.
How Suboxone Treatment Can Turn to Addiction
As we stated, the buprenorphine in Suboxone is a very weak dose of an opioid. However, some relapsing opioid users have discovered ways that they can make the drug more potent－and potentially lethal.
Suboxone is given to those going through treatment as a tablet or filmstrip that is placed under the tongue. The drug is swallowed as the tablet or filmstrip dissolves. But some abusers have discovered that they can open the tablet or filmstrip, remove the drug content, dissolve it in water and inject the mixture into their bloodstream. This creates a more potent dosage and can lead to Suboxone addiction.
The “buzz” offered by the partial agonist agent in Suboxone is milder than most opioids, so to some it can seem to be safer to use repeatedly. That’s how an addiction can begin. A New York Times article from 2013 also highlighted misuse of the drug in prisons and as a street drug4
Others might use Suboxone along with other drugs or alcohol, thinking that it might counteract the effect of the other substances. Instead, the cocktail of drugs simply compounds the health risks.
Treatment for Suboxone Abuse and Addiction
Hopefully, we showed why cold turkey withdrawal on your own is not the ideal method of trying to pull free from a Suboxone addiction. Instead, Harmony Place in Los Angeles provides a compassionate, understanding staff who will share with you the tools you’ll need to help free yourself from Suboxone addiction and start to live the addiction-free life you once dreamed of.
As is true with any substance recovery program, medical detoxification is always the first step to a successful outcome. That means a controlled plan for detoxification under the care and supervision of a trained medical staff to get the drug out of your system so you can begin the process of recovery with a clear head. While we might prescribe Suboxone to help with this phase of recovery in some cases, that certainly doesn’t help the individual coming to us with a Suboxone addiction!
Fortunately, there are other medications, antagonist meds much like naloxone, that can be prescribed. With the assist of this medication, withdrawal symptoms should disappear within a week or so, though it occasionally takes longer until all symptoms are gone.
From there, your recovery will take place in an atmosphere of understanding, concern and caring support. Intense therapy and regular counseling sessions in the form of both one-on-one and group sessions will help you get to the root of the causes and situations in your life that might have left you vulnerable to Suboxone addiction.
You’ll begin to get a better understanding of your own needs and motivations and abilities. You’ll slowly start to feel competent to aid in your own recover. You’ll learn how to forgive yourself for actions you’ve taken in the past (put the past in the past) and learn new ways of thinking. We’ll give you tools to minimize the risk of relapse. In short, you’ll receive a continuum of care at Harmony Place, from detox to residential treatment, outpatient care and transitional living. All of it with one goal in mind: your return to good health.
Reach Out to Harmony Place for Suboxone Addiction Recovery
We call Harmony Place “a comfortable place to do difficult work.” We don’t minimize the challenges you’ll go through, but we’ll be there with you every step of the way.
You or your loved one might have already worked long and hard to get a grip on the opioid addiction problem that brought you into contact with Suboxone in the first place. If so, don’t let the emotional weight of a Suboxone addiction undue all of that good work.
Or maybe your Suboxone addiction was the result of the decision to use the drug recreationally. Whatever the case, healing is a phone call away.
At Harmony Place in Los Angeles we’ve helped countless others recover from the same sort of addiction challenges you are now facing. When you reach out for help, you’ll always find it here. Put us on your team.
Contact Harmony Place and explain what you or your loved one are going through. We’ll give you the professional but compassionate support, the guidance and the recovery tools you need to become the you you always wanted to be.
1National Institute on Drug Abuse, Opioid Overdose Crisis
2American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), Opioid Addiction Treatment: A Guide for Patients, Families and Friends
3National Institutes of Health, Extended Suboxone Treatment Substantially Improves Outcomes for Opioid-Addicted Young Adults
4The New York Times, Addiction Treatment With a Dark Side