At first glance, Suboxone addiction seems a contradiction to find a drug that is used to treat addiction has the potential to be addictive itself. But that’s the case with Suboxone. To understand why, it helps to get into the details of what Suboxone addiction is and how it works.
Suboxone is a combination of two drugs – buprenorphine and naloxone. Each of these has effects on opioid receptors in the body. These receptors are responsible for the pleasant effects (and the Suboxone side effects) of taking drugs like morphine, codeine and heroin. The receptors come in several sub-types, with the most important being the mu, kappa, and delta. It is the different sub-type that determines whether a drug will cause euphoria, pain relief or any of the other effects seen with narcotics. Each of the two drugs in Suboxone has a different effect across these sub-types as well.
Naloxone blocks the central nervous system effects of narcotics and is useful to treat overdose when there is a risk of coma or death from suppression of the breathing reflex. It is commonly used for this and has saved many lives. But it must be injected, taking it orally doesn’t allow for absorption. This means that addicts with Suboxone addiction who try to grind up Suboxone to get high will suffer the effects of the naloxone and may even go into withdrawal.
The other ingredient, buprenorphine, has effects similar to heroin or morphine, but much less so. It can help heroin addicts transition away from injecting heroin without having to go through the full experience of withdrawal. The idea is similar to using methadone treatment – although still addicted, the Suboxone addiction is less harmful than injecting heroin.
A problem comes in when someone who isn’t under a physician’s care starts using Suboxone to get high. They may not even be addicted to heroin, but use Suboxone as their primary drug of abuse. Suboxone is addictive on its own because of the buprenorphine in it. In fact, those who aren’t used to opioids (like heroin or morphine) can get a strong experience from Suboxone addiction.
But even those who use it appropriately can have a physical Suboxone addiction. This happens when someone has been taking it for some time stops. Buprenorphine withdrawal is less severe than heroin or morphine, but the symptoms are parallel. For this reason, when used under a doctor’s care, the dose of Suboxone will be lowered gradually over time.