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What Are the Side Effects of Using Suboxone?

Suboxone use can help people get off opioids, but it carries the potential for a number of problems, especially with sleep and concentration. 

Talk to your doctor and familiarize yourself with the risks and side effects of Suboxone before taking it.

Suboxone

Suboxone is a drug that combines buprenorphine and naloxone. 

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, while naloxone is an opioid antagonist. Buprenorphine is the primary component, but naloxone plays an important role (discussed below). 

Suboxone is used to wean people off potent opioids while preventing withdrawal. It is not completely immune to risk itself, however. 

Buprenorphine, as a partial opioid agonist, partially activates the brain’s opioid receptors. This means it can reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms without the dramatic and highly addictive effects of opioids like heroin or oxycodone.
Suboxone can itself be abused, but it is considered much less dangerous and less addictive than standard opioids of abuse. 

Naloxone is present to deter Suboxone from being abused.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it counteracts the effects of opioids. Taken as intended, its effects are minimal. If abused, naloxone can put the user into serious withdrawal, thus discouraging abuse.

Side Effects 

According to RxList, a website that details prescription medications, Suboxone has a number of side effects. The following side effects are common and  do not necessarily indicate that you need to stop taking Suboxone:  

  • Mouth numbness, redness, and/or pain
  • Headaches and/or dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Insomnia and/or drowsiness
  • Stomach pain, vomiting, and/or constipation
  • Feeling drunk
  • Trouble concentrating

If you are on Suboxone and experience extreme symptoms, even if they seem related to its side effects, seek help immediately. 

A Suboxone overdose will often look very similar to any other opioid overdose and, though rarer, is of equal concern. If you notice concerning symptoms, even not generally associated with opioids, you should call 911 immediately.

Of most concern will be signs of drowsiness, trouble concentrating, and any feeling of dizziness or drunkenness.

It is important not to drive or operate dangerous machinery until you fully understand how Suboxone affects you. It can be very dangerous for some people to perform these activities while on Suboxone.

As touched on above, these are also symptoms that may evolve into dangerous territory. If a person is difficult or impossible to awaken, extremely confused or seems to have little or no balance, that is cause for alarm. Call 911 immediately.

Suboxone negatively interacts with many different drugs and can tax the liver. If you are on Suboxone, always inform health care professionals of that fact. You do not want to be administered a drug that reacts poorly with Suboxone.

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Long-Term Use

While the above is of concern for anyone using Suboxone, a few things should be noted for those who will be on it consistently for several months or more. 

First, Suboxone can tax the liver. While notable for people taking the drug who already have liver problems, it is also something to bear in mind with consistent use.

Signs of liver failure include the following:

  • Jaundice
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Malaise

If your use of Suboxone is regularly reviewed by a medical professional, it is unlikely your liver will fail unless you have some other condition that Suboxone use exacerbates. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, go to a hospital immediately or call 911. 

Second, over time, you are increasingly likely to encounter a situation where a drug may be recommended to you that interacts poorly with Suboxone.

A health care professional may not be aware that you are on Suboxone. Again, always make any prescribing physician aware that you are taking the medication. 

Finally, some people find that Suboxone is not particularly helping them avoid drugs or that they just no longer need it. In either of these cases, do not just stop taking Suboxone.

Instead, discuss this with a health care professional, specifically one who specializes in the treatment of drug dependency, to learn your options.

Alternatives to Suboxone

Suboxone is one drug of many used to treat opioid addiction. Even then, it will only be part of a treatment plan.

Therapy should always be used in conjunction with medication to address substance abuse. Even if Suboxone is not working for you or its side effects are proving too severe, continue with all recommended therapies and other services. 

Two drugs, in particular, are often used to treat opioid addiction besides Suboxone: methadone and naltrexone. 

  • Methadone is a tightly controlled drug, as it is a powerful opioid in its own right. It can be a great help when appropriatley administered, but it must be carefully dosed.

    Many treatment programs avoid methadone when possible due to greater flexibility and less likelihood of abuse with other options, but it may be the right option for you if other drugs are not helping.
  • Naltrexone is a drug that prevents people from getting high from opioids. It can cause immediate and severe withdrawal in those who have opioids in their system.

    Like any drug used in addiction treatment, naltrexone is not right for everyone. It does not address one’s desire for opioids, but it does deter them from using them. It can be helpful for people who need an extra obstacle in the way of opioid use. 

Both these drugs have a myriad of their own upsides and downsides.
Never attempt to self-medicate opioid abuse. Talk to a physician about medication options that can help you address opioid abuse.

Sources

(January 2014). Addiction Medications. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/evidence-based-approaches-to-treating-adolescent-substance-use-disorders/addiction-medications

(February 2018). Suboxone: Professional. RxList. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.rxlist.com/suboxone-drug.htm

(February 2018). Suboxone: Side Effects. RxList. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.rxlist.com/suboxone-side-effects-drug-center.htm

(February 2019). Buprenorphine/Naloxone (Oromucosal Route, Sublingual Route). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/buprenorphine-naloxone-oromucosal-route-sublingual-route/precautions/drg-20074097

(May 2016). Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/buprenorphine

(December 2018). Opioid Overdose. MedlinePlus. Retrieved March 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidoverdose.html

Acute Liver Failure. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-liver-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20352863?p=1

(November 2016). Methadone. RxList. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.rxlist.com/methadone-hydrochloride-injection-drug.htm

(February 2019). Naltrexone. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/naltrexone-oral-route/before-using/drg-20068408

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