Does Suboxone Stop Withdrawal?

A woman sick in bed with withdrawal

If you or a loved one are struggling with an opioid addiction, then you’ve probably put some thought into how you can get yourself off of the drugs. Opioids are one of the most difficult drugs to stop using because the withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that an individual becomes more likely to relapse than they are to simply tough it out.

There are alternatives to dealing with the immediate withdrawal, though. Medically supervised detoxes, for example, can help coax people through the worst of the withdrawal. There is also opioid maintenance therapy, or OMT, which we’re going to be discussing here. The most popular drug for opioid maintenance therapy is Suboxone, and you might be interested to learn how it affects withdrawal.

What is Opioid Maintenance Therapy?

OMT is a type of therapy that’s immediate goal isn’t to get the addict completely sober. Instead, it aims to remove them from the illegal and often unethical lifestyle associated with heroin addiction or other opioid addictions.

Typically the lifestyle associated with these addictions isn’t sustainable. Many addicts have to resort to lying and stealing to get away with their addictions. Most addicts develop feelings of shame because of these, which they then mask with more drugs to cover up their own feelings.

OMT provides addicts with an alternative. They will still be using opioids, but they will be given a regulated dose from a qualified physician. This allows them to rebuild their lives into something more stables so they can maintain a job, good relationships, or an education.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is the most popular medication for use in opioid maintenance therapy. It has replaced methadone in popularity because more and more research is proving that methadone is actually very unhealthy.

Suboxone contains two compounds: buprenorphine and naloxone. The two compounds are very different.

Naloxone, on its own, is a potent opioid antagonist. This is the substance that’s used when medical workers have to reverse an overdose. This is because it removes other opioids from the receptors and deactivates them, eliminating any high.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist/antagonist. This means that it partially activates the opioid receptors. At higher doses, it’s an antagonist, so that means you can only get ‘high’ off very small amounts of buprenorphine. It’s also difficult for experienced opioid users to overdose on.

Does Suboxone eliminate withdrawal?

In short, yes, but that’s because Suboxone is a very powerful opioid on its own. Buprenorphine is many times stronger than morphine, and the main reason that your withdrawal stops when you take Suboxone is because you’re ingesting another highly potent opioid to saturate your receptors.

Another important thing to remember is that even if you postpone your withdrawal by using Suboxone, that’s all you’re doing. When you’ve built a stable life and you’re ready to go off Suboxone, you’ll still have to go through withdrawals. Since Suboxone is a long-lasting drug, the withdrawals typically last much longer than standard opioid withdrawal - sometimes up to a month, which is on par with methadone.

Precipitated withdrawal

Another thing to consider when using Suboxone is the risk of precipitated withdrawal. This occurs when a person takes their Suboxone too quickly after using another opioid.

If a person uses an opioid like heroin, they will begin experiencing withdrawal between 12-24 hours after their last dose. This is when many people opt to take their Suboxone. However, since there is still some heroin attached to the opioid receptors, the Suboxone actually ‘kicks’ that off the receptors, sending the user into much more serious withdrawal.

There’s a common misconception that this is because of the naloxone in the Suboxone. The real reason people are sent into precipitated withdrawal is because of the buprenorphine. Remember, buprenorphine has an incredibly high binding affinity, which makes the naloxone essentially inert. However, since buprenorphine only partially activates the receptors, if it takes the place of a substance fully activating the receptors, you will experience the negative transition into withdrawal.

In conclusion

Suboxone can be a good way to postpone withdrawal if you have some immediate matters to deal with. However, it’s important to remember that you’re only postponing the withdrawal. Suboxone is a powerful opioid and you will need to wean yourself off of it like any other opioid and have to be prepared for the risk of withdrawal regardless.