- Addiction & recovery
Side Effects of Suboxone
Vanessa de la Cruz, MD
February 7, 2022
Suboxone is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an effective component in treating opioid use disorder (OUD) and chronic pain. Suboxone is available as sublingual tablets and film strips. And as a schedule III controlled medication, Suboxone can only be prescribed by medical professionals certified by the U.S. federal government.
Similar to any prescribed medication, Suboxone comes with a list of potential side effects. But how vulnerable you are to these side effects is determined by a variety of factors. And while every person is unique, certain individual factors make some more susceptible to developing side effects than others. Hence, it’s important to stay informed of potential side effects associated with Suboxone and how you can manage them safely and effectively.
How Does Suboxone Work?
Suboxone contains two unique medications, named buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid medication that can reduce opioid cravings and symptoms of opioid withdrawal while neutralizing the effects of other opioids. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist (inhibitor) that can rapidly reverse the effects of opioids if Suboxone is crushed and injected by attaching it to opioid receptors in the brain to help reduce the risk of overdose and relapse.
Suboxone has unique properties that help individuals in recovery:
- Reduce physical dependence on opioids.
- Reduces the risk of a potential overdose.
- Lowering the potential for misuse.
Although Suboxone is highly effective in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings, it’s only a single component of a comprehensive treatment program that includes behavioral therapy, counseling, and aftercare programs. To ensure the best treatment outcomes, you should always utilize Suboxone under the direct supervision of a Suboxone doctor or addiction specialist.
Who Should Not Take Suboxone?
Suboxone treatment may not be a suitable treatment option for individuals with certain health complications. Hence it’s important to inform your healthcare provider if you have any of the following health conditions before taking Suboxone:
- Chronic breathing disorders
- Enlarged prostate
- Urination problems
- Liver or kidney disease
- Problems with the gallbladder, adrenal gland, or thyroid
- Head injury, brain tumor, or seizures
- Allergic to buprenorphine or naloxone
- If you are taking other medications that may interact with buprenorphine
- Sleep apnea
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
Certain health conditions can hinder the efficacy of Suboxone treatment or increase the risk of severe side effects.
Common Side Effects of Suboxone
Almost every medication has the potential to generate negative side effects in certain individuals. The majority of these side effects are determined by how your body reacts to the medication.
Some of the most common side effects of Suboxone include:
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Weakness or fatigue
- Back pain
- Muscle aches
- Muscle stiffness
- Stomach pain
- Mouth numbness
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of coordination
- Mouth redness
Most of these side effects tend to subside within a couple of days. However, if these side effects persist or worsen with time, inform your healthcare provider immediately.
Severe Side Effects of Suboxone
Although severe side effects are rare, you should notify your healthcare provider if you experience any since they may require urgent medical attention.
Some of the severe side effects of Suboxone include:
- Weak or shallow breathing
- Respiratory depression
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Loss of consciousness
- Liver problems (symptoms include upper stomach pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, and jaundice)
- Severe allergic reactions (symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives, difficult breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat)
Prolonged use of Suboxone may also cause:
- Hair loss
- Loss of libido
- Loss of control over emotions
- Poor stress management
- Physical dependence
Individuals on Suboxone maintenance treatment (SMT) must gradually taper off the medication instead of stopping abruptly to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Sudden cessation of Suboxone use can result in withdrawal symptoms similar to opioid withdrawal symptoms but milder. Withdrawal from Suboxone normally begins within 2-4 days, peaks in 3-5 days, and then fades by the end of the week.
Withdrawal symptoms of Suboxone include:
- Stomach cramps or diarrhea
- Nausea or vomiting
- Tremors or twitching
- Muscle cramps
- Body aches
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose
The duration and intensity of Suboxone withdrawals can vary based on the length of use, Suboxone dosage, and the prevalence of other medical conditions.
Can You Overdose on Suboxone?
Suboxone is a partial opioid receptor agonist, so it does not activate the entire receptor. This leads to a “ceiling effect,” which means there is less risk of overdose. However, the potential for Suboxone overdose is a possibility if the medication is combined with other substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or barbiturates.
Symptoms of Suboxone overdose may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mood swings
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Loss of physical coordination
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slow heartbeat
Suboxone overdose is a life-threatening situation that can result in respiratory depression, coma, or even death. In the event of a Suboxone overdose, Narcan/naloxone should be administered to the person who has overdosed immediately. The next step would be to call 911 (even if the person appears to wake up or come out of it because the effects of naloxone could wear off) and wait with the person for an ambulance to arrive. Check with your prescriber or pharmacist for information on how to obtain Narcan/naloxone.
It’s vital to carefully follow the instructions of a healthcare professional when using this medication.
Factors That Influence the Risk of Side Effects
Several factors influence the likelihood of experiencing Suboxone side effects. The following are a few of those factors:
- The higher the dosage, the greater the risk of side effects.
- Age, gender, weight, and genetic factors can contribute to certain side effects.
- Taking other medications at the same time.
- Dehydration can increase the risk of side effects of certain medications.
- Side effects are more likely if instructions are not properly followed.
Medications That Increase the Risk of Suboxone Side Effects
Suboxone is both safe and effective when used as directed, but it can generate serious health complications or increase the chance of side effects when used along with other medications.
Medications that can negatively interact with Suboxone include:
- Muscle relaxants
- Sleeping pills
- Cold or allergy medications
- Prescription cough medications
- Opioid pain medications
Other products such as herbal remedies and supplements can also cause negative effects when taken with Suboxone. Make a note of all your current medications and consult a healthcare professional before starting Suboxone treatment to mitigate the risk of such health complications.
Despite the medication’s potential side effects, most individuals in Suboxone treatment aren’t highly inconvenienced by them. Enrolling in a comprehensive rehabilitation program near you is the greatest approach to ensure your Suboxone success.
If you are seeking help with your loved one’s addiction, contact us today or complete our quick contact form below, to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.
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