Many opioid-dependent individuals are prescribed Subutex to address their substance use disorder, but the medication itself has some potential for misuse and addiction. Subutex is the brand name for buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist. As such, the medication’s activation of opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) is minimal compared to full opioid agonists, such as oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl. Subutex tablets are taken sublingually (under the tongue), where they dissolve.
When an opioid agonist attaches to a receptor, it activates it fully and rapidly induces feelings of euphoria and pain relief. This mechanism ensures full opioid agonists are effective at their intended purpose but, unfortunately, very addictive and prone to abuse.
A partial opioid agonist, however, does not work in the brain precisely the same way. Opioid receptors are only minimally activated, and as a result, all effects are diminished. For this reason, euphoria or rewarding feelings are not as intense as that which is commonly associated with heroin or other potent full agonist opioids. A person may not experience as much pain relief, and the onset takes longer and is more gradual.
This limitation is completely by design. Because Subutex is only a partial opioid agonist, the risk of misuse is significantly diminished compared to full opioid agonists.
Short-Term Effects of Subutex Abuse or Addiction
Subutex has side effects that can be experienced throughout the duration of the drug’s use. Some short-term effects can include the following:
- Stomach pain
- Blurred vision
Long-Term Effects of Subutex Abuse
It’s important to understand that Subutex is not intended to be taken for an extended period. The drug is supposed to be used just during a detox process. However, if used long-term, effects can include the following:
- Breathing difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
Timeline and Effects of Withdrawal
As an opioid, buprenorphine abuse and dependence can result in withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use. These may be similar to those associated with oxycodone, heroin, and other more potent opioids. However, symptoms tend to be much milder and may include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Teary eyes
- Runny nose
- Sweating and chills
- Body aches and pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and agitation
During Subutex withdrawal, initial symptoms are typically not experienced until after 30 hours following the last use. This is a much more extended onset time when compared to 6-12 hours for some other opioids, such as oxycodone or heroin. At this time, individuals may begin to experience muscle pain, teariness, runny nose, and other symptoms similar to having the flu. Psychoemotional symptoms can include anxiety, agitation, depression, and sleep disturbances.
The next set of symptoms will manifest by around 72 hours into withdrawal. They may include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, depression, and intense cravings for more buprenorphine or other opioids.
Physical withdrawal symptoms for Subutex should begin to subside after about one week. However, psychoemotional symptoms can persist for much longer, often for weeks or months. During this time, persons are at a high risk of experiencing constant cravings and relapse and may require further treatment.
Getting Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Treatment for Subutex addiction and withdrawal can be conducted in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on drug dependence or addiction severity. Those who are misusing buprenorphine for recreational purposes might be advised to undergo medical detox. In any case, naltrexone, which is another treatment for opioid dependence, may be administered when the body has been cleared of other drugs to help reduce cravings and promote the detox process.
Without intensive treatment, an individual’s risk of reverting back to the abuse of buprenorphine or other opioids significantly increases. Drug rehab can be challenging but also offers hope for persons seeking to control their addictive behaviors by engaging in professional treatment and receiving ongoing support for as long as needed.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer several clinically proven therapeutic services to help those we treat to learn how to use healthy coping mechanisms to prevent relapse and help them recognize and avoid triggers and make better choices in their lives. Our comprehensive treatment programs are customized to meet each individual’s needs and goals and include the following:
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- 12-step group support
- Experiential therapies
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness programs
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni events