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Is it Dangerous to Take Suboxone Long Term?

Suboxone is a prescription drug that contains both buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naloxone (an opioid antagonist). Suboxone is prescribed to people who are struggling with opioid dependence and addiction because buprenorphine activates opioid receptors to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings and naloxone prevent opioids from fully activating opioid receptors so people can’t get high while taking the medication.[1] Long-term studies have found that Suboxone helps reduce the need for inpatient detoxification, increases treatment retention rates, and helps lower the risk of relapse in opioid-addicted patients.

Despite Suboxone’s efficacy, many people have concerns about staying on the medication for a long time. Long-term Suboxone use is not without risks, but in most cases, it is prescribed because the benefits outweigh the risks. When taken as directed, Suboxone can be perfectly safe, and it can help you truly embrace life in recovery.

Suboxone Side Effects

Side effects of Suboxone can occur as a result of both short-term and long-term use. Initially, many of these side effects are normal and subside within a few days once your body gets used to the medication. If any withdrawal symptoms persist, you should talk to your doctor.

Common Suboxone side effects include:[2]

  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Tongue pain or redness
  • Mouth numbness
  • Back pain
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Blurry vision

Dangers of Long-Term Suboxone Use

Potential dangers associated with long-term Suboxone use include:

Suboxone Withdrawal

The most common long-term side effect of Suboxone use is withdrawal. Buprenorphine does have opioid properties, so it can be physically addictive. This means you may feel sick if you don’t take your medication, skip a dose, or stop taking your medication cold turkey.

Suboxone withdrawal symptoms include:[3]

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches

You should never stop taking Suboxone without consulting with your healthcare provider. Your physician can slowly taper you off the medication so you don’t experience withdrawal.

Liver Problems

Like most other substances, Suboxone is processed by your liver. In people with existing liver problems, this important organ can become damaged or functionally impaired. However, this side effect is extremely rare in people who have a healthy liver.

If you are taking Suboxone and are concerned about your liver health, your doctor may regularly test your liver enzymes to ensure the medication isn’t causing you harm.

Mental and Emotional Health Issues

Some people may experience anxiety or depression as a side effect of Suboxone. Other potential issues include:

  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to focus
  • Restlessness

These symptoms can usually be alleviated by reducing your dose or changing your medication.

Risk vs Benefit: Assessing the Pros and Cons of Long-Term Suboxone Use

All medications have potential side effects and risks, but when a doctor prescribes a medication and it is taken as directed, the benefits of it often outweigh the negatives. Even though there are risks associated with long-term Suboxone maintenance treatment, Suboxone is highly effective at reducing the risk of relapse on opioid drugs. 

More than 130 Americans die every day as a result of opioid overdoses involving prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl.[4] Fentanyl, the most prevalent street opioid today, is also the strongest and the most deadly. Suboxone and other medications can help you avoid an overdose by preventing relapse in the first place.

Some people don’t have to take Suboxone for a long time. For example, many people take it during detox and are slowly weaned off of it while they are in treatment. Others, particularly those with severe opioid use disorder (OUD), may stay on it for several months. However, if Suboxone treatment can prevent relapse and overdose, the treatment is worth it.

For most people, the ultimate goal is to wean them off Suboxone when they are ready. Healthcare professionals can oversee the tapering process to ensure you are lowering your dose properly and not suffering any unwanted side effects.

The Dangers of Suboxone Abuse

If you abuse your Suboxone by taking more than directed, you’re more likely to experience harmful side effects, including:

  • Dependence and addiction
  • Damage to the heart, respiratory, and circulatory systems
  • Brain damage caused by reduced levels of oxygen in the body (hypoxia)
  • Liver damage
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms

Abusing your Suboxone for a long time will increase your tolerance to the medication to the point where it is no longer effective. When this happens, you are at an increased risk of relapse on other more dangerous opioid drugs.

Find Out if Suboxone Treatment is Right For You

Suboxone may not be right for everyone and is only prescribed to patients who are trying to overcome an addiction to opioids. You should never take Suboxone unless you are directed to do so by a licensed physician.

If you or a loved one are struggling with opioid addiction and are curious about starting Suboxone treatment, please contact us today. Our dedicated admissions counselors can verify your insurance, assess your situation, and get you started with the right treatment program for you. Call now to get started.

References:

  1. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/2002/20-733_Subutex_Prntlbl.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3835595/
  4. https://www.hrsa.gov/opioids