The Dangers of Suboxone
By The Orlando Recovery Center
Editor Theresa Valenzky | Medical Reviewed By Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Last Updated: May 9, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
While Suboxone is commonly used to treat opioid use disorder, it can be addictive and lead to short and long-term side effects.
Suboxone is a medication often prescribed to treat opioid use disorder. However, because the drug contains an opioid called buprenorphine, there are some dangers of Suboxone such as addiction. If you or a loved one takes Suboxone, it is crucial to ensure you take the drug correctly to avoid putting yourself at risk.
Suboxone: What Is It and How Is It Used?
Suboxone is an FDA-approved medication to treat opioid use disorder and is a Schedule III controlled substance, meaning it carries a risk of abuse, addiction and dependence.
Suboxone contains the opioid buprenorphine and the opioid blocker naloxone. Buprenorphine works as a replacement opioid to stop opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is a weak enough drug that is less likely to lead to overdose than other opioids. Naloxone is nearly inert when taken by mouth; however, it becomes active if the drug is injected. This prevents people from trying to misuse Suboxone by dissolving and injecting it.
In some cases, Suboxone can be prescribed off-label to treat other conditions like pain.
Suboxone Side Effects
Suboxone has many side effects. While some are mild and more common, others are rare and severe. The drug’s common side effects are similar to other opioids and include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Much more rarely, severe side effects can occur. These include:
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Liver damage
- Allergic reactions
- Severe dental problems
- Electrical abnormalities in the heart
- Serotonin syndrome
Suboxone also commonly leads to withdrawal symptoms if you stop the drug without a medically-supervised slow taper.
Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms
Similar to other opioid medications, if you stop Suboxone abruptly, you may be at risk of developing withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased tear production
- Runny nose
- Enlarged pupils
- Muscle aches
- Trouble sleeping
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
To avoid Suboxone withdrawal, it is important to slowly taper the medication under medical supervision instead of quitting it cold turkey. In addition, if you are taking Suboxone for opioid use disorder, suddenly stopping the drug can put you at risk for a resurgence of opioid cravings, which can increase your chances of relapse and overdose.
Short-term Effects of Suboxone Use
When someone takes Suboxone, it can produce different effects, especially if the person takes an excessive amount of the drug to try to get high. Similar to other opioids, Suboxone can cause effects like:
- Small pupils
- Slowed breathing
Although Suboxone is less likely than other opioids to cause slowed breathing, it can still lead to a potentially deadly overdose when combined with other central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines.
Long-term Effects of Suboxone Use
If you are taking Suboxone for opioid use disorder, you may need to stay on the medication indefinitely to help you fight cravings and prevent relapses. In these cases, the benefits of long-term Suboxone use on your sobriety can outweigh the drug’s possible negative side effects.
However, long-term opioid use can come with some downsides. This includes effects linked to long-term opioid use like:
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory problems like sleep apnea and slowed breathing
- Cardiovascular effects like a higher risk of heart attack and heart failure
- Central nervous system effects like increased fall risk, leading to increased fractures
- Hormone effects like abnormal hormone levels, sexual dysfunction and infertility
- Immune system effects like a suppressed immune system
- Addiction, which is an ever-present risk when you take a controlled substance
An addiction to Suboxone can lead to several different mental and social side effects, including low mood, unemployment and legal issues.
Signs and Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction
When someone develops an addiction to Suboxone, signs often emerge. These can include:
- Taking more Suboxone than your doctor has prescribed
- Taking Suboxone more often than your doctor has prescribed
- Exaggerating your symptoms to try to get more Suboxone
- Going to different doctors or pharmacies to try to get Suboxone
- Buying or stealing Suboxone that has not been prescribed for you
- Unsuccessfully trying to cut back on your Suboxone use
- Relationship problems that stem from Suboxone use
- Trouble holding down responsibilities at work, school or home due to Suboxone
- Needing more Suboxone to achieve the same effects you got at first
- Losing interest in other activities due to Suboxone
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, taking or recovering from Suboxone
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
If you’ve developed an addiction to Suboxone, help is available. At Orlando Recovery Center, our medically supervised detox can help wean you off Suboxone, and inpatient rehab can help keep you off the drug for good. Alternative agents for medication-assisted treatment can help you fight cravings and alleviate withdrawal symptoms so you can recover more comfortably. Contact a Recovery Advocate today for more information on our evidence-based care.
Baldini, AnGee; Von Korff, Michael; Lin, Elizabeth H. B. “A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide.” The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 2012. Accessed March 27, 2023.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Suboxone.” March 15, 2023. Accessed March 27, 2023.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. “National Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder.” December 18, 2019. Accessed March 27, 2023.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Buprenorphine.” May 2022. Accessed March 27, 2023.