Buprenorphine vs Suboxone: What’s The Difference?


Buprenorphine and Suboxone are both FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), helping individuals overcome opioid dependency and addiction.

As with all medications used in OUD treatment, Buprenorphine and Suboxone should be one part of a complete treatment plan that also includes counseling services and behavioral therapy.

This article will take you through a detailed comparison between the two medications, discussing:

  • What Buprenorphine and Suboxone are
  • Comparison of various aspects such as how each works, risk of misuse, and method of administration
  • Which medication is superior.

Let’s get started.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. This means it targets the opioid receptors in the brain in a specific way, producing mild effects that result from opioid use.

With buprenorphine, these effects are much weaker than full opioid agonists such as methadone or heroin.

When taken as prescribed, the user will not feel ‘high’ or enter a euphoric state. Instead, buprenorphine will reduce or prevent withdrawals and cravings. Therefore, this helps the individual to feel safe and comfortable during opiate treatment.

When taken as prescribed and under the supervision of a medical professional, buprenorphine can be effective in helping you to overcome heroin dependency.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is the brand name for a medication that actually contains Buprenorphine, along with another ingredient: Naloxone.

Together, these drugs work together to decrease the severity of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and reduce a patient’s dependency on opioids.

Suboxone’s main ingredient is buprenorphine. As mentioned above, this is a partial opioid agonist that targets the opioid receptors in the brain – thereby reducing unpleasant withdrawals and cravings.

The addition of naloxone deters misuse of Suboxone. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it prevents the intense and pleasurable effects of opioids from occurring in the brain.

Therefore, naloxone makes it very difficult for Suboxone to be abused, as the user cannot feel ‘high’ with it.

Naloxone further increases safety, as it discourages people from injecting the medication in an attempt to misuse it.

A Comprehensive Comparison of Buprenorphine and Suboxone


Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist medication. On the other hand, Suboxone is a combination medication containing two ingredients: Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, and Naloxone, an opioid antagonist.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), both Buprenorphine and Suboxone are classed as Schedule III controlled substances. Drugs in this classification have a low to moderate risk for dependence.


Both Buprenorphine and Suboxone are used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD).

Both medications should be used as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, under close supervision of a medical professional.

This should include psychological support and therapy to ensure the patient is coping physically and mentally with the changes and maintaining a positive attitude toward recovery.

Risk of Misuse

As mentioned above, Suboxone contains Naloxone, which prevents the effects of opioid use from being experienced.

This means that an individual cannot feel the pleasurable effects or ‘high’ of opioid use when consuming high doses of Suboxone.

Further, when injected, Naloxone produces very unpleasant effects.

Therefore, Suboxone may be a more suitable option for those suffering from severe dependence or for those who have relapsed in the past, as the potential for misuse is lower.

With that being said, it is still very difficult to misuse Buprenorphine due to the ‘ceiling effect’ which makes it difficult to reach euphoria or get ‘high’ from using the drug.

How each works

Suboxone and Buprenorphine both work by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings experienced during opioid detox.

Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in both, is a partial opioid agonist that targets the opioid receptors in the brain and produces controlled, mild effects of opioid use in order to prevent withdrawals from occurring.

Naloxone Presence

The presence of Naloxone in Suboxone discourages misuse of the medication as it prevents overdose and causes unpleasant symptoms if the user attempts to inject the medication.


The purpose of both Suboxone and Buprenorphine is to make an individual feel comfortable and safe during opioid treatment by reducing painful withdrawal symptoms and urges for opioids.

Therefore, the individual can maintain a better quality of life and focus on the therapeutic side of treatment for OUD.


Both medications are prescription only, meaning they must be prescribed by a doctor or qualified professional.

During a treatment program using Buprenorphine or Suboxone, your doctor will monitor your progress closely, provide extensive administration instructions, and maintain close communication to ensure you are adjusting well to the changes.

During all phases of treatment, you will meet with your doctor frequently to initially stabilize into the drug, maintain use and minimize withdrawals, and then eventually taper off the medication.

Buprenorphine vs. Suboxone: Which is Better?

Because both Buprenorphine and Suboxone contain the same active compound to reduce withdrawal symptoms, the medications are very similar and have similar effects.

Suboxone includes naloxone to discourage misuse, so may be a safer option to use for an at-home treatment arrangement.

As mentioned above, Suboxone may be a better option for those who have a severe addiction, a history of relapse, or show signs of attempting to misuse medication.

This is because naloxone produces unpleasant effects when injected, which deters individuals from misuse.

Buprenorphine is often used in pregnant women to avoid exposing fetuses to naloxone.

Every individual has different needs and situations, and there is no one-size-fits-all medication to treat opioid use disorder.

Discuss with a qualified professional, doctor, or treatment team to determine which medication option is best suited to you.


In conclusion, Buprenorphine and Suboxone are both medications used to treat Opioid Use Disorder and have proven to be effective when utilized as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which targets the opioid receptors in the brain in order to produce very mild effects of opioids – thus reducing withdrawals and cravings. Due to the cycling effect, the user cannot get ‘high’ from using Buprenorphine.

Suboxone is the brand name for a medication that contains both Buprenorphine and Naloxone.

Therefore, it also targets opioid receptors to reduce withdrawal and cravings. The presence of naloxone, an opioid antagonist, deters misuse as it reverses the effects of opioid overdose.

While the drugs work very similarly, Suboxone has increased safety due to the addition of Naloxone and may be better suited to high-risk individuals.

If you are interested in using medication to help treat opioid dependence, discuss these options with your doctor or a professional.

Everyone’s situation is different, and your doctor will be able to help you determine the most appropriate medication option for you.

Remember: it is extremely important to use both Buprenorphine and Suboxone under proper medical supervision in order to increase your safety and enhance the effectiveness of the medication.


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