Suboxone is a tool used as part of Medication-Assisted Treatment to help manage Opioid Use Disorder. Although it is a commonly prescribed medication to help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms, people often wonder how long they should stay on the medication.
In this article, we will discuss what evidence shows when it comes to staying on the medication for 12 months or longer. We’ll also explore the side effects someone may experience when doing this.
Read on to find out more about:
- How Suboxone works
- What is the best length of time for treatment is
- How long-term Suboxone use may help you
- Side effects of staying on the medication long-term.
Let’s get into it.
Background: Understanding Suboxone
Suboxone is a medication prescribed to people with opioid addictions to help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms along with drug cravings. The FDA-approved medication is used with other treatments such as therapy to help people overcome Opioid Use Disorder.
Suboxone contains two active ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that helps minimize physical withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, naloxone is an opioid antagonist which prevents misuse.
Benefits of Suboxone use
Suboxone helps people who are addicted to opioids slowly move toward recovery.
Once you have decided to abstain from illegal or prescription opioids, Suboxone can help manage withdrawal symptoms. However, there are numerous other benefits as well.
Suboxone can have the following benefits:
- Reduction of physical withdrawal symptoms
- Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
- Reduction in opioid cravings and associated drug-seeking behaviors
- Reduced risk of opioid overdose and hospitalization
- More likely to achieve sobriety
- Overall better quality of life.
How Long Should You Take Suboxone?
There is no straightforward answer to this question. Like all medications, long-term use of Suboxone will have side effects.
However, long-term treatment has also been shown to reduce relapses and drug overdoses. For example, studies show that people who stay on the medication for 12 months do better than those who stay on the medication for 6 months.
However, some people may not feel comfortable doing this or may experience side effects that require them to stop the medication earlier. This does not mean you can’t achieve sobriety with the right support.
Should You Stay on Suboxone Long Term?
If you do not experience adverse effects from taking the medication, research shows that staying on Suboxone for at least 12-15 months helps patients avoid relapse. Some people will benefit from staying on medication for the foreseeable future.
The FDA states that “patients may require MAT [medication-assisted treatment] medications indefinitely, and their use should continue for as long as patients are benefiting and their use contributes to the intended treatment goals”.
However, if your goal is to not take any medications, you can stay on the medication for at least a year until you develop the tools to taper off gradually. You may have to stop taking the medication earlier if you experience side effects.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Suboxone Use?
The side effects of long-term Suboxone use vary from person to person. As Suboxone is an opioid agonist, the side effects will likely mimic those from other prescription opioids or illegal opioids used before treatment.
Physical Side Effects
Physical effects that can be associated with long-term of Suboxone mimic those experienced with long-term opioid use and include:
- Oral numbness and gum problems
- Vomiting and allergic reactions
- Blurred vision
- Increases risk of liver damage
- Opioid-induced adrenal insufficiency
- Can harm your baby if you are pregnant.
Psychological Side Effects
Psychological effects may include:
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Impaired ability to concentrate.
Dependence and Addiction
Because Suboxone works on opioid receptors, it is possible to develop a physical dependence on the medication. Psychological dependence may also occur.
If you stop taking Suboxone after a long term, you will experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. These may include severe withdrawal symptoms including opioid cravings, if the medication is not tapered off properly.
Potential side effects of withdrawal can include:
- Mood changes including anxiety, depression, and irritability
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms include headaches, body aches, fever and chills
- Insomnia and lethargy
- Drug cravings.
Everyone’s recovery looks different. If taking Suboxone for long periods is not part of your goals, and you have discussed this with a healthcare professional it may be time to detox.
Detox involves making a treatment plan which helps to manage withdrawal. Successful detox will involve slowly reducing the dose of Suboxone, establishing good social support, and regular meetings with your doctor to manage symptoms.
Detox will likely take months, and is better done slowly over an extended period.
While Suboxone is a widely used tool, you may be worried about its long-term side effects. Studies looking at Suboxone’s long-term use suggest that using the medication for 12 months or more is useful in reducing the risk of relapse and helps with long-term recovery.
Additionally, the FDA has approved indefinite use in some people. However, it is important to know that some adverse effects such as sleep disturbances and dependence can develop.
Either way, it is important to use the medication under medical supervision. If you are considering going off the medication, working with a healthcare professional to taper off the dose is always recommended.