How does buprenorphine work?
Treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) with buprenorphine helps people curb cravings enough so that they can achieve their goals, including learning how to change their behavior and rebuilding their life. It is very common for someone who has a moderate to severe addiction to be experiencing additional personal, financial, and physical issues. Additionally, there is a high risk of overdose when using opioids. Treatment of OUD with buprenorphine reduces the risk of fatal overdose.
When you take opioids, the opioid receptor is activated in your brain (there are opioid receptors in the cortex, limbic system, and brain stem), resulting in the pleasurable feelings and pain relief associated with these drugs. It also results in a slowing, or depression, of the central nervous system that can cause you to stop breathing, which is what happens during an overdose.
Buprenorphine is a 'partial opioid agonist', which means that it activates the opioid receptors in your brain enough to treat cravings and withdrawal symptoms, but not enough to give you the euphoric high of heroin or many prescription opioids.
When you are given buprenorphine treatment, you are maintained on a steady dose of the drug. Based on your goals, your prescriber may taper this dose over time but there is no pre-set amount of time you should expect to be on buprenorphine. In fact, some people are treated for years or decades.