What is Suboxone and what does it do? A brand-name prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it is used to treat people with an opioid addiction, and sees an increase in effectiveness when used in cohesion with behavioral therapy. As with a lot of medication, however, it is not without its flaws. Discover in-depth what the drug is, the side effects of Suboxone, and the important things one might need to know about it, especially if you or a loved one is prescribed it.

What is Suboxone?

The combination formula of buprenorphine and naloxone was approved for medical use in the US back in 2002, and in the EU in 2017.  This combination led to the formulation of the drug we now know as Suboxone. Buprenorphine/naloxone, commonly sold under the name Suboxone, is a prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction. 

Suboxone contains two drugs, buprenorphine which is an opioid partial agonist-antagonist, and naloxone which is an opioid antagonist. Buprenorphine stimulates some opioid effects, and in doing so helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Naloxone, on the other hand, works to prevent abuse of the drug. 

It comes as an oral film that is sublingual or placed under the tongue, or a buccal film that is placed in between your cheek and gums. The film dissolves in your mouth and should not be chewed or swallowed. 

Suboxone Uses

Suboxone is used to treat opioid use disorder (substance abuse disorder related to drugs such as heroin, morphine, fentanyl, etc.) Suboxone is also used to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. The two drugs in Suboxone, buprenorphine and naloxone, work together to deter opioid addiction and prevent relapse and withdrawal. 

How does Suboxone work? 

According to Harvard Health Publishing, Suboxone works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as other opioid drugs would. As a result, it blunts intoxication with these other opiates and reduces cravings.

Can Suboxone make me sick?

Unfortunately, taking Suboxone can make you feel like you’re sick. Some of the side effects of Suboxone include nausea, chills, among other things. Rest assured, these side effects are normal, and are signs that the medication is doing its job.

Does Suboxone affect your mental health?

Long-term Suboxone use can affect you mentally. Being under medication can cause depression, anxiety, loss of libido, etc. 

Side Effects of Suboxone

While it is effective in treating opioid use disorder, like many prescription drugs, Suboxone comes with its fair share of side effects. Listed below are side effects you may experience when taking Suboxone.

Common Side Effects of Suboxone

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Numbness, redness, or pain in the mouth

  • Insomnia

  • Drowsiness

  • Stomachache

  • Vomiting

  • Constipation

  • Back pain

  • Chills 

  • Sweating

  • Depression

  • Increase in heart rate

These are the common side effects of Suboxone, and they are usually mild and manageable. These should go away in a few days up to a couple of weeks. 

Serious Side Effects of Suboxone

  • Fainting

  • Hallucinations

  • Confusion/agitation

  • Irregular dizziness

  • Severe allergic reactions

  • Irregular menstruation

  • Unusual bruising or bleeding

  • Abuse 

  • Liver damage

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms

  • Difficulty waking up

While uncommon, these Suboxone side effects require urgent medical attention should they manifest. 

Long Term Side-Effects of Suboxone 

Suboxone is commonly prescribed for maintenance to prevent opioid dependence, and is, therefore, often subject to long-term use. And with long-term use comes long-term side effects. Some of these are:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Fatigue

  • Night sweats

  • Loss of libido

  • Restlessness

Does Suboxone carry any other risks? 

Suboxone is a Schedule III controlled substance, meaning while the drug is recognized for its medicinal effects, it is also susceptible to abuse. Suboxone has opioid effects and it works by giving the user’s brain a stimulation similar to when other opioid drugs are taken, so this is where the risk of abuse and dependence comes from. Suboxone abuse can cause serious side effects and can lead to overdose and be potentially life-threatening. Some symptoms of overdose include:

  • Blurred vision

  • Constricted pupils 

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Stomachaches

  • Loss of coordination

  • Slurred speech

  • Respiratory problems

On the other hand, if an individual who has grown dependent on the drug abruptly stops taking the drug, they may exhibit Suboxone withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include: 

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Body pain

These symptoms can be prevented by gradually decreasing the Suboxone dosage taken over time, as opposed to immediately refraining from taking the drug. 

The drug also carries risks when misused. Examples of Suboxone misuse are taking it with other opioids, or consuming alcohol when under the medication. These can cause dangerous side effects, such as:

  • Breathing problems

  • Brain damage

  • Tissue and organ damage

  • Decreased blood flow

  • Coma

  • Death

One of the rarer side effects of Suboxone is a severe allergic reaction to the drug. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:

  • Rashes

  • Redness/numbness in the mouth

  • Wheezing

  • Loss of consciousness

Another rare, albeit, one of the more adverse effects of Suboxone is liver damage. When someone on Suboxone exhibits symptoms of liver damage, they must contact a doctor immediately, as they might have to stop taking the drug altogether. These symptoms include: 

  • Light stools

  • Dark urine

  • Yellowing of the skin/eyes

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness/loss of consciousness

In the end, Suboxone is an effective medication. Like most medications, the side effects of Suboxone are not nonexistent. The common side effects of Suboxone are usually mild and manageable at home. The more alarming side effects, on the other hand, while less likely to manifest, require immediate medical attention. The safest way to go is to take Suboxone as directed by your doctor, and keep an eye out for what symptoms you may feel.