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Suboxone: Is it Addictive?

Suboxone is a medication used to treat narcotic addiction and primarily works by preventing withdrawal symptoms. It contains a combination of buprenorphine, pronounced ‘byoo-pre-NOR-feen/nal-OX-own) and Naloxone. Buprenorphine is similar to other narcotics (opioids) like morphine, codeine and heroin, but the euphoric feeling is less and therefore easier to stop taking. Naloxone on the other hand actually blocks the effects of buprenorphine, but only when injected. If administered under the tongue it will not block the effects.

Understanding the definition between addiction, physical dependence, and tolerance is helpful when asking a question regarding an addiction. Sometimes they are mistaken for the same thing.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine, American Pain Society, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment recognize these definitions as the current accepted definitions.

  1. Addiction is a primary, chronic neurobiological disease, with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving.
  2. Physical Dependence is a state of adaptation that is manifested by a drug class specific withdrawal syndrome that can be produced by abrupt cessation, rapid dose reduction, decreasing blood level of the drug, and/or administration of an antagonist.
  3. Tolerance is a state of adaptation in which exposure to a drug induces changes that result through reduction of one or more of the drug’s effects over time.

So, in essence, by taking Suboxone the patient is not necessarily ‘trading one addiction for the other’ but actually trading one life threatening situation, which is addiction, for the inconvenience of taking a pill or an injection, which is a physical dependence. The physical dependence to opioids still remains, but it can be medically managed.