All types of medications are prone to causing side effects, even the safest ones. However, some are more likely to cause side effects than others. In fact, a number of medications can cause severe side effects, some of which can lead to long-term complications. For this reason, people taking any kind of medication should be aware of the potential side effects.
Suboxone is generally considered by prescribing doctors to be a safe medication, but it still has the potential to cause side effects, ranging from mild to severe, that can have long-term consequences. It’s important for those who are taking it to understand the potential risks of taking this medication, including the potential for developing or continuing addiction.
Legitimate Suboxone Use
Suboxone is used to treat addiction to opioids. It is a combination of two drugs: buprenorphine, a mild opioid used to calm cravings, and naloxone, a drug that reverses the body’s reaction to opioids, making it uncomfortable to use opioids while taking it. Together, these medications help to discourage individuals from returning to full opioid use. As described by an article from Psych Central, this can help people manage their addiction while continuing to get treatment, increasing the chances for treatment adherence and success over quitting cold turkey.
Still, like other medications used to treat addiction, Suboxone has had some difficulties, including the fact that people who use it can abuse it, become dependent on it, and use it longer than is advised. A risk that arises out of this use or abuse is the experience or development of side effects that can lead to long-term physical effects and health issues.
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Mild Side Effects
The most common side effects of Suboxone are mild, according to Healthline. They include:
- Sweating and flushing
- Swollen extremities
- Feeling fever or chills
- Headache and other aches and pains
- Nausea, vomiting, and stomach upset
Most often, these symptoms go away fairly quickly as the user becomes accustomed to the medication. The body and brain adjust to the action of the drug, and the symptoms begin to subside or become less distressing over time. In some cases, however, the symptoms may continue and can worsen if the person continues to take Suboxone over a long period of time.
Severe Reactions to Suboxone
The Suboxone medication website provides upfront information on potentially severe side effects and long-term complications. These can include:
- Breathing issues, which are more severe when taking other sedative substances like benzodiazepines or alcohol
- Fatigue, drowsiness, and sleep problems
- Decreased coordination
- Liver problems, heart problems, digestive issues, and other organ issues
- Opioid withdrawal symptoms
- Low blood pressure or feeling like passing out
In addition, any medication, including Suboxone, can potentially cause an unexpected allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis, which could be life-threatening. Swelling of the mouth or throat, extreme itchiness, hives, or dizziness can indicate a dangerous allergic reaction and may require emergency medical care.
Who Experiences Side Effects
Anyone can experience side effects from Suboxone use. In fact, the mild side effects listed above are common. However, they often fade or go away completely after taking the medication for a little while, as the body adjusts. This varies, depending on the individual. For most of these symptoms, they are reported by between 1 percent and 10 percent of those taking the drug. Headache and other pains are experienced by 36.4 percent and 22.4 percent respectively.
The incidence of more severe side effects is rarer, often between 0.1 percent and 1 percent of the time, according to Drugs.com. However, continuing to take the medication past its recommended use can increase the chances of experiencing more severe side effects, especially addiction. Also, some of the more severe side effects or overdose symptoms are more likely to occur in individuals who are taking benzodiazepines or other sedatives while taking Suboxone, or in those who combine Suboxone with alcohol, as these substances magnify some of the side effects of Suboxone alone.
Short-Term and Long-Term Physical Consequences
The National Library of Medicine LiverTox research group discusses one major physical consequence of using Suboxone, which starts as a short-term symptom but can become a long-term health risk: liver toxicity and damage. Hepatitis can result from use of the drug, and it has led to some fatalities. This is a major illness that can develop if an individual uses Suboxone for a long period of time, particularly if the individual abuses the drug.
Similarly, the effects that Suboxone can have on the heart, including arrhythmia, pounding heart, and slowed heart rate, can have an effect on the heart later in life. Damage to the cardiovascular system can occur, and this can result in a higher likelihood of stroke or other heart conditions. Depressed breathing can lead to hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in the brain that can cause some level of brain damage or loss of cognitive abilities.
Physical conditions aren’t the only risk. Depression can be caused or worsened by use of Suboxone and can lead to potential suicidal thoughts or actions. These are just some examples of why caution should be exercised in prescribing Suboxone for long-term opioid abuse management.
One of the biggest risks of taking Suboxone on a long-term basis is the potential for abusing Suboxone itself, which can lead to developing or continued addiction. Even considering the reputed safety of the medication because of the naloxone deterrent, Suboxone has still been exploited by those seeking a high at any cost.
An article from the Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy explains that a key factor in Suboxone treatment is the participation of the individual in other aspects of addiction treatment, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and peer support. Without this element, there’s a danger in Suboxone simply replacing one addiction with another. In other words, Suboxone is supposed to be used as a support for addiction treatment with collaboration between the treatment professional and the client in treatment. The major challenges of Suboxone abuse and addiction are more likely to occur when this relationship is ignored, resulting in Suboxone becoming the means of treatment rather than a support and leading to long-term use, abuse, and potential long-term health issues.
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Dependence, Addiction, and Getting Help
When Suboxone abuse leads to addiction, it is possible to get back on the right track and move toward the types of addiction treatment more likely to lead to abstinence. These treatments are found through research-based, certified treatment centers that understand the need to support the individual in developing thought processes and behaviors that are necessary to stop opioid abuse.
Thankfully, these types of treatment centers are very familiar with Suboxone and the risks of its use. If an individual is struggling with Suboxone abuse, these experienced professionals can help the person get back on track with treatment and taper off Suboxone as their skills in managing triggers, cravings, and other symptoms of addiction become more proficient. The person can look forward to completing treatment and moving forward into a future without addiction to opioids, including Suboxone.