How to Help a Suboxone Addict

A list of resources for where to go for help, plus a full explanation of how Suboxone addiction occurs in the first place. Learn the signs and symptoms…and how to address them. More here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Suboxone (buprenorphine) is a prescription drug that can be addictive when misused. Risk of addiction is especially for those who aren’t taking it as prescribed. If you have a loved one who’s recently fallen into a Suboxone addiction, we image you have many questions. This article aims to answer those questions and refer you to professional who can help.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: Less than 10 minutes.

Table of Contents:

Is Addiction Really Possible?

Yes, it is possible to become addicted to Suboxone. However, Suboxone has a low addiction liability. In fact, it is mainly used to treat addiction strong opiate and opioid drugs like:

  • Codeine
  •  Fentanyl
  •  Heroin
  •  Hydrocodone
  •  Morphine
  •  Oxycodone

So, how can someone become addicted to a medicine that is designed to help?

Buprenorphine is the main active ingredient in Suboxone. While it has been designed to have a “ceiling effect” buprenorphine acts very similar to other opioids, such as heroin or morphine, just to a minor extent. It attaches itself to opioid receptors in the brain and through neurotransmitters, releases itself throughout the rest of the body. Suboxone CAN cause euphoria, the high that people seek.

With enough time, the body will eventually adapt to the drug being taken and no longer produce the natural chemicals it once did. Rather, it will depend on the drug to produce these chemicals for it. This can ultimately leave someone feeling addicted and compulsively seeking out more. The prime reason this is considered to be a disease rather than a choice is because drug use changes the chemistry of the brain.

Addiction as a Brain Disease

In order to best comprehend addiction, we need to look at it as a chronic disease. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Addiction occurs when you compulsively seek out a drug, even when it harms you. 

Drugs like Suboxone affect control and decision making centers in the brain. They also affect the brain’s pleasure center. Long-term use can lead to:

  •  Automatic behaviors
  •  Increased tolerance
  •  Physical dependence

… a combination of physical and mental barriers that make it difficult to quit. In fact, people who are addicted to Suboxone are unable to stop no matter how hard they try. In some ways, their body needs the chemicals. In other ways, their mind needs the chemicals.

Still, this doesn’t mean everybody who takes Suboxone will become addicted. In fact, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether someone is or isn’t using it correctly.

Dependence or Addiction?

When you’re looking out for your loved one, it’s important to understand the difference between an addiction and a dependence. Someone dependent on drugs is not always addicted to them…and vice versa.

As we’ve mentioned, an addiction is when someone compulsively uses their drug-of-choice despite negative consequences. It is a mental craving for a drug, the inability to quit using. Addiction is compulsive in nature…and even if you quit Suboxone for a little bit…addiction will drive you back.

On the other hand,  a drug dependence is a chemical adaptation. The body becomes used to Suboxone over time. Indeed, dependence is the body’s way of adjusting in order to continue functioning. Additionally, a tolerance is still being built, meaning the individual needs to take more of Suboxone in order to feel its initial effects.

With this information, you may wonder, how can I tell the difference?

This is difficult. Generally, people who are dependent on Suboxone may have an easier time managing responsibilities and hiding their drug use compared to those addicted. Furthermore, as we’ll discuss later, many people facing addiction will deny any drug use at all. It can be best to ask the following questions as a means of finding out more from your loved one:

  • Have you ever tried to quit Suboxone without having success?
  •  Do you find yourself craving to use Suboxone?
  •  Are your responsibilities (school, work, family) at risk due to your Suboxone use?
  •  Have you continued to use Suboxone despite it causing problems in your relationships?
  •  Do you find yourself driving after Suboxone use or taking on risks?
  •  Has your use of Suboxone affected previous activities you once enjoyed?
  •  Do you spend a large amount of time thinking about, obtaining, or using Suboxone?

If your loved one answers yes to any of the above questions, there’s a good chance their facing an addiction.

A clinical psychologist or counselor who handles addiction can help you break through denial.


When it comes to drug addiction, people often deny behavior because they do not want to change it. In fact, denial is one of the trickiest areas to work around as there’s no way of telling:

  1.  How someone will react when you ask about drug use.
  2.  If you’ll be able to break through the denial.

KNOW THIS: It’s common for a person struggling with addiction to feel a sense of shame. This is due to the fact that many feel their addiction is something they’ve chosen. Therefore, in many senses, they feel it is a failure of their life and responsibilities. A natural reaction of this shame is denial.

Remember, there’s a lot of sensitivity when handling the topic of addiction. Furthermore, your loved one may be facing mental health issues which don’t quite meet the surface and are using drugs as a means of coping with difficult emotions. In order to better understand these mental health issues and addiction as a whole, seek professional help from any of the following:

  •  A psychologist
  •  A psychiatrist
  •  A licensed clinical social worker
  •  An addiction doctor
  •  Your family doctor


Just as with addressing denial, there’s no guaranteed outcome in holding an intervention. Every individual will react differently. Some will become hostile and agitated, while others will understand. However, it is also very unlikely your loved one will ever approach you on their disease unless they’ve reached a point of despair through their addiction.

As someone who cares, it’s in your best interest to avoid this at all costs. Therefore, an intervention might just be the most efficient way to get through, prevent an accident, and get your loved one on the path to recovery.

Generally speaking, an intervention can be one of the following:

  •  A clinical or professionally arranged sit down discussion.
  •  A close friend opening up for the first time about previously undiscussed behavior.
  •  Work colleagues sitting together to talk for the first time about their concerns.

In the same way as addressing denial, you’ll want to reach out to a professional interventionist. Preferably, one who focuses in drug addiction. A rehab center can offer some great options. Or, you can look for a referral to an interventionist from the Association of Intervention Specialists. Furthermore, the National Institute on Drug Abuse offers a reference for family members seeking treatment options.

Here are seven tips to help when you’re planning out your intervention:

  1.  Get some advice from a professional before you begin.
  2.  Carefully choose who will attend. Make sure they have a good dynamic for the intervention and your loved one.
  3.  Plan your communication in advance to make sure you hit the necessary points and understand your tone.
  4.  Prepare for anything as there’s no telling how your loved one will react to an intervention.
  5.  Prepare to suggest consequences such as removing access to shared living arrangements or financial withdraw.
  6.  Provide a solution to help your loved one towards recovery.
  7.  Follow through even after the intervention has taken place.

Help for Detox

From here, we’ll offer suggestions about how to help someone who has accepted help. First, we suggest that you find a local detox clinic that offers medical withdrawal protocols.

During the detox process, the body will undergo physical withdrawal as a means of returning to its natural homeostasis. Though withdrawal is rarely fatal, there are dangers involved such as dehydration. In order to assure your loved one stays healthy and eases through withdrawal, you’ll want to seek out medical professionals for this process.

Everyone withdraws differently just as everyone becomes addicted differently. Therefore, it’s not certain exactly what your loved one will experience as they withdrawal. Common withdrawal symptoms from Suboxone include:

  •  Anxiety
  •  Body aches
  •  Cold sweats
  •  Flu-like symptoms
  •  Headaches
  •  Mood swings
  •  Nausea
  •  Poor appetite
  •  Pupil dilation
  •  Restlessness
  •  Runny nose
  •  Sleep disturbances
  •  Vomiting
  •  Watery eyes

Due the fact that these are primarily physical symptoms, all you can do as a loved one is be there and make sure the person struggling with addiction gets the best medical attention possible. Withdrawal generally last about a week with a peak around 72 hours after the last dose of Suboxone. After this week, your role as a support system will become more prominent.

Help During Treatment

It’s during treatment that mental and emotional health become the focus. Primarily,  talk therapy has been shown to help treat addiction . Therapies are designed for the sake of helping people prepare for day-to-day functioning without drug use. By teaching individuals how to handle emotions and behaviors, psychologists and therapists address the emotional connection your loved one has to Suboxone. Furthermore, they will give guidance on how to reduce cravings.

This stages of recovery generally lasts around 3 to 6 months for inpatient treatment and up to a year or two of outpatient care.. During this time, you’ll want to make sure that you attend necessary family sessions and always show support when things to get difficult.

Furthermore, it might be in your interest to get to know your loved one’s psychiatrist or counselor. These individuals will have professional and personal insight on how to properly help as your loved one makes his/her journey along to recovery.

How Many People Struggle?

Since most people are prescribed Suboxone as treatment, most people assume that it’s used correctly. This is not true.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 0.3 percent of people aged 12 or older misused buprenorphine products in the past year. That’s about 688,000 people. Further, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported:

  • 3 million buprenorphine prescriptions were written in 2012. It should be noted this number also contain Suboxone combination formulas.
  •  The number of buprenorphine-related ER visits increased by fivefold between 2006 to 2011.

So, know that Suboxone addiction is a REAL problem.

It’s not in your imagination.

 Where to Find Help

It’s not uncommon for people to feel as though they have nowhere to turn when looking for help. It’s important to be aware that personal help is just as important as professional help. Family and friends are a significant source of support considering they’re in for the long run. Furthermore, they offer a love and affection incapable of doctors and psychiatrists. So, before consulting professionals, reach out to friends and family and ask about their suggestions for your loved one.

When you’re ready to seek out professionals, here are a list of possibilities when trying to help a Suboxone addict:

1.Rehabs. These include addiction facilities where people struggling with addiction may choose among a combination of treatments, either as resident for several months or on an outpatient basis. Call our number listed on this page for confidential information on where to get treatment.

2. Detox Clinics. A medical clinic where doctors supervise the process of detoxification. Ask your family physician for a referral or search the SAMHSA website for a detox clinic near you.

3. Mental Health Professionals. Clinical psychiatrists or psychologists who have specialized in addiction treatment can offer suitable advice. You can search the APA directory to find a psychotherapist and the APA directory to find a psychiatrist. Or, check with your State’s Department of Social Services to be connected to a licensed clinical social worker.

4. Support Groups. These are non-formal meetings between former addicts who share their experiences in order to gain positive result in recovery.

How to Support a Friend

Friends play a key role in the recovery process. In recovery, people often finds who his/her friends really are. Those who continue to abuse drugs are often left in the dust while those who don’t abuse drugs tend to show a strong support.

Once out of treatment, relapse remains a possibility. It’s in your best interest to prevent this at all costs through a variety of means such as:

  •  Being a person to always be there to talk to.
  •  Offering new activities as a distraction.
  •  Showing encouragement when life responsibilities are met.

Your Questions

If you have any further questions pertaining to how to help a Suboxone addict, we invite you to askthem in the comments below. If you have any advice to give for people currently trying to help aSuboxone addict, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to provide a personal response to eachcomment and get back to you promptly.

Reference Sources: Buprenorphine and Buprenorphine/Naloxone Diversion, Misuse, and Illicit Use: An International Review
SAMHSA: The Facts about Buprenorphine
SAMHSA: MAT Buprenorphine
NIDA: Is Buprenorphine substituting one addiction for another?
DEA: Buprenorphine
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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