Is vicodin withdrawal as bad as suboxone withdrawal?

Dr. Burson answers medical questions about vicodin withdrawal here. Info includes the relationship between endorphins and opioids, when you start feeling better and alternatives to methadone maintenance programs. A brief comparison between vicodin withdrawal and suboxone withdrawal here.

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Vicodin withdrawal versus Suboxone withdrawal

I don’t know that hydrocodone (Vicodin) withdrawal is much different than Suboxone withdrawal.  Nonetheless, Suboxone withdrawal is likely longer than with short-acting opioids, because of its longer half-life.   The main ingredient in Vicodin (hydrocodone) has a half life of about 3.8 hours, making hydrocodone half life relatively shorter than Suboxone.

People have different experiences, but overall, Suboxone withdrawal is milder, because it’s only a partial opioid.  In fact, Suboxone (containing both buprenorphine and naloxone) was designed to make it difficult to get high on Suboxone , which may be why people tend to abuse it less.  However, you can read on the internet how some people have tremendous difficulty getting off of  Suboxone. Just be aware to recognize withdrawal symptoms (such as sneezing and runny nose) as opioid withdrawal symptoms, and know that these symptoms may be caused by withdrawal and not other conditions, such as allergies. Education is key here.

When will I start feeling better?

Many opioid addicts feel crummy for weeks to months after they stop all of their opioids. We think this is because our bodies stop making their own opioids, called endorphins, when we take opioids of any kind, for any reason.   It should be noted that it’s only a theory that we stop making our own endorphins after taking opioid pills. Since we can’t actually measure endorphins, this theory is not accepted fact, because it’s not universally accepted – though it does make sense.

In some people, it takes a long time to feel normal again, and sadly there are some people who never feel right off of opioids. This is why so many people stay on maintenance medications like methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone). They can function normally, other than taking a once-daily dose of the medication, which replaces the missing endorphins.

Alternatives to methadone maintenance

Many people have gotten off opioids and stayed clean without methadone or Suboxone, but it’s not easy. Often, it takes more than a month in a residential treatment center to accomplish this. For example, addicted doctors or pharmacists often have to spend three to six months in treatment. Because of the expense and time involved, not many people have this luxury.

There are thousands of recovering opioid addicts, now off of all opioids, in the meeting rooms of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. This help is free, and you have the advantage of being able to talk to other people who know exactly what you are feeling. They can tell you how they got through the withdrawal without relapsing.

About the author
Jana Burson M.D. is board-certified in Internal medicine, and certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. After practicing primary care for many years, she became interested in the treatment of addiction. For the last six years, her practice has focused exclusively on Addiction Medicine. She has written a book about prescription pain pill addiction: "Pain Pill Addiction: Prescription for Hope." Also see Dr. Burson's blog here.
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