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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  1. I’ve been on the same dose of Suboxone for 10 years. In the beginning, it made me feel all the energy that Vicodin did, which made me feel like I was on diet pills. After a couple years, it stopped making me feel “good” and I felt nothing, bad or good, but I kept taking it and paying the high cost of it, I guess just because I feared I wouldn’t feel good or normal without it (or something else). Once I had surgery and my Sub doc said to take Vicodin for a few days for the pain, then go back to Sub. The Vicodin helped the surgical pain but I had to increase my dose so fast that in 3 days I was taking twice/three times the dose I was given. So I had to wait 24 hrs before going back on Sub and it was mind altering horrible. Never again! I’m trying to take 1/4 of an 8 mg strip a day, but by 10 at night, my skin turns red and I feel like I’m developing a fever. I sweat and feel anxious. I take another 1/4 strip and feel better within minutes. I don’t know how long I can do this dose before getting off totally but I’m thinking it won’t be easy. I always worried my doc would say it was time to taper off but he never did. Now I’m 70 and want to be FREE. Will I ever be?

  2. Millertime
    Did you ever get off of subs? Read your post and wanted to respond to you in case you need any advice. Sorry its a bit late. I hope you were successful! If not I will be glad to give you some advice. I too wd from subs about three years ago and I understand. Let me know.

  3. I have been on about 2mg of Suboxone a day for the past year. I decided to go off subs and did but relapsed back to vicoden. Any ideas where to begin and how I get off all of this stuff?

  4. I am at this very moment coming off Subs, I was taking 100mcg fentanyl patchs combined with 10mp Percocet for about a year or two for pain, I was lowered to 80mcg, than 50mcg patches with the 10mg Percs and was on that for about another year I had my first experience with widthdraw at this point when I took a vacation and didn’t bring enough of my meds, I only brought as much as I though I would need but on the last day I realized that I was going to be short (driving from IL to CA). I didn’t think much of it until I got a flat tire that set me back another day. I was WD all the way from Colorado to Cali, the worst feeling I had ever felt (and I broke my femur on time) At this point I switched doctors who replaced my Fentanyl Patch with 80mg Oxy and kept the 10mg Percs, I was only on this for a few months when I moved and switched doctors again who were just appealed that I had been placed on such strong medications (what did I know I just took what the docs ordered), they switched me to 8mg Suboxone 3 times a day with a 10mg Percocet for breakthrough pain. I took this combo for about 5 years until a few days ago when I decided I was done with all these meds. I had been progressively taking less and less of the meds until I stopped taking the Percs completly (which happened probably a year ago) and cut my 8mg Subs into as small of pieces as I could and only taking one a day. I took my last Sub about 18 hours ago and the WD isn’t as bad as I had experienced with the other stuff (although I was on much higher doses at the time) but it still kinda sucks. I can sleep no problem, I am actually getting my 8 hours, its when I am awake that things suck. I am confining myself to the bed or couch with the terrrible irritable feeling in my arms and legs. Moving anywhere is a huge task for me but there are moments when I start to feel better and think its coming to an end. I have loads of 10mg Vicodin left and had taken 1/4 of a pill yesterday hoping to take the edge off the WD, really regretted it but it irritably is becoming unbearable. I have a family and I have responsibilities so I don’t way to prolong the WD any longer than I have too. I goto the gym which is good because it create endorphines but haven’t gone since I started detox. A hot bath or shower is great for a short term relief, I don’t know if its creating endorpnines when you take one but when you come out you feel great for about 1 hour. (its not much but its something). I have school coming up and I don’t have enough subs to last until the end of the semester (and I am not going to get more thanks to my insurance, although I had been taking less and less before this happened) should I keep taking Vicoden to take the edge off? I would only take 1/4 of a 10mg pill so I don’t know if that is going to prolong WD. I just want it to be over (as I imagine anyone would) but don’t know if I can attend to my responsibilities when I am going through the worst of the WD

  5. I have been on suboxone for 5 years. and cumming off suboxone is like a bad flue. we have all had them. now the reason people think the withdrawals are so bad. is they are mentally hooked. this is become a regular daily habbit . you get up in morning bath, coffee, suboxone, that everyday habbit becomes part of regular routine. the brain notices any break in routine its natural. most of the physical side effects. are more caused mentally. your brain is tricking you to feel physically ill. but really your not. you have to reprogram your brain. now that is not easy . but can be done. don’t give into your brains trickery. the withdrawal from any drug is more mental. if you tell yourself your physically sick you will be. drug addiction can be overcome by not letting your brain trick you it wants happy pills as you took from your brain it is not happy. now you have to with courage and hard work to retrain your brain. its that simple I found suboxone to be trading one drug for another. then you get off vicodin and hooked on suboxone. you want off drugs theres no easy fix. it is a war. but how bad do you want it as they say if you want anything bad enough it can be accomplished. mamma never said it was easy and right she was……

  6. I am currently taking one and a half 8mg sub a day, for about a year now. It was always covered under my jObs insurance, and I was successfully staying clean from all other drugs. Now, right after Christmas, my job changed insurance companies, and this new one will not cover this med, AND I CANNOT AFFORD IT!! So what do I do? I’m freaking out, getting panic attacks from this worry-and I haven’t had a panic attack since about 8 years ago; when I thereafter began to do Heroin, and of course became addicted. What a dirty thing for my job to do. Great way to start the new year, thinking about being deathly ill for a very long time. This is what I was always afraid of; being on subs…some unearthly event happening where I would have to just stop when not prepared. O my dear God please help me. I don’t think my body could handle another withdrawal again. Trashy job-they don’t understand how much this medicine has helped me and changed my life for the better; till now. And at this point what was it all for? Just to take a year off from running day in and day out trying to afford a bag or two so I wouldn’t be sick, but just to go back to it and lose everything I gained just to not be scary sick? I will not go through this again, whatever it takes. Screw you too sneaky grocery store I won’t mention the name of!!!

  7. I first started on the Suboxone 8mg with my Pain Doctor because over the years he had upped my Norco and Opana ER levels, and he hoped that a “break” from the opiates would bring my tolerance down, and allow me to decrease my medication levels. I started off taking one 8mg sub-lingual tablet every 8 hours (or 3/day).

    I stayed at this level for about five months, as I recall, and really had no problems, aside from the first night getting on it. I’d been familiar with opiate withdrawals before this, and to all of you who have experienced them, my heart goes out to you. Around five or six months I decided I was doing really well and, by accident really, ended up not taking my pills exactly when I was supposed to; so instead of 8 hours apart I started taking them 10 hours apart and then 12 hours apart, and then I was taking them only twice a day. I felt no ill effects from this transition.

    When I checked back in with my doctor at my next appointment, and told him what I had been doing, and asked about continuing to get off the Suboxone, he said that was fine, to continue to taper off, and to take my time with it, and let my body tell me when it was time to taper down to the next level.

    Over the next two months I tapered down to one pill in the morning and half at night, then a half in the morning and half at night, and finally just a half if I ever just felt jumpy or achy, until such time as I found myself going days and days and not needing any medicine.

    I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it this way had a not had such a patient and cooperative and supportive doctor, and if I had not been understanding of “just enough but no more” of what my body needed. And time, was invaluable.

    Since I have discontinued the Suboxone I have managed to cut my Norco use by 2/3 and discontinue my use of Opana ER completely. It did sometimes give me headaches, but overall it was a wonderful medicine.

  8. I understand what you are going through because I have been there myself.

    In my experience, at day 5 it was important to have some mild physical activity like walking in the park for at few minutes at a time just so I could move the energy in my body and breathe some fresh air. It made me feel somewhat better.

    The reality is that I started feeling better at about 3 weeks, I do not exactly know if this was due to the fact that my physical withdrawal symptoms started to fade or because I set myself up in an halfway house and started to go to NA meetings since day 8. Both of these actions helped me a lot.

    In that context of 12 step meetings I met many experienced recovering people that kindly gave me the emotional support that I needed during these difficult time. Have you consider going to a treatment center or seeking other outside help?

  9. I hope smbdy answers this. I HAVE NEVER EVER writen on a blog like this. History I was taking about 20 Vicodine a day. I tried to clean up. I have been taking about 3 8 m/g Suboxin per day for about 3 years. Then went rto generic when it came available ( Subutex : for what 5 years? I am on day 5 of cold turkey. My wife has been GREAT. She suggested doing this to ask others WHEN will this get better. One my qualities is I like to think I will fight. Cannot tell by my drug use, but I do. I am just out here asking somebody who is normal , meaning not somebody who takes a crao on Mars, but just somebdy with a same pattern as me. Wanhting to be fighter I need to ask WHEN is the hump. I WANT to hear day 5 , but will accept somebody elses truth. I am 61 years old , but a young 61. I am far fdrom down and out. I have a successful company ( partner ) I ache, I am so weak, I have NO apotite NONE. Can somebody share with me?

  10. seriously? how much does it suck to come off of your “meds”? imagine it thousands of tine worse when your doc gives you THAT med to come off of the med you’re coming off of… 5 years after pain meeds, i tried to “kick” my “new” pain med… i wish i’d just gone thru the initial withdrawal. subtext, as withdrawal/pain management med- omfg: !!! don’t do it. so much worse than the acute withdrawals of oxycodone. so much worse. suck it up!!!! suffer (no joke) but do not, seriously, DO NOT subject yourself to subutex/suboxone withdrawals. it’s worse. really. seriously. i don’t know wht to say except that it sucks THAT BAD. sorry

  11. Linda,
    You poor thing…I detoxed from Suboxone and didn’t experience what you’re describing; however, I will say that it was completely miserable and one of the most painful experiences of my life. It stayed in my system until day 3 (even though they say it only lasts 16 hours, which is wrong) and on this day my world crumbled. It threw me into an extreme depression, so bad that I couldn’t move. It took every ounce of energy to move from the bed to the bathroom. I cried constantly and after a few days of this wanted to die….and I was down to one 8mg tablet a day when I stopped with my doctor’s advice. I ended up checking myself into the hospital, where I stayed for a week. The doctors helped make the detox more comfortable, but it was still awful. My heart goes out to anyone who goes through withdrawls from opiate dependancy. Before I was diagnosed with bulging discs and needed fusions and such, doctors just gave me pain pills and before I knew it I was dependent. And then 2 pills weren’t helping, then 3, then 6, then a whole bottle a day. With addiction running in my family, I should have known better, but I thought it wouldn’t happen to me.

    After getting over the Suboxone, all I did was obsess over NOT using, and those thoughts overtook my life. I would slip up a lot, was constantly feeling guilty about it, and then stay clean, only to do it all over again.

    This went on for over a year when I started seeing a new doctor who asked why I’d stopped taking Suboxone in the first place. I didn’t know that people stay on a maintenance program for long periods of time, if not indefinitely. Since I was still obsessing about pills to the point it was affecting my life, I decided to start taking it again. And it was a good decision for me.

    I now feel “normal”…I don’t think about using at all, take my meds with my vitamins and go about my day with a much greater quality of life. My decision isn’t for everyone, but it was the right one for me. I am a better mother because I’m more “present” for her, don’t feel as depressed and have an overall feeling of calm…like I felt long before I popped my first pill.

    So think about it and what might be the best thing to do for YOU. You don’t have to quit taking it, and it may be the answer that allows you to take back your life.

    Good luck and God Bless. I truly hope you get through this no matter what you decide to do. I completely understand and know how miserable this road is.


  12. Has ANYONE experienced intense burning, painful burning sensations from Suboxone withdrawing or not?

    Please I need some answers. Also, I have abnormal RBC, Hemoglobin and Hemocratin results, all being high.

    To the Medical community, have you ever seen a connection to Suboxone use and these kind of blood results?

    I need some answers. I have gone from 32mg. for 2 years to 1 1/2 mg. now, but can’t go below this without extreme burning sensations. My Doctor says the burning is inconsistent with Suboxone “as far as he knows”.

    Please ADVISE. Any input would be greatly appreciated. My life is being hugely affected by whatever is causing this.

    Thank you,

  13. It’s not likely. You’ll probably have a difficult time sleeping, maybe feel like you have restless leg syndrome. It won’t be too bad, if at all. Especially because it was not that long of a time frame, and you didn’t abuse the medicine. Withdrawal is really bad when people are on the meds for a significantly long time, especially if they abused the meds. Also, in my experience, the first 3 days are the worst. If you can make it through that, you’ll be golden! 🙂

  14. Can you you become habituated from 5/500 pills over 13 days if you took one every four hours as prescribed? And experience withdrawal ?

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