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Why You’re Sober on Suboxone: busting recovery myths

November 13, 2019

Suboxone is a brand name of a buprenorphine/naloxone medication that helps provide brain stability for those who have impacted their brain through use of opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, or pain pills.  By reducing cravings and managing withdrawal symptoms, medications like Suboxone (Zubsolv and Bunavail are other common brands) allow patients to function without the whiplash effects of opioids.  A common misconception is that someone using medication assisted treatment is simply trading “one drug for another.”  This is completely false, so we are going to address the four most common myths related to Suboxone and sobriety.

Myth 1: You can’t be sober and “on a drug.”

Let’s be real: if you had a cardiac condition and a physician prescribed medication to you to help you manage that condition, no one would accuse you of not being sober.  Similarly, Suboxone, Vivitrol, and other medications when taken as prescribed help manage a chronic, recurring brain disease.  Comparing Suboxone to a street drugs shows a lack of understanding of both.  While many abstinence-based programs work for some people, the neurological research behind opioid addiction indicates that those who participate in medication and counseling have a higher likelihood of staying sober longer.

Myth 2: You can get high with Suboxone which means it’s bad.

This myth has a dark past, mainly generated by a precursor to Suboxone called methadone.  Because it is a full agonist, methadone can result in a high and subsequent withdrawal, which is why many medical providers have turned to Suboxone instead.  Because it is a partial agonist, it is more difficult to abuse.  Plus, the inclusion of naloxone in Suboxone creates a ceiling effect, which effectively prevents patients from taking an increased dose to get high.

Myth 3: Dependence and addiction are the same.

Let’s take a step back really fast to acknowledge that addiction is a terrible disease that often causes people to take actions they will regret.  Dependence on the other hand doesn’t cause irrational actions.  Think of it this way, someone could be dependent on medication (a diabetic is dependent on insulin, for example).  Suboxone provides stability without the aggressive withdrawal symptoms opioids cause.  Patients will need a regular Suboxone dose for an extended period of time, generally no less than 12-18 months.  They will be dependent on the Suboxone to help manage cravings, but they won’t be addicted to Suboxone.

There are a lot of myths out there about recovery and sobriety that can be discouraging to folks who want help.  Here is a brief and powerful encouragement: do what works for you.  For most people, that looks like getting involved in a comprehensive outpatient addiction treatment or drug rehab program that provides medication assisted treatment, individual counseling, group therapy, case management/social services, and peer support.

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