How Long Does Withdrawal From Suboxone Last?

Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction. When used as directed, it relieves the symptoms of opioid withdrawal without getting you high. Suboxone also reduces opioid cravings, which goes a long way toward preventing relapse. Many recovering addicts take it for months, even years, after they stop getting high. 

While it doesn’t get you high, Suboxone is still an opioid, which means that you will experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit cold-turkey. 

Overview

The way Suboxone works is a little complicated, so let’s break it down. Think of the opioid receptors in your brain like a light switch. First, you touch the light switch, then you flick it on.

Heroin, morphine, and prescription opioids are what’s known as full opioid agonists. They bind to the opioid receptors in your brain and turn your lights on.

Suboxone is a combination of two drugs: buprenorphine and naloxone. 

Buprenorphine is what’s known as a partial opioid agonist. Think of this as your opioid dimmer switch. It binds to your opioid receptors and dials up the brightness, without turning the lights on completely.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it binds to the opioid receptors but doesn’t turn them on. Naloxone acts like a hand over your “light switch,” preventing other opioids from flicking the switch on and getting you high.   

If your “light switch” is already turned on, naloxone will shut it off. This means that if you take Suboxone when you have opioids in your system, it can cause you to enter withdrawal immediately. 

You should not begin taking Suboxone until all other opioids are out of your system. Suboxone is most effective when taken after you begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms (lights out). The buprenorphine in Suboxone will dial up the lights enough to stop your withdrawal, but not enough to get you high.

Abruptly quitting Suboxone can cause the same symptoms as traditional opioid withdrawal, but they are typically less severe.

You may experience sweating, anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, and an upset stomach. Rather than quitting cold turkey, clinicians typically advise slowly tapering down your dose. By slowly dimming the lights, your withdrawal experience should be relatively smooth.

The most common complication of opioid withdrawal is relapse. Relapse is more common when withdrawal symptoms and cravings are severe. A combination of tapering, medication management, and counseling can help improve your odds.  

Signs and Symptoms

If you are using Suboxone as directed for the treatment of opioid addiction or to treat pain, you can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms if you miss a dose or try to quit cold-turkey.   

Opioid dependence occurs with any long-term opioid use, regardless of whether you are following a doctor’s orders. Once you become physically dependent on a drug, you experience withdrawal symptoms when it leaves your system.  

Suboxone causes most of the physical symptoms typical of opioid withdrawal. These include:

  • Muscles aches and pains
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Stomach cramps or diarrhea 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Tremors or twitching
  • Anxiety 
  • Restlessness 
  • Runny nose
  • Teary eyes
  • Gooseflesh 

If you take Suboxone to treat an opioid addiction, then your withdrawal symptoms should be less severe than what you have experienced in the past. Taking too much Suboxone causes people to enter withdrawal immediately, which means that people rarely take enough of it to cause severe withdrawal symptoms.  

To get a better idea of how mild to moderate opioid withdrawal symptoms compared to more intense symptoms, you can check out the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS).

Health professionals use this scale to determine the severity of opioid withdrawal syndrome.  

The timeline of Suboxone withdrawal will also be a bit different than your past experiences. Buprenorphine is a long-acting opioid, which means withdrawal symptoms can take several days to appear. 

Suboxone withdrawal typically begins within 2 to 4 days, peaks around days 3 to 5, and resolves within 7 days. Sometimes, however, psychological symptoms can linger for several weeks. This may include depression and an inability to experience pleasure.  

The psychological challenges associated with withdrawal are not always caused by withdrawal itself. Withdrawal can trigger the return of mental health problems that were muted by drug use, such as anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. 

After withdrawal, people are also forced to take a good look at the damage that their drug addiction has wrought. It is not unusual to struggle with issues of guilt and regret. Figuring out how to get your life back on track can feel overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. That’s why it’s so important to reach out for help.

Coping and Relief

The most effective way to treat Suboxone withdrawal is to avoid it in the first place. You can avoid the symptoms of withdrawal by working with your doctor to taper down your dose. Tapering means gradually reducing your dose overtime. If you have been acquiring your Suboxone illicitly, you will want to find a doctor to help your taper.  

Suboxone tapering schedules typically take place over the course of 7 to 28 days.

Some studies have shown that overall success (measured by a period of prolonged abstinence) tends to be better with a shorter, 7-day taper. Other studies have found that withdrawal symptoms are managed best by a slow, flexible tapering schedule. With a flexible taper schedule, your doctor can slow the dose reduction if you experience any uncomfortable symptoms.  

If you are still struggling with withdrawal despite the Suboxone taper, your doctor may recommend one or more support medications. This could include the following:

Naltrexone

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist similar to naloxone. It binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and works like a hand over a light switch, blocking the effects of other opioids. By preventing other opioids from getting you high, Naltrexone works to prevent relapse.
Although it contains no opioids, it is clinically proven to reduce opioid cravings. Like naloxone, naltrexone can bring on withdrawal if you have opioids in your system. Your first dose of naltrexone should be at least 7 to 10 days after your last dose of Suboxone. Naltrexone can be prescribed by any doctor and is available as a daily pill or a monthly injection. 

Lucemyra (lofexidine hydrochloride)

Lucemyra is a brand-new medication approved by the FDA in May of 2018. It is the first non-opioid medication approved to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Lucemyra works by reducing the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter believed to play a role in withdrawal symptoms.

Because it does not contain an opioid agonist, Lucemyra treatment can begin immediately after your last dose of Suboxone. It is currently approved to treat healthy adults for a maximum of 14 days following opioid cessation. 

If you are struggling with Suboxone withdrawal, consider the following tips:

  • Drink more fluids than usual during withdrawal to prevent dehydration. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet to keep your vitamin and electrolyte levels up.
  • Work closely with a doctor, counselor, or physical therapist to develop new ways of coping with pain during and after withdrawal.
  • Practice relaxation techniques (meditation, listening to music) to help you deal with anxiety and agitation.
  • Try mild to moderate exercise to help you deal with restlessness.
  • Find something else to focus on during withdrawal, such as a television show, book, or hobby. 
  • Get support and encouragement from a local community group or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting. 

Warnings

Opioid withdrawal is often unpleasant, but it is very rarely dangerous. When it comes to Suboxone, complications are even more unlikely. Still, it is important to work closely with a medical professional during your Suboxone taper.

The biggest threat to people withdrawing from Suboxone is the risk of relapse. 

Relapse is common among people with opioid use disorders and is generally considered a normal part of the recovery process. But people who have been taking Suboxone are typically further along on the path to recovery. A relapse at this point can be both dangerous (because your tolerance will have plummeted) and discouraging. 

If you have been acquiring your Suboxone illicitly or do not have a close relationship with your doctor, it can be tempting to try tapering down on your own. This is inadvisable for several reasons. Tapering on your own increases the likelihood of failure. Unsuccessful attempts to quit are discouraging and psychologically distressing. Additionally, Suboxone comes in a variety of different doses with different ratios of buprenorphine to naloxone. This adds a whole other level of complexity to designing your own taper schedule—math. 

If you are quitting Suboxone because you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, then you definitely want to talk to a doctor. Suboxone is not recommended for pregnant women and it can pass to your baby through breastmilk, so it’s great that you’re considering stopping. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend an accelerated taper or a switch to buprenorphine or methadone, which have been proven safe to use during pregnancy.  

Long-Term Treatment

Opioid use disorders are notoriously difficult to beat. It is not uncommon for someone to make it through detox successfully only to relapse a few weeks later. But if you have been using Suboxone to treat your addiction, you are already ahead of the game. Suboxone allows you the time to develop a long-term treatment strategy without being distracted by the discomfort of withdrawal. 

After Suboxone, a long-term treatment plan should focus on preventing future relapse. Talk therapy plays a very important role in relapse prevention. Once you come off Suboxone, you will have beat your physical addiction to opioids, but not the psychological aspects of addiction. 

Talk therapy can help you figure out why you began abusing drugs in the first place. You can learn to identify specific situations and feelings that have led you to use in the past. Identifying these triggers helps you recognize and eliminate the negative thought patterns that cause you to make poor decisions. 

Research shows that combining talk therapy with medication management is more effective at treating opioid addiction than medication alone.

There are many ways to explore talk therapy. You might consider working one-on-one with a psychologist or mental health counselor in private practice. You can meet with a mental health or addiction counselor at a local community clinic. Or you can explore group therapy programs, which are offered at many hospitals, clinics, and addiction treatment facilities. 

Resources

To find a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in opioid use disorders, you can use this searchable directory from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). You can also call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).  

To find more information about Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings in your area, check out their website. You can find a meeting near you with their searchable directory

If you are the loved one of someone with an opioid use disorder, you may want to consider attending a support group for people like you. Nar-Anon is a 12-step program for family and friends of people with substance abuse problems. At these meetings, you can talk with people who have experienced the same fears and frustrations as you. 

A Word From Verywell 

If you are on Suboxone and making plans to quit, chances are you are already on the path to recovery. Don’t mess things up for yourself by trying to quit cold turkey—work with a doctor. Remember that a relapse at this stage can be very dangerous, so don’t become over-confident in your ability to abstain. Finding some sort of support, whether through meetings or therapy sessions, can help you stay sober in the long-term.

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