Reviewed By: Barbara Rexer, DSW, LCSW, LCADC, CCS, ICCS, DRCC
If you or a loved one has struggled with opioid addiction, you might be familiar with Suboxone, the brand name of combination-drug buprenorphine and naloxone. An alternative to methadone, Suboxone is commonly used as part of medication assisted treatment (MAT), an approach that combines counseling with medications to reduce cravings and withdrawal side-effects.
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Suboxone has a relatively long half-life of 24-48 hours, meaning it takes about a day and a half for half the drug to leave a person’s system. This is one facto that makes Suboxone less addictive than methadone, which must be used in a tightly controlled medical setting, but Suboxone still carries risk of abuse. If you or a loved one needs MAT for opioid addiction, here’s what you need to know about how Suboxone, including how long it stays in your system and why that matters.
What Is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a combination medication that contains two substances: buprenorphine, an opioid, and naloxone, a drug that blocks specific opioid effects. You may have heard of naloxone used on its own to prevent overdose. Doctors use Suboxone as an alternative to methadone in the treatment of opioid addiction. Suboxone interacts with specific receptors in the brain, preventing a person from feeling many of the effects they would normally experience when taking opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, or morphine.
It is important to know that Suboxone can negatively interact with commonly abused substances, such as alcohol and cocaine. If you struggle with other substances in addition to opioids, be sure to discuss this with your doctor before taking Suboxone. If you feel at risk of using alcohol or other drugs during treatment for opioid use disorder, you may also want to strongly consider a residential treatment program, where you can focus solely on recovery.
How Your Body Processes Suboxone
Compared to other opioids, Suboxone can remain in the body for a long time. As mentioned above, it takes about 1-2 days for half of a single dose to leave a person’s system. Compare this to 8-59 hours for methadone, and about 30-90 minutes for naloxone.
Suboxone may remain detectable for up to eight days after the last dose. However, certain factors can alter the timeline. These might include:
- Body fat percentage
- Metabolism speed
- Liver health
The type of test can also affect how long the drug is detected. For example, as the liver metabolizes Suboxone, it creates metabolites. If a person takes a drug test that can detect these metabolites, they could come up positive beyond eight days after the last dose.
Suboxone Drug Test FAQ
A variety of drug testing methods can detect Suboxone. Here are common questions related to Suboxone drug testing:
Will an opioid test detect Suboxone?
Unless it is a multi-panel test that specifically includes buprenorphine, an opioid test will not typically detect Suboxone. This includes most employer-run opioid tests.
Why would I need to take a Suboxone test?
Suboxone-specific tests are typically used to make sure a person is taking the drug as part of MAT treatment. Doctors use the tests to determine the proper dosage, and to help them understand the potential for withdrawal symptoms.
What are the most common tests?
Suboxone is typically detected with a urine test, but saliva, blood or hair follicle test may also be used. Here’s what you can expect from each test type:
Blood tests can detect buprenorphine for up to two days. Because of this short testing window and invasive nature of blood tests, they are rarely used.
Fast and accurate, saliva tests are common for testing recent use. These tests can detect Suboxone for up to three days after the last dose.
Urine tests are the most common type. Not only do they have a fairly long window (up to 14 days), but they can detect both Suboxone and its associated metabolites. As mentioned earlier, even if Suboxone has left your system, metabolites may be present up to two weeks after your last dose.
Hair testing can detect Suboxone for up to three months. However, hair tests aren’t generally considered as reliable as urine, so you will not see them as often, particularly for Suboxone. Many employers have started using hair follicle testing, but these tests will not typically include Suboxone as part of the panel.
Suboxone Side Effects
In addition to knowing how long Suboxone stays in your system, you might also be wondering how the drug affects you. Suboxone can produce side effects even when taken as prescribed. The most common side are digestive issues, such as diarrhea or nausea, and headache.
However, more serious side effects can also occur. These less-common side effects require a doctor’s care:
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
- Lower back or side pain
- Urination issues (difficulty urinating, painful urination)
Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms
Although Suboxone is safe to use as part of MAT therapy, suddenly stopping use can cause withdrawal symptoms. The most common include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Digestive issues (nausea, vomiting)
- Insomnia, sleep disturbances
- Lethargy, lack of energy
- Mood changes (irritability)
- Muscle aches
The most acute symptoms typically occur during the first 72 hours of the last dose. However, some can linger for a month or longer.
Understanding Suboxone Abuse
When taken as part of MAT treatment for opioid addiction, Suboxone typically won’t produce an intoxicating effect and is not likely to lead to abuse. However, as with all opioid-related drugs, addiction is a risk. Individuals who have little experience with opioids are more at risk for addiction to Suboxone than those with a high opioid tolerance. However, in large enough doses, a person can experience an intense high. Overdose is also possible.
If you or a loved one has become addicted to Suboxone — whether recreationally or in an attempt to recover from opioid addiction — it is important to get help. Because of the nature of opioid addiction, inpatient treatment is often the best first step. A residential program gives you 24-hour medical supervision, the emotional support of experienced clinicians, and a distraction-free environment that allows you to focus solely on recovery.
A good inpatient program will also give you resources to continue treatment through counseling and aftercare services. Drugs like Suboxone can make cravings easier to manage, but they cannot eliminate every trigger that might lead to relapse. This is why the second part of MAT — behavioral therapy — is so important. The tools learned through cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and 12-step programs make recovery sustainable. To learn more about opioid addiction treatment and how MAT can help you or a loved one, call the number below or ask a question in the chat box.Have questions about addiction?
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