Buprenorphine is a medicine used in the treatment of people who suffer from addiction to heroin, morphine, and other opiate drugs. Although used to help people become and remain sober, as an opiate drug itself, buprenorphine is highly controlled due to its addictive potential.
Q: What IS buprenorphine addiction?
A: Buprenorphine addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by continued use outside of therapeutic parameters despite repeated negative consequences. Most importantly, addiction IS a treatable medical condition that responds well to adequate therapy.
Q: What buprenorphine addiction IS NOT…
A: The one thing addiction IS NOT is a character flaw or a personal choice.
In this article, we explore the main causes of Rx addiction to opioids like buprenorphine and what’s it like being ‘hooked’ on this medication. Then, we review the methods doctors use to diagnose and address the condition. At the end, we welcome you to send us your questions in the comments section and do our best to answer all legitimate inquiries personally and promptly.
Most people become addicted to buprenorphine because they are looking to get high. In fact, misuse of the drug or mixing the drug with other depressants can not only lead to addiction…but can result in overdose or death!
Misuse is defined as altering the mode of administration, or taking more of the medication, more frequently. Any of these types of misues can cause you become addicted over a period of time. However, in most cases, behind a person’s buprenorphine use is a complicated interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, some of which may include:
- Having a family history of substance use disorders, especially in the close family circle.
- Having a personal drug abuse history.
- Being exposed to traumatic events in the past (childhood abuse, loss of a loved one, etc.)
- Being surrounded with drug use by peers or people in your community.
- Lacking parental support and communication, especially in early childhood and adolescence.
- Suffering from a co-occuring mental health disorder that is not managed adequately.
All these factors can be the real issues that fuel your addictive behavior. This is why addiction treatment for buprenorphine aims to get you safely off the drug, while also uncovering and addressing the root causes of addiction.
What’s Bupe Addiction Like?
Here is a honest story of a person from the United Kingdom about how he got addicted to buprenorphine, but also about how he got the motivation to stay clean:
“I got addicted to Subutex (buprenorphine) after I got it from a drug dealer. I took it because I am trying to recover from heroin. Because I did not receive any medical advice, I used buprenorphine for a year at 16 mg per day. I knew I was abusing and tried to stop and managed to remain clean for six months, but the sheer force of withdrawals forced me to take buprenorphine again. I live in Liverpool and I buy my buprenorphine in North Wales, which is 2-hour drive away. My addiction going at the maximum at that time.
We went in a year-end holiday at Cape Town with my family, and what would have been a wonderful trip became a nightmare as I ran out of drugs halfway. I managed to hide my withdrawal, but it was awful. The moment we arrived home, I shoved my wife and my kids in the car in their surprise and quickly drove home (we are supposed to rest in my sister’s place)so just I can buy drugs.That event made me ponder on what are my real goals in life.
Weeks later and gladly, I enrolled at a government-funded clinic where they put me on a buprenorphine tapering program that lasted four weeks. The tapering was easy, and I was able to gradually reduce my dose to only 0.4 mg/ day – a big difference from 16 mg back in my heydays.
The hardest part was getting off buprenorphine altogether. That first sober day, I went to work as usual (at the factory) and later felt the full force of withdrawal at approximately 24 hours after the last dose, and it lasted two days. In the end, my loving wife found out about the whole buprenorphine addiction I had for years. I had decided to stay clean, and there was lots of promises and ‘contract signing’ to submit to surprise urine tests. But she would not need these things as I had committed myself to stay clean from buprenorphine and other drugs.”
There are several signs and symptoms that are commonly seen in the majority of people who abuse buprenorphine. These signs are an indicator that there is a drug problem. The symptoms of addiction generally include:
- Hiding buprenorphine use from family, friends, coworkers and others.
- Inability to control buprenorphine use due to withdrawal symptoms.
- Losing control over buprenorphine use.
- Not having correct and complete medical advice on the use of buprenorphine.
- Obtaining buprenorphine from illegal sources like drug dealers, off internet pharmacies, etc.
- Prioritising buprenorphine over relationships.
- Putting extra effort just to get more buprenorphine.
How to Diagnose?
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), addiction can be defined as the use of any substance (including buprenorphine) that results in recurrent failure to meet obligations at work, school, and home due to drug use, use of the drug in hazardous situations, experiencing repeated legal problems due to drug use, and having drug-related relationship problems.
Doctors diagnose buprenorphine addiction by examining your medical history and performing physical examinations during an evaluation session. You can expect your doctor to ask the following questions as a part of your assessment:
- Do you attempt to or feel a need to cut down on your buprenorphine use?
- Do you end up using more buprenorphine than you initially intend to?
- Do you engage in any risky behaviors (e.g. driving) while high on buprenorphine?
- Do you feel that you need to use buprenorphine frequently in order to feel and function “normally”?
- Have you attempted to cut down or stop buprenorphine without success?
- Has your work or school performance declined due to buprenorphine use?
- In what frequency and amount do you use buprenorphine?
Do any of these questions describe your relationship with buprenorphine? If you can answer with YES to 2 or more questions , it may be time to seek professional help. You can start by discussing your buprenorphine use with your primary doctor, or ask for a referral to a specialist in drug addiction, a licensed drug counselor, or a psychiatrist or psychologist.
With right help from professionals, recovery from buprenorphine addiction is realistically possible. Drug addiction professionals will address your buprenorphine addiction in several stages, such as:
- Gradual tapering of buprenorphine doses.
- Medical management of buprenorphine detox and withdrawal.
- Therapies that address the drug addiction problem.
- Aftercare programs.
Gradual tapering is a longer process that usually takes from 2 to 4 weeks before you can come off of the drug completely. However, tapering significantly reduces the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms from buprenorphine, thus making the process much more comfortable.
Medical detox and management of buprenorphine withdrawal can further ease the process for you. Detoxing under the medical care of skilled teams of doctors and nurses ensures that all your needs are catered to. Most importantly, medical detox is a safe and monitored process that increases your chances of further success in recovery.
Psychotherapy and behavioral therapies take the center stage during treatment for buprenorphine addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, helps you resist and cope with situations and emotions that drive buprenorphine abuse. Once you are aware of the symptoms that lead to buprenorphine abuse, you will seek help and support from your health provider before you act upon your urges.
Continued care (a.k.a. aftercare) stretches into the months and years after initial treatment is over. You will be encouraged to join support group therapy, go to a psychologist or a counselor for regular check-ins, or stay in a sober-living house for some time. Aftercare helps you socialize, continue working on your recovery, and seek/give support to people who are also recovering from addiction to buprenorphine and other drugs.
Got Any Questions?
We hope to have answered your questions regarding buprenorphine (Subutex) addiction and it’s treatment options. If not, please do not hesitate to send us your questions in the comments section at the end of the page or via our ‘contact us’ page. We do our best to answer all our reader’s legitimate inquiries personally and promptly.