How does Suboxone work to treat opioid addiction?
Humans have naturally-occurring opioid receptors in the brain. When a person takes an opiate derivative or abuses heroin, these receptors are activated. Activation produces a euphoric high and an analgesic effect. It’s incredibly easy to become addicted to the feelings and sensations that opioid drugs produce. On top of that, the human body quickly develops a tolerance to opioid medications, and they will need more and more to get the desired effect.
Unfortunately, this short window where tolerance forms makes a person physically and psychologically addicted to the drug. Withdrawal symptoms for opioids are incredibly painful and distressing. Opioid addicts also experience some of the most intense cravings to use the drug. An opioid relapse is also incredibly dangerous and puts the user at high-risk of overdosing and dying.
What medications like Suboxone do is they interact with the body’s opiate receptors in four distinct ways.
1. Suboxone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, which cuts down on a user’s cravings for the drug and withdrawal symptoms during detox.
2. Suboxone is considered a partial “agonist,” meaning it does excite the opioid receptors in the brain, although this activation is minimal. However, the brain is tricked into being satisfied with the amount of opioid activation that Suboxone induces. Users won’t feel the physical withdrawal and dependence symptoms associated with their addiction.
3. The medication also adheres to the brain’s opioid receptors, so if a person does relapse and takes an opioid, Suboxone will block the high associated with the drug. Suboxone binds to and blocks the receptors for several days after taking the medicine.
4. Suboxone also prevents overdose deaths. As a partial agonist, it has a ceiling for how much it interferes with a person’s breathing.