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Buprenorphine Abuse And Addiction Signs And Symptoms

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

June 4, 2019

Buprenorphine is a medication that helps people stop using opioids like heroin. People can abuse this drug by taking more than prescribed, or by changing the method of use. Buprenorphine abuse signs include runny nose, changes in mood, and running out of a prescription early.

The U.S. is currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Medications like buprenorphine are intended to treat symptoms of opioid use disorder, including dependence and withdrawal. Unfortunately, some people end up abusing buprenorphine, and can even become addicted to this drug.

People who abuse buprenorphine may take higher or more frequent doses than prescribed. Others may crush and inject the tablets. People who abuse buprenorphine may display symptoms like restlessness, runny nose, and chills. They may show signs of addiction by seeing multiple doctors or taking higher doses than directed.

Buprenorphine-based medications reduce the chance of people developing a physical dependence. However, people can still become addicted by taking the drug other than how it’s prescribed. These behaviors include taking another person’s prescription or ingesting a higher dose than directed.

Can You Get Addicted To Buprenorphine?

Yes. Buprenorphine can lead to a physical dependence, even when taken as directed. When the medication is abused, the risk of dependence and addiction increases. Buprenorphine is in a class of medications called opioid partial agonist-antagonists. Naloxone, often added to buprenorphine, is an opioid antagonist.

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This combination of medications may be sold under the name of Zubsolv (sublingual tablet) or Suboxone (sublingual film). Zubsolv can be abused by crushing and injecting the tablet, for increased effects. People who abuse Suboxone may take another person’s prescription, or ingest higher or more frequent doses than directed.

When buprenorphine is combined with naloxone, the drug’s potential for abuse decreases. Buprenorphine-based medications have a ceiling effect, which means the drug’s effects increase and then eventually level off. When buprenorphine is taken as directed, this ceiling effect lowers a person’s risk of dependence and addiction.

However, more than 45 percent of people who receive treatment report misusing medications like buprenorphine. When buprenorphine is not taken as directed, the risk of dependence and addiction increases.

Symptoms Of Buprenorphine Abuse And Addiction

Buprenorphine abuse is a major problem in the U.S. Studies show that more than 1 in 4 people who are in opioid treatment programs have shared or sold their medication. If a person abuses buprenorphine, they risk becoming addicted to the substance.

Buprenorphine is a Schedule III drug, which means it has a moderate to low potential for physical or psychological dependence. People struggling with dependence may display certain behaviors that are clear buprenorphine addiction signs.

Symptoms of buprenorphine abuse and addiction include:

  • decreased coordination
  • loss of appetite
  • sweating
  • dilated pupils
  • runny nose
  • sores or wounds at site of injection
  • unexplained weight loss
  • trouble sleeping
  • changes in mood
  • decreased sex drive

Signs Of Buprenorphine Abuse And Addiction

Because buprenorphine is a prescription medication, it can be difficult to spot the signs of abuse. However, there are some telltale behaviors and situations that may arise when a person is struggling with buprenorphine abuse and addiction.

Signs of buprenorphine abuse may include:

  • preoccupation with prescriptions and doses
  • crushing or snorting tablets
  • powdery residue on home surfaces
  • injection equipment
  • change in interests or priorities
  • financial problems
  • doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain more prescriptions)

Sometimes, people who abuse buprenorphine may buy the medication off the street. This can result in additional signs of addiction such as a new friend group, missing cash, or stolen valuables.

It is also possible to order illicit buprenorphine through the mail. Receiving regular packages is another sign that your loved one may be struggling with addiction.

It can be overwhelming to recognize the signs and symptoms of buprenorphine abuse in someone you love. However, remember there is help available for you and your loved one.

How To Talk To Someone About Their Buprenorphine Addiction

If you believe that someone close to you is battling buprenorphine addiction, it may be time to approach them with your concerns.

Try not to worry about saying the perfect thing. The most important message you can communicate is one of care and honesty. Let them know you have noticed a change in their behavior or substance use. Share that you are worried about their safety.

When you approach a loved one about their substance use, it’s also helpful to come armed with the facts. Being addicted to a substance does not mean someone has a character flaw. Let your loved one know that lots of people struggle with buprenorphine abuse and addiction.

Remind them that addiction is a highly treatable medical disease. Those who suffer from buprenorphine abuse and addiction can find help in rehab centers throughout the U.S.

Treatment For Buprenorphine Abuse And Addiction

When a person is prescribed buprenorphine, it usually means they already have an opioid use disorder (OUD). Since buprenorphine-based medications are used to treat OUDs, getting addicted to this medication could eventually lead people back to using drugs like heroin. For that reason, it’s vital that those struggling with buprenorphine abuse get the help they need.

Inpatient rehab centers are located throughout the U.S. and provide the highest level of addiction treatment. Patients are provided detox services on-site, in order to ensure a safe withdrawal process. Most inpatient treatment programs also offer a variety of recovery therapies, including group counseling and 12-step support.

The signs of buprenorphine abuse can be difficult to spot. If you are concerned that you or a loved one is struggling with buprenorphine abuse, there is effective treatment available. To learn more about the signs and symptoms of buprenorphine abuse and addiction, reach out to one of our specialists today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Buprenorphine

National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus - Buprenorphine Sublingual and Buccal (opioid dependence)

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health - A Review of Buprenorphine Diversion and Misuse: The Current Evidence Base and Experiences from Around the World

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