Suboxone is a prescription drug comprised of buprenorphine and naloxone. The length of time Suboxone can stay in the body depends on a number of factors. Because of its long half-life, it can take one to two weeks for buprenorphine to be fully cleared from the system.
What Is Suboxone and How Does It Work?
Suboxone is a prescription drug prescribed to treat opioid dependence. It works by relieving withdrawal symptoms while also not causing the pleasant effects or high induced by opioid abuse.
The buprenorphine contained in Suboxone belongs to a class of drugs called opioids. Buprenorphine and other opioids are generally prescribed for their pain-relieving properties. Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid, meaning it was derived in a lab from naturally-occurring opiates of the poppy plant, such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine.
Opioids and opiates work by binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) and altering a person’s perception of pain. Furthermore, they also produce an influx of the brain’s reward chemical, dopamine, which causes the individual to experience feelings of reward, pleasure, and contentment.
Buprenorphine is only a partial agonist of opioid receptors. This means that although it does suppress pain and cause pleasant effects, it does so to a significantly lesser degree than full agonist opioids, like oxycodone or heroin. At a certain point, the opioid effects of buprenorphine will plateau, and higher doses won’t result in greater effects.
Suboxone is a combination medication that also contains naloxone. Naloxone is an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning that it blocks chemicals from binding to these receptors and causing effects. Likewise, naloxone will also remove chemicals already attached to these receptor sites. This property allows it to be used to reverse opioid overdoses and save lives.
Suboxone is formulated so that the buprenorphine works to alleviate cravings and withdrawal unless Suboxone is abused, in which case the naloxone will prevent the user from getting high.
Factors That Influence Suboxone Metabolism
Again, compared to other opioids, buprenorphine has a long half-life. “Half-life” is the time it takes for concentrations of a substance to be reduced by half by the metabolic processes of the body.
Buprenorphine’s half-life is around 37 hours on average—though this time can range from 20 to 70 hours, depending on the person. Note that after one half-life, the remaining concentration of the substance will take longer to clear from the body. While the first 50% of the substance is cleared in around a day and a half, the remainder can take around 7 to 14 days to be processed completely.
The numbers above are rough estimates based on the average person. There are a variety of factors that determine how fast or slow an individual’s body is able to metabolize Suboxone.
Factors that influence the metabolism of Suboxone include the following:
- Body fat percentage
- Dosage amounts
- Duration of opioid use
- Liver health
- Suboxone tolerance
The liver handles the bulk of the work when it comes to processing substances like Suboxone. As such, the health of the liver is perhaps the most crucial factor in determining metabolism speed. Once Suboxone reaches the liver, it is broken down into component chemicals called metabolites, which the liver may then further break down.
The metabolites of Suboxone remain in the body much longer than Suboxone itself. After the liver, the remaining substances are transported through the kidneys and excreted through the urine.
Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal
The main purpose of Suboxone is to treat opioid dependence. Dependence is a physiological condition that occurs when the body becomes accustomed to the presence and effects of a drug.
Once dependent, the body relies on the drug to produce certain chemicals and halts the production of its own versions of those chemicals. If the user then tries to quit taking the substance or sharply decrease their dosages, they will experience unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal may include the following:
- Body aches
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive sweating
- Excessive yawning
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Runny nose
- Seizures (very rare)
- Stomach cramps
- Teary eyes
These withdrawal symptoms, although rarely life-threatening in the case of opioids, can be absolutely miserable. Because of this, users frequently engage in repeated abuse in a feeble attempt to escape the suffering. This only leads to worsened withdrawal symptoms later on and increased tolerance and dependence.
Buprenorphine binds to the opioid receptors, allowing it to entirely prevent or significantly reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. This action makes it easier for users to give up their drug of choice.
Getting Help for Opioid Dependence
Opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction are dangerous and can ruin an individual’s life and the lives of those close to them. If you or your loved one is struggling with an opioid use disorder, please get professional help as soon as you can.
At Just Believe Recovery, we offer comprehensive, individualized treatment programs that feature numerous evidence-based services, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, 12-step group support, individual and family counseling, relapse prevention planning, alumni programs, and more.