Buprenorphine addiction

Buprenorphine, a medication primarily known for its role in treating opioid addiction, has itself become a subject of addiction concern. This can be incredibly frustrating for those who hoped buprenorphine would be their way out of addiction, only to find themselves pulled back in by a different substance. Buprenorphine addiction is a risk that all users need to be aware of, especially if they are taking the drug without medical supervision or in ways other than prescribed. Understanding buprenorphine’s nature, its potential for abuse and the pathways out of addiction is critical to ensure safe and effective use and to offer help to anyone who needs it.

What is buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid used primarily for treating opioid addiction and as a pain reliever. Known under various brand names like Subutex, Suboxone and Buprenex, it functions by partially activating opioid receptors in the brain, helping to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings in opioid-dependent people.

On a biological level, buprenorphine’s unique pharmacology allows it to act as a “partial opioid agonist”. This means it produces less euphoric effects and respiratory depression than “full opioid agonists” like heroin or methadone. While this reduces the risk of buprenorphine misuse, overdose and side effects, it can still be abused, especially when injected or combined with other substances.

What is buprenorphine addiction?

Buprenorphine addiction is a complex condition where you feel a compulsive urge to take buprenorphine even though it is causing you harm.

You can become addicted to buprenorphine both through legitimate prescription use and illegal buprenorphine abuse. In both cases, excessive or prolonged use can lead to tolerance, where you require higher doses of buprenorphine than before to get the same effects. This can then escalate to physical and psychological dependency, where you find it increasingly difficult to function without buprenorphine and experience withdrawal when you curtail or stop use.

Once you are dependent, full buprenorphine addiction is likely to set in, especially if you have particular underlying causes which increase the risk.

What are the underlying causes of buprenorphine addiction?

The causes of buprenorphine addiction are multifaceted, involving a complex interplay of individual, environmental and social factors. These factors can influence the likelihood of you using buprenorphine as both a therapeutic tool and as a substance of abuse. Understanding the causes of buprenorphine addiction is crucial in developing effective prevention and treatment strategies:

Misuse of prescription
The misuse of buprenorphine (taking higher doses than prescribed or using it without a prescription) is a primary pathway to buprenorphine addiction. This misuse often stems from attempts to enhance the drug’s effects. Over time, this leads to a pattern of buprenorphine abuse, which escalates into a physical and psychological dependence.
Some people may also start using buprenorphine to self-medicate for untreated or undiagnosed pain or mental health conditions. These can include stress, trauma, depression and anxiety, with buprenorphine used as a temporary escape. However, the initial symptom relief provided by buprenorphine can quickly become a crutch, resulting in addiction as the underlying issues remain unaddressed.
Social and environmental factors
Factors such as peer pressure, the normalisation of drug use in certain social circles and easy access to buprenorphine can all contribute to its initial use and eventual abuse. Stressful or traumatic life events, societal pressures, and high levels of crime and drug use in the local area can also be contributing factors to substance abuse and addiction.
Transition from other opioid use
Individuals who have used or been addicted to other opioids may turn to buprenorphine, either as a part of a treatment plan or illicitly. The transition to buprenorphine, if not properly managed, can lead to substituting one addiction with another, especially if the underlying causes of the original opioid addiction are not addressed.
Lack of awareness
A lack of awareness or understanding of the addictive potential of buprenorphine can lead people to misuse the drug. Misconceptions often compound this that buprenorphine is completely safe because it is used in opioid addiction treatment.
Genetic predisposition
Like many forms of addiction, a genetic predisposition can also play a role in the development of buprenorphine addiction. This means that people with a family history of substance abuse may have an increased vulnerability to developing addiction themselves.

Most people who develop buprenorphine addiction have a complex combination of these underlying factors. This highlights the need for comprehensive care that addresses not just the addiction but also the factors contributing to it.

How to spot the signs of buprenorphine addiction

Recognising the signs of buprenorphine addiction can be incredibly challenging. All addictions are masters of deceit, but buprenorphine addiction can be particularly sneaky as many people start out using the drug for legitimate medical reasons. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, here are ten symptoms of buprenorphine addiction to look out for:

  • Taking larger or more frequent doses of buprenorphine than prescribed.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, muscle aches or mood swings when not using buprenorphine.
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control buprenorphine use.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from buprenorphine.
  • Cravings or a strong desire to use buprenorphine.
  • Continued use despite knowledge of having persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems likely caused or exacerbated by buprenorphine.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school or home due to buprenorphine use.
  • Reducing or giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of buprenorphine use.
  • Using buprenorphine in situations where it is physically hazardous, such as while driving.
  • Developing tolerance and needing more buprenorphine to achieve the same effect.
  • If you recognise these symptoms of buprenorphine addiction, it is essential to seek professional help to begin the process of recovery.

    What are the effects of buprenorphine abuse and addiction?

    Buprenorphine abuse and addiction can have severe impacts on various aspects of your life. These effects can sneak up on you, causing enormous problems before you even realise that you are addicted to buprenorphine. Just some of the effects include:

    Physical health risks

    These include respiratory depression, especially when buprenorphine is combined with other depressants, increased risk of infectious diseases if injected and potential harm to vital organs over long-term use.

    Mental health complications

    Prolonged buprenorphine abuse can lead to mood disorders, cognitive impairments and exacerbation of existing mental health issues.

    Social consequences

    Addiction can strain relationships with friends and family, cause you to become socially isolated and make it difficult to maintain personal, romantic and professional connections.

    Occupational and academic decline

    Buprenorphine’s effects on cognitive and physical capabilities can result in decreased performance, absenteeism and overall poor outlooks for your career or education.

    Financial strain

    The cost of sustaining the addiction, along with the potential loss of income, can lead to significant financial problems.

    Legal issues

    Unprescribed use or distribution of buprenorphine is illegal and can lead to criminal charges and associated problems.

    How is buprenorphine addiction treated?

    Due to the complexity of the condition, UKAT provides comprehensive buprenorphine addiction treatment incorporating several key stages. Each of these stages focuses on a different aspect of buprenorphine addiction, providing a holistic pathway to recovery. They include:

  • Opioid detox: The initial phase includes medically supervised withdrawal from buprenorphine. This supervision is crucial because withdrawal can be uncomfortable and potentially even dangerous. This process will kick start healing, break physical dependency, and set you up for the next stage.
  • Opioid rehab: This involves a structured therapy and holistic treatment programme, addressing the psychological, emotional and behavioural aspects of buprenorphine addiction.
  • Aftercare: Ongoing support post-rehab is crucial for relapse prevention. At UKAT, this involves weekly group therapy for a year after you leave.
  • By combining all of these stages in a safe, secure environment, UKAT can give you the best possible chance of defeating buprenorphine addiction and rebuilding your life.

    How to get started on the buprenorphine recovery journey

    Overcoming buprenorphine addiction can truly transform your life, and UKAT’s comprehensive approach ensures effective treatment and a sustainable path to recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with buprenorphine addiction, contact UKAT today and take the first step towards a fresh start.

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    Can I become addicted to buprenorphine when using it to treat another addiction?
    While buprenorphine is used to treat opioid addiction, it can carry a risk of addiction itself due to its opioid-like effects. However, when used as directed under medical supervision, the risk is significantly lower compared to other opioids. This is why it is so important to use buprenorphine strictly according to the prescribed treatment plan and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
    Can you overdose on buprenorphine?
    It is possible to overdose on buprenorphine, particularly if it is used inappropriately or combined with other substances such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. Buprenorphine overdose can lead to severe respiratory depression, unconsciousness and even death. However, its overdose risk is generally lower compared to other opioids due to its “ceiling effect”, which limits the drug’s effect after a certain dose. Nonetheless, it is crucial to use buprenorphine only as prescribed and to be aware of its interactions with other substances.