Suboxone treatment is a type of medication-assisted treatment that’s often paired with other addiction treatment methods such as psychotherapy. It has been shown to effectively improve several factors in a patient’s life, such as their ability to keep a job, treatment retention, and it decreases illicit opioid use.
However, taking Suboxone also means you will continue to be dependent on an opioid until you stop taking the medication.
To get off Suboxone, most people taper slowly after completing treatment. But how can you do it safely and effectively? Learn more about Suboxone tapering, what you should know before tapering, and how it can be done safely.
What Is Tapering?
Tapering is a gradual process in which you take smaller and smaller doses of a drug until you get off it completely. Tapering is a common practice for a variety of medications, especially ones that cause chemical dependence. However, it’s standard procedure when it comes to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). After a period of taking Suboxone and going through addiction treatment, you will reach a point where you’re ready to become drug-free.
Suboxone treatment means you will continue to be dependent on an opioid, even though you are no longer stuck in a cycle of intoxication and withdrawal like you would have been in active addiction. However, if you want to live your life completely free of opioids, you will have to stop taking Suboxone. To do that, you go through a tapering off period where you will be weaned off the drug. Most people who take Suboxone and then taper off will have gone through addiction treatment, including psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapies. It’s less common to taper off with Suboxone as a part of detox before you go through treatment.
Why Is Tapering Important?
Tapering allows you to gradually get used to life drug without experiencing extreme withdrawal symptoms. If you are opioid-dependent, the buprenorphine in Suboxone serves to replace harmful drugs with a safer and easier to control substance. Your brain and body are still dependent on the drug, and if you stop taking it, you’ll feel the consequences of a chemical imbalance. You can quit cold turkey, but if you do, you’ll experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and powerful drug cravings.
Tapering can help your nervous system slowly adapt and return to a normal chemical balance.
More than that, it can help you to avoid the shock of sudden powerful cravings and uncomfortable symptoms. Suboxone treatment is often accompanied by clinical addiction treatment where you address underlying causes of addiction and learn relapse prevention strategies. Going through treatment before tapering can help prepare you to cope with triggers and cravings more effectively.
Tapering slowly can also help you adapt to life without opioids more gradually. It allows you to wade into abstinence rather than diving in headfirst. For some, this is an important factor in medication-assisted treatment.
How Tapering Works
During the tapering process, you start to take smaller doses of the drug as your brain gets used to having less of the chemical in your system. Opioid dependence means that your body will adapt to the drug in your system. Your brain chemistry will be balanced around the opioid. Instead of causing extreme chemical imbalances and severe withdrawal symptoms, tapering off makes small imbalances that your brain chemistry corrects and adapts to.
You may still feel some withdrawal symptoms, but they will most likely be minor compared to cold turkey opioid withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms typically aren’t life-threatening, but extremely unpleasant symptoms can be a barrier to treatment and sobriety for many. Tapering limits these symptoms.
What Should You Know About Tapering Off Suboxone?
Expect withdrawal symptoms
Tapering is designed to limit withdrawal symptoms, but you will most likely feel the effects of your brain learning to cope without Suboxone. You might feel nauseous, irritable, and dizzy. You might also experience drug cravings. At this point, you will need to put the things you learned in treatment into practice. Reach out to your support system, use effective coping strategies, and follow your relapse prevention plan.
It may take longer than detox
If you’ve ever been through an opioid detox program before, it may have only taken one or two weeks. Detox is faster and comes with more intense symptoms. Tapering off Suboxone safely and effectively after treatment can take three to 12 months.
Follow your doctor’s instructions
When you’re going through the taper, you may feel like you can lower your dose when you’re feeling good or that you should increase your dose when you’re feeling withdrawal symptoms. However, it’s important to follow your doctor’s tapering instructions exactly. Changing your doses can alter your timeline and complicate the process.
It’s possible to pause
If you are struggling to adapt to a new level, it’s possible to return to your last dose and maintain it for a while. If you are experiencing extremely uncomfortable symptoms and strong cravings, you can ask your doctor to return to your last dose and readjust before continuing.
Your tapering period may vary
The amount of time you need to taper off Suboxone successfully will depend on your personal needs and the program you’re going through. Some people go through a tapering period as short as seven days, while some programs offer slower tapering periods to give you a chance to adapt to the physical, psychological, and social changes you go through in recovery. A 2009 study found that both long and short tapering periods can be effective.
As a rule of thumb, it’s important to work closely with your doctor as you go through Suboxone tapering. If you feel strange or severe symptoms, if you are struggling to handle withdrawal symptoms, or if you have questions about your dose, ask your doctor.
Addiction treatment is highly individual, and your input matters. For safe and effective treatment, it’s important to work with the people on your treatment team.