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Are you sober if you’re on Suboxone?
It’s a question that many opioid addicts have to ask themselves, especially when facing the question of eventual Suboxone withdrawal.
When I woke up in a detox in 2011, the doctor said, “We’re going to put you on Suboxone to wean you off heroin. We recommend you stay on for at least 6 months.”
I laughed in his face.
“You’re not sober if you’re on Suboxone man,” I said. “I used to snort that shit all the time.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Well, we highly recommend it.”
“I’ll cold turkey it man,” I said. “Just bring me some Pepto-Bismol and Clonidine for the sweats and the shits.”
He didn’t bring me either. I think they were offended.
This was the first time I’d come across Suboxone in the recovery community. Every time I’d bought it in Kansas, I’d used it to get high. I’d heard you could shoot it with a little work, but I only ever snorted it.
It was kind of strange to think of it as a long-term solution to my heroin addiction.
Well, it wasn’t strange—it was stupid.
That being said, I gave up on day 3 of my detox and begged that man for Suboxone, promising myself that I would get off as soon as I could.
I put my morning dose under my tongue like I was supposed to and got instant relief.
I pretended to put my nighttime dose under my tongue, palmed it, and took it to my room to snort it.
It sure as shit didn’t feel like I was sober then.
Suboxone Is Great for a Lot of Things—Staying Sober Isn’t One of Them
It’s fantastic for a few things:
- If you’re dopesick, it gets you well fast
- If you know you’re gonna run out and can’t afford more H, it gets you through until you can
- If you’re using another opiate that only lasts a short while, it gets you through the night so you don’t wake up dopesick
I learned then that it’s apparently great for weaning off opiates too. I’d never bothered to use it for that purpose because I could never reduce the dosage.
Every time I used Suboxone, I got a shitty high, but a high nonetheless. I always wanted to use more.
I knew, in a vague way, that this wasn’t how it was supposed to work. I wasn’t supposed to crave anything while I was on subs, but I sure as hell did.
Suboxone is Buprenorphine plus Naloxone. The Naloxone is great—it doesn’t get you high on its own, and it reduces cravings. It’s like the VIVITROL shot (which is also awesome for opiate addicts and alcoholics in recovery).
Buprenorphine is different.
Can Suboxone Get You High? Definitely. This Is Why I Say You’re Not Sober if You’re on Suboxone
It’s an opioid (it gets you high), but it’s a shitty high because the effect of it levels off above a certain dose (24mg/day).
Basically, you can take more than 24mg a day, but you won’t get higher. So that’s why it’s shitty and most opiate addicts don’t take it unless they either don’t have a choice or want to use it for the reasons I listed above.
Here’s a fancy graph to show you what I’m talking about.
You can see from the same graph why it’s better than Methadone if your goal is to get off heroin/oxy/morphine etc—you can keep taking Methadone and keep getting higher and higher, but with Suboxone, it doesn’t really work, so you just kind of stop and deal with your shitty high instead of doing too much and ODing.
Plus, when you’re on Suboxone, you can’t get high off of other opiates. You have to wait until you’re dopesick off of Suboxone until you can use heroin or OxyContin or something and get high.
It helps you not use more because you basically can’t without having to get dopesick (not that this stops many addicts).
And look, I’ll never say that Suboxone is a 100% bad idea. If you can’t stay off heroin (which is far, far more dangerous than Suboxone), and if Suboxone is the only way you can get away from heroin and stay off it, then that’s great.
If it helps you get your life back together, gives you the ability to work and stop stealing and stop hurting people and stop lying and cheating and all the bad shit that opiates make you do, then that’s great—it’s better than ODing and ruining your life and the lives of those around you.
It’s harm reduction, and for a lot of people, that’s the best they can do, and there’s no shame in that—it’s really really hard to stay 100% sober.
That being said, when I was on subs, I was for sure high. I didn’t feel it, but everyone around me could tell.
I Got off Suboxone Even Though Suboxone Withdrawal Is Rough
Being on Suboxone at the maximum dose did not feel like sobriety at all to me.
Remember, I was snorting these things in detox, and that was absolutely not my plan when I first got on them. I really did want to quit.
I was terrified to leave that detox because I knew I was going to walk out of there and get high, and I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I didn’t want to snort the damn things, but I was doing it anyway.
I felt so powerless, to the point that I confessed to our little process group that I was snorting them. My therapist told me I should tell the nurses so that they would make sure I took it as prescribed.
I did what he said. It didn’t work. I palmed it anyway. I kept snorting them despite that. I think the only way I could have stopped would be if the nurses held me down and forced me to take the pills the way I was supposed to.
Even when I switched to the strips, which thankfully couldn’t be snorted, I was still craving more of them after I took them.
They say Suboxone reduces cravings.
Maybe it does for a lot of people.
It sure didn’t for me.
They gave me a buzz, and even at lower doses, I was acting like I was high.
The rehab I went to required us to wean off Suboxone using the strips, and I thank the gods that they did, because there’s no way in hell I could have done it on my own.
When I finally weaned off, I got dopesick again. This is an important point—why would you have withdrawals if being on it was sober? That by itself is a sign that you’re not sober when you’re on Suboxone.
When I finally felt well enough to walk out of my room and rejoin everyone in rehab, I sat down next to this woman in the lecture hall. She turned to me and gave me the oddest look. I’ll never forget what she said.
“You look so different. I can see it in your face. Your face looks so… so healthy.”
That’s stuck with me through the years. When I went through Suboxone withdrawal, I underwent a physical change that others noticed.
I also lost a lot of the irritability that goes along with opiate use for me. I felt different. I looked different.
I was sober.
And I hadn’t been sober as long as I was on Suboxone.
Suboxone Isn’t Bad for Everyone—Make Your Own Choice
I knew when I stumbled drunk and high into detox that I wanted to be completely free of substances. I knew that I didn’t want to have to worry about running out of pills, that I didn’t want to be dependent on something ever again.
For me, Suboxone was great for getting me off heroin, but it was never a long-term solution.
It might not be the same for you.
Everyone has to make their own choice. Just make sure you’re being honest with yourself, and make sure you’re going to be okay with whatever choice you make.