A photo of a person's body overlaid with an illustrated liver. How does Suboxone affect your body?

How Does Suboxone Affect Your Body?

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For many of us, getting into recovery means that we begin to make positive changes toward healthier life choices. This often means reading up on the medications we take, which can sometimes lead us down rabbit holes of misinformation and fear. If you are using or considering Suboxone to support your recovery from opioid use disorder and have questions about how it might affect your body—we have answers. 

Here are some of the questions we hear the most:

What are the side effects of Suboxone?

As with any medication, some people experience side effects when taking Suboxone. For most, these are mild and subside over time, but it’s important to be prepared for them. Common side effects include:

  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • insomnia
  • swelling in hands or feet
  • body aches

If these side effects cause you discomfort, your doctor may be able to prescribe medications or suggest strategies to help. 

When inducting on Suboxone or adjusting to their dosage, some people also experience opioid withdrawal symptoms like tremors, stomachache, diarrhea, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, body aches, or runny nose. 

If you have an allergic reaction to Suboxone or experience trouble breathing, seek medical attention.

Is Suboxone bad for the kidneys?

Folks in recovery often worry about our kidneys. This is because we know that our substance use likely had a negative effect on these organs as they worked overtime to filter out toxins, and because they’re vitally important to our wellbeing. The good news is that buprenorphine, the main ingredient in Suboxone is safe for your kidneys. It is primarily excreted through the liver, and doesn’t build up in the kidneys even amongst people with renal problems. You should still let your doctor know if you have kidney problems and take a buprenorphine medication, so they can be alert for any drug interactions from your other medications. 

Is it safe for my liver to take Suboxone?

Both of the medications in Suboxone—buprenorphine and naloxone—are considered to be generally safe for the liver, but your doctor may pay extra attention to your liver health. In a randomized, controlled study of people using MAT for opioid use disorder, researchers showed no evidence of liver damage from buprenorphine. There is a myth that the naloxone in Suboxone makes it dangerous to the liver, but this is incorrect. Naloxone is a medication that blocks opioids and is included in Suboxone as a safety measure to reduce the risk of diversion or misuse. At the amounts it is present in Suboxone, naloxone does not pose a danger to the liver.

If you have liver damage or liver disease, talk to your doctor about it before beginning any medication. But research indicates that Suboxone is well tolerated by people taking direct-acting antivirals for hepatitis C, so even if you have liver issues you may be able to take Suboxone without worry. 

How does Suboxone affect oral health?

Much of this article has been spent in debunking worries about Suboxone and health, but this one is actually legitimate. Some people experience oral symptoms from dissolving the medication in their mouths, like numbness or painful tongue. In early 2022, the FDA put out a warning that people who use buprenorphine medications experience dental problems (cavities, infections, etc.) at a higher rate than average. However, they emphasize that buprenorphine medications like Suboxone are lifesaving for people with opioid use disorder, and they do not recommend stopping MAT because of the possibility of dental problems. It’s also not helpful to swallow the medication instead of dissolving it in your mouth, because buprenorphine is not well absorbed through your stomach. Swallowing Suboxone whole may lead you into withdrawal, as your body fails to process the buprenorphine. 

The FDA recommends that after a dose of a sublingual buprenorphine medication is completely dissolved, the person should swish water around their mouth gently and swallow it. Wait at least 1 hour after taking a dose before brushing your teeth to avoid damaging your teeth. 

The bottom line

As a medication, Suboxone does affect your body and physical health in some ways. Opioid use disorder creates so much wreckage in the lives and health of people struggling with it that it’s easy for us to say that Suboxone treatment is a better option. But the one who needs to make that call is the person whose wellbeing is actually at stake. 

If you have concerns about how Suboxone might affect your health or interact with your other medications, talk to your healthcare provider. They will be able to look at your specific medical history and tell you the risks and benefits that you’re most likely to face. Whether you choose to try Suboxone, use a different form of MAT, or work with a medication-free program, we hope you find the support you need to take your life back from opioid use.

If you're considering Suboxone to treat opioid use disorder and have questions about how it might affect your body—we have answers.

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Alaine Sepulveda is a content strategist in recovery from alcohol. She believes that engaging people and sharing stories with them allows us to spread knowledge, and to help others in the path to recovery. She holds an MA in Communication Studies from New Mexico State University.