How do you know if Suboxone maintenance therapy is right for your situation? And how exactly does a Suboxone program work anyway?
Anyone who is addicted to opiates, whether those are prescription painkillers or heroin, knows what it is like to go through the agonizing physical withdrawal from the drug.
In order to get through those withdrawals many people go to inpatient treatment, and some rehab centers use Suboxone in order to get people through the withdrawals. It is a partial opiate, so the medication does not get a person high like a full opiate does.
Because of this, they have developed a therapy program using Suboxone as a maintenance drug, so that struggling opiate addicts can use this medication for an extended period of time in order to fight off cravings for real opiates. If it is combined with therapy, counseling, and some form of treatment program like AA or NA, the results from some studies are fairly impressive.
I would suggest a few things to you if you are interested in this medication:
One, if you have never even been to inpatient treatment before, I believe you are getting a bit ahead of yourself if you are interested in Suboxone already. For someone in this situation I would recommend that you simply go to treatment and see what happens first. Go through the inpatient process, get detoxified, and then make an honest effort at working a real recovery program. That means following up with a therapist, going to IOP after you do inpatient if they recommend it, and going to some sort of group therapy or follow up meetings such as NA or AA. If you do all of these things and make an honest effort then you may find that you do not need the extra help that is derived from a MAT (medication assisted treatment) program.
On the other hand, if you have been to inpatient treatment several times then you may want to consider this as your next step. Of course you will want to talk with both your therapist and your doctor about a medication decision such as this and get their expert opinion on the matter.
Another important factor in this kind of decision is in regard to chronic pain. Some opiate addicts were initially prescribed opiate pain pills because they were suffering from a chronic pain condition. Because this is a chronic condition it is going to continue being a problem indefinitely, and therefore if the person wants to live in recovery then they need to have a plan in place to deal with their pain and get it to an acceptable level. If your pain is so great that it wakes you up from sleeping each night then that is probably not an acceptable level of pain to be having. So you may need to talk with your doctor and your therapist in order to find a plan that can work for you. Sometimes Suboxone maintenance can be helpful in the managing of chronic pain, and other times it doesn’t work so well. But this may be an option to explore for people who are suffering from a medical condition that involves chronic pain.
I would caution people who believe that taking Suboxone therapy will make it so that they can skate through recovery much easier without having to do as much work. In other words, many people who first hear about an MAT program such as Suboxone immediately hope that it is a magic pill.
In other words, they are saying to themselves “When I try to get clean I have physical cravings for opiates, and if those cravings went away completely due to a magic pill, then recovery would be easy for me and I could just go on with my life.”
The truth is that this is a dangerous line of thinking, as this is not really how Suboxone works for people. What happens with traditional recovery is that the addict surrenders completely, they go to treatment, and then they learn a completely new way to live and a new way to deal with reality. Instead of solving problems by getting high and avoiding everything, the addict in recovery has to learn how to face everything and develop new coping skills.
If your only coping skill is to take Suboxone then you are going to struggle in recovery. I know this is a problem because I have watched so many people in a treatment setting who left rehab on a MAT program and eventually they came back for more detox and residential treatment at a later date. What was truly shocking to me is the percentage of Suboxone maintenance clients that this was happening with. In other words, based on my own subjective observations, a lot of the people who were relying on Suboxone as their recovery plan were failing eventually and coming back to rehab for detox from heroin or painkillers later on. The effect was so shocking to me that I began to develop my own opinions about the medication, wondering just how effective it really is.
It turns out that several studies have proven the effectiveness of a medication such as Suboxone, but only when it is combined with other recovery therapies such as counseling, IOP, 12 step meetings, sponsorship, and so on. If the person is only willing to take Suboxone and do nothing else for their recovery, then you cannot expect for that person to get decent results.
In other words, it does not appear that a medication such as Suboxone can make or break a person’s recovery. It can help, yes, but it can only help a small amount when compared to the help that you get when you go to rehab and then follow that up with counseling, therapy, and meetings. The effect of the medication is maybe like 5 or 10 percent compared to a 95 or 90 percent importance when it comes to the rest of your recovery treatment plans.
In other words, I believe that Suboxone and MAT in general is best viewed as a supplemental tactic for recovery rather than as a replacement for treatment itself. If you try to use it as a magic pill and hope that it will make all of your problems go away then I believe you are going to be in for a tough time. On the other hand, if you use it as a supplement to a full treatment plan that includes therapy, meetings, and professional substance abuse treatment then I believe your chances for success are much better. Just don’t fall into the trap of believing that any MAT, including Suboxone therapy, is any kind of magic pill for your recovery, because it honestly takes more work than that. Good luck!