Buprenorphine vs Suboxone: Is There a Difference?

Buprenorphine vs Suboxone Is There a Difference

Opioid addiction has surpassed epidemic levels in the United States, and the number of opioid-related overdose deaths increases each year. While the opioid crisis is disheartening, affecting communities nationwide, it has also spurred advancements in addiction treatment medicine. One such advancement is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

MAT is a comprehensive, integrated approach to opioid use disorder treatment that combines medication with traditional treatments such as counseling and behavioral therapy. There are various medications used in MAT, but two of the most popular are buprenorphine and Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone).

Understanding Opioid Addiction and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Opioids are highly addictive substances that can lead to physical and psychological dependence. When someone becomes addicted to opioids, they often experience intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and a diminished ability to function without the drug.

Medications like buprenorphine and Suboxone are used to treat opioid addiction through a comprehensive approach called medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT combines medication with counseling and therapy to help individuals recover from opioid addiction successfully.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means it activates the same receptors in the brain as opioids but to a lesser extent. It helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms while blocking the effects of full opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers. Buprenorphine can be prescribed by specially certified healthcare providers in various forms, including tablets, films, and injections like Sublocade. Buprenorphine may be sold under the brand name “Subutex.”

One significant advantage of buprenorphine is its lower risk of misuse and diversion compared to full opioid agonists like methadone. Since it has a ceiling effect, taking more of the medication won’t result in increased euphoria, making it less appealing for recreational use. However, buprenorphine alone may not be suitable for all patients, especially those with a high tolerance for opioids.

Side effects of buprenorphine include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Pain at the injection site (for injectable forms)
  • Weakness
  • Back pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches
  • Flu-like symptoms



What is Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone)?

Suboxone, on the other hand, is a combination medication containing both buprenorphine and naloxone. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids and can precipitate withdrawal symptoms if misused. Suboxone is available in the form of sublingual films or tablets and is also administered as part of MAT.

The addition of naloxone in Suboxone serves as a deterrent to misuse. If someone attempts to inject or misuse Suboxone, the naloxone can trigger withdrawal symptoms, making it less appealing for recreational use. Suboxone is often recommended for individuals at higher risk of relapse or those who may not be as compliant with their treatment.




Similarities Between Suboxone and Buprenorphine

Suboxone contains buprenorphine, so the brand-name prescription Suboxone and generic buprenorphine share many similarities. First, they have nearly similar side effect profiles. Naloxone does not cause side effects when taken as prescribed, as a result, the side effects of Suboxone come from buprenorphine.

Additionally, both medications are effective in reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, promoting long-term recovery. When used as prescribed in part of a MAT program, these medications can promote recovery in people struggling with opioid addiction.

When it comes to legality, both buprenorphine and Suboxone are regulated substances, and their prescription is tightly controlled to prevent misuse. Both medications require providers to have a special certification to prescribe them.

Key Differences Between Suboxone and Buprenorphine

Although Suboxone’s primary active ingredient is buprenorphine, Suboxone also contains naloxone, which is the primary difference between the two medications–Suboxone is a combination medication whereas buprenorphine is one single medication. Suboxone has an added layer of protection against misuse because of the naloxone component.

When it comes to which medication should be prescribed to whom, buprenorphine may be more suitable for individuals with lower opioid tolerance, whereas Suboxone is often preferred for individuals at higher risk of relapse or those who need added precautions.

Despite these medications’ benefits, there are risks involved. The primary risk comes with starting treatment with buprenorphine. People who take Suboxone must wait 12-24 hours after their last dose of opioids before starting the medication. If taken too early, the naloxone component can cause precipitated withdrawal. Buprenorphine, on the other hand, has a lower risk of resulting in precipitated withdrawal symptoms.

Find out if Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is Right for You

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is not for everyone, and you should never take any MAT medications that are not prescribed to you. However, if you are suffering from opioid addiction, MAT may be able to supply you with the care and support you need to recover.

At Moving Mountains Recovery, we take a holistic, individualized approach to treatment, tailoring each client’s care according to their needs. During your admissions process, our talented addiction specialists will evaluate your needs and help determine whether or not MAT with buprenorphine or Suboxone is right for you.

To learn more about MAT or our opioid rehab programs, please contact Moving Mountains Recovery today.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Buprenorphine, Retrieved October 2023 from https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine
  2. National Library of Medicine: Buprenorphine, Retrieved October 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459126/
  3. National Library of Medicine: Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions, Retrieved October 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/
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