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When treating addiction, a number of techniques can be used. One of the most effective ways of helping addicts to manage the withdrawal process is through pharmacotherapy, where medication is used to support the withdrawal process. One of the most common and effective drugs used in this process is Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine can be very useful when used correctly with the right support from a medical professional. Let’s take a look at Buprenorphine, how it is used and how it works.


What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is an opioid pain reliever used for treating severe pain. It can also be used to help people with the process of withdrawal from other opioids such as heroin, morphine, or methadone. The benefits of using Buprenorphine include:

  • It offers pain relief and relief from some other symptoms such as agitation.
  • It is long-lasting, so it doesn’t require frequent use.
  • Overdose from Buprenorphine (when used alone without other drugs) is uncommon, especially compared to other opioids.
  • Buprenorphine can be taken orally or in a patch.
  • The risk of disease and injury from injecting drugs is reduced.
  • Using Buprenorphine on its own is unlikely to result in an overdose.



Stethoscope, syringe, medicine, pharmacotherpy meaning

The withdrawal process from opioid drugs can be a truly harrowing experience. The addicted brain craves the substance so strongly, and the physical effects of withdrawal can be so difficult to bear that relapsing is very common. Support with therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or addiction counseling can reduce the risk of relapse, but pharmacotherapy can seriously reduce the risk of relapse. Pharmacotherapy for addiction means using medication such as Buprenorphine to do a number of things to support the withdrawal process. The benefits of using Buprenorphine include the following:

  • Reducing the intensity of symptoms during the withdrawal process.
  • Reducing cravings
  • Easing pain
  • Blocking the effects of other opioids

This means that if a recovering addict is using Buprenorphine as directed by a medical professional, they may have a reduction in physical symptoms of withdrawal, which, combined with a reduction in cravings, can mean that the risk of relapse is greatly reduced. This also makes the process relatively easier on the sufferer. During the withdrawal process, people often experience pain and agitation, and this can be one of the most compelling reasons to go back to using the drug of addiction. Buprenorphine offers relief from pain and agitation. One of the most interesting effects of using Buprenorphine in treating addiction is that it can actually reduce the effects of other drugs. So if someone was to relapse and use another opioid while being treated with Buprenorphine, they would not get the same ‘high.’ This is because Buprenorphine essentially occupies the opioid receptors. So basically, there is ‘no room’ for other opioids. The idea behind this is that if the recovering addict stays on the course of Buprenorphine, their drug of addiction will not have the desired effect, and in time they will no longer seek it out.


Does it Work?

Some people question the logic of replacing one opioid with another to help with addiction and recovery. However, not all opioids are the same, and many people have benefitted from replacing one drug with another. This is often a better route to becoming free from drugs completely when compared with going ‘cold turkey’ (stopping drug use abruptly). Buprenorphine is different to many other varieties of opioids. This is because it is a partial opioid agonist. Essentially this means that it does not create the same symptoms as other opioids; it does not create as much of a ‘high’ or sense of euphoria. There is a much lower risk of people becoming dependent on the drug, and therefore, the process of coming off Buprenorphine is easier.


Side Effects

Headaches are one of the many side effects from taking buprenorphine

There are potential side effects to most drugs. Before Buprenorphine is prescribed, a medical professional will evaluate whether the use of the drug is appropriate. Before any opioid is prescribed, the risks and benefits should be evaluated. Side effects of Buprenorphine include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain and constipation
  • Skin itching/rash
  • Sweating
  • Tooth decay
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in menstruation in females
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Cognitive issues such as confusion


Successful Pharmacotherapy 

Using a replacement opioid such as Buprenorphine to help with recovery from addiction has a better chance of success when it is used in conjunction with a recovery program that has been tailored to meet the needs of the patient. Pharmacotherapy does not replace the other aspects of a recovery program, such as counseling. Addiction is not just a physical issue; the nature of addiction means that it changes the brain. How we feel, the emotions we experience, the way our moods change, and our motivations are dictated to a large degree by our brain chemistry. However, the experience of addiction is also traumatic and should be addressed by therapy. There is also the issue of dealing with the reasons that the person became addicted in the first place; the trauma of life changes or significant events or experiences in the past can lead to people finding solace in addictive substances and behaviors. Being around people who are addicted and having a social life built around addiction are also major reasons for people to relapse, and this can only be addressed through therapy. Buprenorphine does not help with these issues, but it can help stabilize the addict in order to enable them to deal with these issues. Psychotherapy, counseling, and cognitive behavior therapy can be combined with group support and, where possible, the support of family and friends. This makes the addiction recovery process much more likely to succeed than if using drugs like Buprenorphine alone. Addiction is more than a lifestyle issue and more than a physical issue, so any recovery program must address the body, mind, and life circumstances of the addicted person in an understanding and supportive way. Buprenorphine can help facilitate this.

If you want to know more about addiction and the use of pharmacotherapy such as Buprenorphine in treating it, then you can find help at Addiction Center. The first step in getting help for yourself or a loved one is to decide that help is needed. Speak to someone about your concerns – a doctor, loved one, therapist, or someone else you trust – and be open to receiving help.