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Buprenorphine for Opioid Withdrawal: Everything You Need To Know

By John McGuire
Getting through opioid withdrawal can be a harrowing experience. The good news is that the drug buprenorphine can help. Here’s what you need to know.

Opioids are a class of drugs used to treat pain, but they’re also frequently abused due to a number of physiological, psychological, and social conditions. Even when opioids are taken as prescribed by a doctor, symptoms of physical and psychological dependence can developespecially when the drug is stopped or tapered too fast. While this can make the process of getting off opioids extremely unpleasant and even dangerous, a medication called buprenorphine can help with opioid withdrawal. Here’s what you need to know about this FDA-approved drug for opioid use disorder treatment.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine belongs to a class of drugs called partial opioid agonists. This means the drug still interacts with opioid receptors in the brain, but in a way that is less strong than other opioid compounds, like heroin or fentanyl.

Because buprenorphine is similar to, but less potent than, other opioids, it can help relieve withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings with a low risk of being abused. These features make buprenorphine ideally-suited for the treatment of opioid use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Although your medication assisted treatment program will vary according to your providers and your specific patient profile, here are some general eligibility criteria for starting buprenorphine therapy for opioid use disorder, according to the Merck Manual:

  • A positive drug test for opioids
  • More than one year of continuous opioid use, or intermittent use for a longer period
  • Physical evidence of chronic use or of withdrawal symptoms

While some therapies like methadone require travel to a dedicated clinic, buprenorphine therapy is conveniently available to be dispensed in a certified physician’s office. 

Buprenorphine and Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Stopping opioids after long-term use can lead to highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. 

“The most uncomfortable symptoms of opiate withdrawal are anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and body aches,” Christian Small, MD, an Addiction Medicine Specialist and President at Headlands Addiction Treatment Services, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Here are some other opioid withdrawal symptoms, according to Mayo Clinic:

  • Restlessness and mood disturbances
  • Sweating, chills, and “goose bumps”
  • Intestinal cramping
  • Muscle tremors
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts

Buprenorphine can be a powerful tool for treating opioid withdrawal. “The greatest advantage of using buprenorphine for withdrawal management is that it addresses symptoms of withdrawal quickly and greatly minimizes patient discomfort,” says Small.

Buprenorphine can also be used on an ongoing basis to help with opioid use disorder. “Individuals are more likely to achieve long-term stability from opioids should they choose to take buprenorphine over the long term, so-called ‘maintenance buprenorphine therapy’,” adds Small.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.