The first thing you need to know about any medication is what it is and how it works. Knowing answers to questions like “How long does Subutex stay in your system?” can make all the difference in your choices during recovery”.
Subutex is a brand name for the drug buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a mixed opioid agonist-antagonist, which essentially means that the drug works similarly to opioids while also stopping many of the effects of the opioid.
That can be important for people dealing with addiction for two core reasons. The first core reason is the action of buprenorphine can help overcome withdrawal symptoms from opioid medication, which can be especially important for people who have been taking opioids for a long time before they stop.
Secondly, it also stops the effects of opioids simultaneously by preventing the medication from having the full impact, especially the high, of opioid medication.
To be clear, this isn’t a rescue medication or something you can take if you suspect that you or someone you care about has overdosed on opioid drugs. Some doctors will prescribe the rescue medication naloxone simultaneously as Subutex so that patients have access to faster rescue responses. However, this will be at the discretion of your medical care team and what they think is best at the time.
Especially at the beginning of addiction recovery, having access to naloxone may be important since one of the most common causes of accidental overdoses is people relapsing and not realizing that their tolerance to opioids has decreased while they are in recovery.
Subutex can ease withdrawal symptoms, but for many addicts, the drug won’t fully control symptoms, and it’s often only used very short term and within two days after the last dose of another opioid.
For most people taking Subutex, it’s administered by a doctor, sometimes with naloxone at the same time, and works best if taken only after withdrawal symptoms have already started.
However, there are some rare situations where doctors may prescribe a longer course of the medication or may not give it directly in the office, allowing patients to take the medication at home. Typically, this is only done in cases of relatively severe addiction, where other treatment options aren’t available or are insufficient to meet the patient’s medical needs.
The main thing that Subutex does is make it easier to get through the most difficult part of withdrawal without the severe symptoms that often drive people back to the drugs being taken before attempting to withdraw.
Remember that addiction is both physical and mental, and alleviating some of the worst symptoms can make it much easier for people to think rationally about what they are doing and why they want to recover.
In some cases, taking a drug like Subutex can also make a withdrawal much safer and more possible. Especially in cases of extreme addiction or where addiction coexists with other physical or mental health disorders, it may be important to keep withdrawal symptoms to a minimum to keep people safe and prevent complications associated with addiction withdrawal.
The good news is that most cases of opioid withdrawal are manageable and reasonably safe, allowing concerns like “How long does Subutex stay in your system?” not to be the main priority while recovery is focused primarily. But, as a precaution, it’s important to understand that opioid withdrawal can be a life-threatening condition, especially for people who were taking large doses of opioids before going into withdrawal or who are suffering from other medical conditions like liver or kidney damage, low weight, or malnutrition.
The reason opioid withdrawal can sometimes be life-threatening is that opioids create a physical dependence in people who use them, especially those who have used them for a long time. That chemical dependence means that the chemicals in the medication have replaced chemicals that your body normally produces for itself and needs to function normally. When you take away the drug, it takes some time before your body can start producing those chemicals again. As a result, your body’s ability to produce those chemicals may be impaired for quite a while, even after you’ve completed withdrawal.
Drugs like Subutex provide a stop-gap alternative to the drug or the natural chemicals. After that, your body will start producing those chemicals again, slowly, but will also need a workable substitute during your recovery period from your opioid addiction.
Subutex was designed as a tool to help ensure your body has a small amount of what it needs but isn’t yet producing for itself so that you maintain more normal function and have a reduction of the severity of symptoms that can be dangerous to recovering addicts.
Many people think that taking a drug to help with withdrawal pains or as a maintenance drug instead of having an active addiction makes a recovering user still in active addiction status. Often, instead of accepting that you’re in recovery, the argument is that you’re just a functional addict, similar to being a functional alcoholic, just with a substitution for your drug of choice.
Ultimately, whether you think of yourself as still addicted is a personal decision. But we would argue that people using Subutex, Suboxone, and other management medications aren’t addicts; they’re patients treating a post-addiction condition.
Put another way, these drugs help deal with your body’s physical needs. But they can’t make you take the first step of stopping taking drugs. Likewise, Subutex can’t keep you committed to overcoming your addiction and functioning normally; it’s just a tool to be used during your recovery.
So, how long does Subutex stay in your system once taken? To answer this question, we’ll need first to address how Subutex is essentially similar to opioids in how long the drug stays in your system. Subutex is generally active for 12-24 hours, depending on how quickly your body absorbs and uses the drug, and is meant only to be used for a few days at a time.
In some cases, patients may also get monthly doses of the drug their doctor prescribes, especially if other maintenance drugs are ineffective or experiencing a longer-than-average withdrawal period. However, the effective period of the drug and how long it’s in your system are two different things.
Similar to opioid medications, Subutex can be detected in standard drug tests for between 3-7 days, depending on the test used, and for up to 3 months in hair follicle tests.
If you’re dealing with an opioid addiction, it can often feel like there’s no way out, and you don’t have control over your life or behavior.
While it can be hard to see a way out of that situation, we’re here to tell you that overcoming addiction is possible. The trick is believing that a life without addiction is obtainable for you and getting the expert help you deserve to make navigating recovery easier and building the coping skills you need to live without drugs accessible.
Simply admitting that you are dealing with an addiction and need help opens the door to recovery and well-being.
You deserve help with recovery, help build coping mechanisms, and help recognize your drug use triggers. We can give you that help. Contact Achieve Wellness to learn more about our drug addiction treatment programs and how we can help you.
Medically Reviewed By
Nicole Rettino-Lambert LCSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, CSTIP
Nicole Rettino-Lambert is a dually licensed clinician with over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in both addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Along with extensive experience in clinical work, she has held leadership roles in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatments centers in New Jersey. Throughout her various leadership positions, Rettino-Lambert has developed clinical programming, assisted staff in their growth and development in the clinical field, and had the privilege of helping numerous individuals on their path to recovery.