How Does Buprenorphine Work?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

If you’re considering buprenorphine treatment to help you end an opioid addiction, you may be wondering, “How does buprenorphine work?” Here, we offer answers.

Opioid addiction is tough to beat due to the way it changes the brain, affects behavior, and causes intense cravings that are hard to ignore. Buprenorphine is a medication that can help normalize brain function, block cravings, and enable you to focus on other aspects of recovery with minimal discomfort. But how does buprenorphine work? To understand the answer, it’s important to understand addiction and dependence.

Addiction vs. Dependence

Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use even though using is causing major problems in your life. If you’re addicted, you’ve lost control over your use and will use more drugs and for longer periods of time than you intend. Even if you want to quit, you’ll find that sustaining recovery for any length of time is extremely difficult. Addiction is caused by changes in the brain that lead to dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns. Most people who don’t seek professional help for ending an opioid will relapse at some point, usually early on.

Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using opioids. It’s also the result of brain changes. When you chronically abuse any drug, your brain changes the way it functions in order to compensate and try to keep brain function as normal as possible. As the brain adjusts, you need increasingly larger doses to get the desired effects.

This is known as tolerance, and it’s an indication that dependence is developing. At some point, brain function may shift so that the brain now operates more comfortably when it’s on opioids than when it’s not. Then, when you quit using, normal brain function begins to rebound, and this can cause symptoms like nausea, abdominal cramps, cold and hot sweats, and muscle aches.

How Does Buprenorphine Work?

Buprenorphine works by binding to the same receptors in the brain that opioids bind to. When opioids bind to these receptors, feel-good brain chemicals are released, and these produce a sense of euphoria and wellbeing, depress respiration, and reduce sensations of pain.

While buprenorphine is an opioid itself, it’s a semi-synthetic version and doesn’t bind to the receptor the same way as other opioids. Rather, it doesn’t create a perfect fit in the receptor. This means that its effects are less intense than those of other opioids. The receptor is tricked into thinking it’s been supplied with opioids, but it doesn’t experience the euphoria, respiratory depression, or pain relief of other opioids. And since buprenorphine binds to the opioid receptors, using opioids while you’re on it will not result in the desired effects, because the receptors are already occupied.

How Does Buprenorphine Work to End Dependence?

Buprenorphine treatment is safe and effective for treating dependence. Buprenorphine prevents withdrawal symptoms from setting in, and it helps reduce the compulsive behaviors that linger after quitting opioids. While some people believe that using buprenorphine is simply switching one addiction for another, this simply isn’t true. Although buprenorphine will maintain some of the physical dependence–if you quit taking it, withdrawal will set in–this is not nearly as dangerous as the addiction, which is what keeps you using opioids compulsively. Dependence can be managed later on by weaning you off the buprenorphine once you’ve developed the skills you need to stay off of opioids for the long-term.

How Does Buprenorphine Work to Treat Addiction?

Buprenorphine treatment is known as medication-assisted treatment, which means treatment is assisted by medication. Addiction treatment itself is required in conjunction with taking buprenorphine, and this involves a variety of traditional and complementary treatment therapies that help you change dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns, develop essential coping skills, address any underlying issues, and repair the damage done to your life by the addiction.

Because ending a dependence on opioids without medication can impact behaviors, and because opioid cravings are so intense, medication-assisted treatment using buprenorphine enables you to focus on therapy without these negative side effects. While you’re on buprenorphine, you’ll be able to engage more fully in treatment and learn the skills and strategies you need to stay off opioids for the long-term.

Does Buprenorphine Work for Pain?

If you suffer from chronic pain, you may wonder, Does buprenorphine work for pain? The answer is that it was approved by the FDA under the trade names Buprenex, an injectable form of buprenorphine, and Butrans, a transdermal buprenorphine patch, to treat pain. But these drugs can’t be used to treat opioid addiction, and the buprenorphine used to treat opioid addiction isn’t prescribed to treat pain.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Works

Experts agree across the board that medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction offers the best possible treatment outcomes. A high quality treatment program will offer medication-assisted treatment along with a range of therapies that will help you end your addiction once and for all.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.