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Buprenorphine is one of three medication treatments for opioid addiction approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has also approved Methadone and Naltrexone for treating opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine treatment is assessed by a clinician or similar healthcare provider through where the patient falls on the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (or COWS Score).

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What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a reliable medication used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). When a person develops opioid dependence, quitting their opioid use can result in symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

While overall opiate withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, the cravings and discomfort often cause individuals to return to their previous substance use, which can also lead to opioid overdose.

Buprenorphine is a partial agonist that provides stabilization in early recovery stages and can be used later on as part of a recovering addict’s maintenance therapy.

Without MAT, the chances of relapse for a person who suffers from OUD are significant; studies have shown that outcomes for people with OUD are much better with MAT.

—U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Buprenorphine works by binding to the brain’s opiate receptors, blocking any other opiates from getting through and causing any euphoric effects. Buprenorphine can also help alleviate the uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal from opiate withdrawal, which range from a runny nose to muscle cramps.

In many instances, patient use of buprenorphine is safely self-administered through outpatient treatment programs as a take-home medication. A patient’s daily dose of buprenorphine will often appear in the form of sublingual tablets or a sublingual film.

Soboxone® is a buprenorphine formulation that includes naloxone and is particularly useful in treating opioid use disorder.

The first dose of buprenorphine is usually provided to opioid-dependent patients within 12-24 hours after they have stopped all other opioid drug use. Otherwise, the patient may experience what is known as “precipitated withdrawal,” where they will feel sudden and intense withdrawal effects soon after the ingestion of buprenorphine.

Brand Names for Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine comes in a few different forms with various brand names that have been approved for use by the FDA.

The most common brand names for buprenorphine are:

  • Subutex®: Buprenorphine sublingual tablets
  • Suboxone®: Buprenorphine + naloxone sublingual films
  • Zubsolv®: Buprenorphine + naloxone sublingual tablets
  • Bunavail®: Buprenorphine + naloxone buccal film
  • Probuphine®: Buprenorphine implants
  • Sublocade®: Buprenorphine extended-release injection
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What Are the Side Effects of Buprenorphine?

The use of buprenorphine may cause some side effects. If you are using buprenorphine as prescribed and experience any of these side effects, particularly if those effects worsen, you should follow up with your primary care doctor or prescribing physician to review your treatment options.

Common Side Effects of Buprenorphine

According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the following side effects are more common when taking buprenorphine for opioid use disorder.

These common buprenorphine side effects can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness, fatigue
  • Constipation, nausea, and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Muschel aches and champs
  • Insomnia
  • Excess sweating
  • Tooth decay
  • High temperature, including fever
  • Tremors (shaky hands)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty concentrating

Less Common Side Effects of Buprenorphine

SAMHSA also lists these less-common side effects of taking buprenorphine when treating opioid use disorder.

Contact your primary care physician immediately if you experience any of these symptoms, as they are very serious.

These more rare, serious side effects of buprenorphine can include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Overdose symptoms
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Adrenal insufficiency (low blood pressure, dizziness, skin darkening, and nausea)
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (in newborns of breastfeeding mothers)
  • Implant form of buprenorphine: Itching, pain, swelling, or nerve damage
  • Injectable form of buprenorphine: Pain at the injection site

Misuse Potential of Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine acts similarly to an opioid and, therefore, still has the potential for misuse. Certain formulations of buprenorphine contain other medications, such as naltrexone, that would counteract any opioid-like effects from buprenorphine and prevent relapse in the patient.

How Buprenorphine Works – Pharmacology

Buprenorphine is categorized as a Schedule III drug, meaning it has a lower likelihood of leading to misuse or dependency in the user. Buprenorphine is considered highly successful in the treatment of opioid use disorder, as well as in the management of OUD after the patient’s initial recovery.


Buprenorphine works with the brain’s opioid receptors. Taking buprenorphine provides pain relief and sedation to the central nervous system. Buprenorphine should never be mixed with alcohol, as its sedative effects combined can cause serious respiratory depression.

If you are prescribed any additional medication, such as benzodiazepines, that can contribute to the sedation of your central nervous system, your doctor may prescribe you a lower dose to ensure your safety.

One positive aspect of buprenorphine is known as the “ceiling effect,” which means buprenorphine’s effects will plateau at a certain point. If an individual tries to misuse buprenorphine, at a certain point, the buprenorphine will not provide any additional effects to the user.

Mechanism of Action

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist (mu receptor) and antagonist (kappa receptor). When taking buprenorphine, it not only blocks other opioids from taking effect, but buprenorphine also relieves pain and other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.


Buprenorphine is taken through tablets or sheets that dissolve under the tongue, which gets it directly into the bloodstream by bypassing the stomach. If any pieces of the buprenorphine are swallowed, the stomach will break down the buprenorphine too quickly to have any effect.

Alternatively, buprenorphine is available through an intravenous shot which will also put it directly into the bloodstream.


Once absorbed, buprenorphine passes through the circulatory system quickly. It takes 40 minutes to 3-and-a-half hours to begin working in the body. Buprenorphine will also pass through the blood-brain barrier. It can be found in the placenta and breast milk.

Metabolism and Elimination

Buprenorphine has a long half-life, which means it stays in the body for a long time. Effects of buprenorphine last between 24 to 48 hours. The liver then breaks down buprenorphine and excretes it through feces and urine.

What Should You Know Before Starting Buprenorphine?

One common misconception about most medication-assisted treatments, including buprenorphine, is that recovering addicts trade one addiction for another. While buprenorphine has some potential for misuse or dependency, it is a much milder medication than the opiates that the patient was previously addicted to.

“The medical evidence is clear: access to medication-assisted treatment, including buprenorphine that can be prescribed in office-based settings, is the gold standard for treating individuals suffering from opioid use disorder.”

—Brett P. Giroir, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health | HHS

Taking buprenorphine to help with the withdrawal process is the ideal way to get through detox and early recovery. Research shows that patients who take buprenorphine or other similar prescribed medication during treatment for opioid use disorder have a much lower relapse rate.

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How Should Buprenorphine Be Used?

Buprenorphine is useful for treating opioid use disorder but is most successful when combined with behavioral therapy and rehabilitation.

Physicians may prescribe buprenorphine during a patient’s initial detox and recovery process to help ease them through withdrawals. Patients may also receive a buprenorphine prescription as part of their long-term aftercare. Some patients remain on buprenorphine indefinitely to help aid them in their opioid-free life.

Buprenorphine is NOT used in treating opioid overdose. Rather, the medication known as Naloxone (NARCAN®) can be administered in case of an opioid overdose.

Is Buprenorphine Right for Me or My Loved One?

If you’re considering medication-assisted treatment to help you with opioid use disorder, the SAMHSA program locator can help you find treatment centers near your home.

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Centric Behavioral Health, our paid treatment center sponsor, is available 24/7:
Learn More About Centric or For Immediate Treatment Help, Call (888) 694-1249.

Frequently Asked Questions About Buprenorphine

What Should I Do if I Forget a Dose of Burprenorphine?

According to Medline Plus (a Division of the National Institute of Health), a missed dose of buprenorphine can be taken as soon as you remember you missed it if it hasn’t been too long.

However, if it’s nearly time for your next dose, go ahead and skip the missed dose and take your regular dosage. DO NOT double your dose to make up for the missed one; just take your normal dose amount at the regular time.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  7. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). (2021, December 29). HHS expands access to treatment for opioid use disorder. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from

  8. A quick-reference guide for prescribing buprenorphine … (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2022, from

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