Recent statistics highlight a troubling reality: Globally, alcohol misuse is the seventh leading risk factor for both death and disability. In the United States alone, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that approximately 28.6 million adults ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in 2021. These numbers not only signify a health crisis but also underscore the need for effective treatments for AUD, including those that address alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
One of the common debated questions in the field of addiction treatment is whether or not suboxone, a medication primarily used for opioid dependence, can also be beneficial for alcohol withdrawal. The short answer is no. However, it is essential to explore the reasons behind this answer and understand the specifics of suboxone.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.
All behavior is a result of brain function. At its core, AUD is deeply rooted in the brain’s reward system. Alcohol consumption triggers the release of dopamine, creating a feeling of pleasure and reinforcing the behavior, which can lead to repeated use and eventually addiction. The brain adapts to the frequent presence of alcohol, resulting in tolerance and withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
Alcohol addiction is chronic in nature, meaning it can last for an extended period, and it is often relapsing, making recovery challenging. It affects all aspects of a person’s life, including physical health, mental well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life.
Recognizing the signs of alcohol addiction is vital for seeking timely help:
- Drinking more or longer than intended
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control alcohol use
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol
- Cravings, or a strong need to drink
- Recurrent alcohol use causes failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
- Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol
- Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use
- Using alcohol in situations where it is physically hazardous
How is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Treated?
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) is a set of symptoms that people who depend on alcohol often face when they suddenly stop drinking or significantly cut back. These symptoms can start just a few hours after the last drink and range from mild to very serious. People with AWS can experience a range of symptoms from mild shakes and unease to really severe issues like seizures and hallucinations where they might hear, see, or feel things that aren’t there. Other common signs include trouble sleeping, bad dreams, sweating a lot, a fast heartbeat, fever, feeling sick to the stomach, throwing up, and getting easily upset or agitated.
Over the years, treating alcohol withdrawal has evolved from a basic approach of “toughing it out” to more systematic and evidence-based methods. The safest, most preferred, and most effective way to manage acute alcohol withdrawal is the use of Benzodiazepines such as lorazepam, chlordiazepoxide, or diazepam.
These medications are considered ideal for treating acute alcohol withdrawal due to several reasons:
- Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms: They help diminish the severity of withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, agitation, and seizures.
- Prevent Delirium Tremens: Benzodiazepines can prevent or treat delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially life-threatening complication of alcohol withdrawal.
- Cross-tolerance: They exhibit cross-tolerance with alcohol, which means they can substitute for alcohol’s effects on the brain, easing the withdrawal process.
- Safety Profile: Under medical supervision, they are relatively safe to use, particularly in a controlled detoxification setting.
- Sedative Effects: Their sedative properties can help patients who are experiencing insomnia and anxiety during withdrawal.
Online mental health counseling can be particularly effective for dealing with the psychological aspects of addiction, offering cognitive-behavioral strategies and emotional support in a convenient and confidential setting.
Long-Term Medications for Alcohol Withdrawal
Long-term medications for alcohol withdrawal are used to help people stay off alcohol after they’ve gotten through the initial detox phase. These medications are usually started once detox is complete and the alcohol is out of the person’s system. The goal is to reduce cravings and help the brain adjust to functioning without alcohol.
Here are some medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for long-term treatment after alcohol detox:
- Naltrexone: This drug can help cut down on cravings and the urge to drink again by blocking the feel-good effects of alcohol.
- Acamprosate: It works to restore the natural balance of chemicals in the brain that alcohol disrupts, which can make it easier to maintain abstinence.
- Disulfiram: Taking this medication can make a person feel very sick if they drink alcohol, which can be a strong deterrent to prevent them from starting to drink again.
Can Suboxone Help with Alcohol Withdrawal?
The short answer is no, provided the individual is only dependent on alcohol and has not been exposed to opioids. Suboxone will not do any good for alcohol withdrawal because it is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, both used to treat opioid addiction.
Buprenorphine, which helps lessen the symptoms of opioid dependence, and naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioids. These two combinations are designed to prevent misuse and reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction.
Doctors typically do not prescribe Suboxone for alcohol withdrawal. The main treatments for alcohol withdrawal include other types of medications, like benzodiazepines, which are proven to be effective in managing withdrawal symptoms. However, if a patient has a dual diagnosis of opioid and alcohol dependency, a doctor might prescribe Suboxone to address the opioid addiction, which could indirectly influence the treatment plan for alcohol withdrawal. In any case, it is crucial to consult a medical professional for appropriate treatment and guidance. It is also essential to keep in mind that while medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms, they should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes therapy, support groups, and online alcohol treatment programs.
What Studies Say About Suboxone for Alcohol Withdrawal?
Research exploring Suboxone’s effect on alcohol withdrawal is limited and inconclusive. Below are the summaries of some key studies on this topic:
- Recent studies have discovered that buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, also affects certain brain receptors that could influence alcohol use.
- One study suggests that Buprenorphine, at low doses, can increase drinking because it stimulates the body’s opioid receptors, but at higher doses, it might help treat alcoholism by working on specific brain receptors.
- Emergency room visits due to misuse of the drug buprenorphine skyrocketed from about 4,400 cases in 2006 to over 21,000 in 2011, with the highest numbers seen in young adults aged 18 to 25.
In general, there is no evidence to suggest that Suboxone can help with alcohol withdrawal and it should not be used as a substitute for proven treatments. While there is ongoing research on the use of buprenorphine for treating alcohol dependence, more studies are needed before any conclusions can be made.
Are There Any Risks in Mixing Suboxone and Alcohol?
Mixing Suboxone and alcohol can be risky. Suboxone includes buprenorphine, which is a depressant, meaning it slows down brain activity. Alcohol is also a depressant. When you take them together, they can significantly slow down your brain and body, more than either would on their own.
The side effects of mixing Suboxone with alcohol include:
- Increased risk of overdose: Both substances can slow down your breathing, and combining them can lead to respiratory failure.
- Greater sedation: You could become extremely drowsy, which could lead to accidents or injuries.
- Impaired coordination: Your balance and thinking could be affected, making it unsafe to drive or operate machinery.
- Intense dizziness or confusion: This can make it hard to function normally and increase the risk of falls or other accidents.
- Heightened risk of addiction: Taking Suboxone and alcohol together could lead to increased tolerance, dependence, and addiction to both substances. Additionally, it can also increase the likelihood of developing a dual diagnosis of opioid and alcohol use disorder.
In summary, suboxone is an opioid-based medication used to treat opioid addiction and should not be used for alcohol withdrawal. Taking Suboxone and alcohol together poses significant risks and can only worsen the individual’s condition. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol withdrawal, it is essential to seek help from a medical professional and adhere to the prescribed treatment plan.
Having a supportive environment and seeking professional help are your strongest allies when it comes to overcoming an addiction. No one should have to go through it alone, and there are resources available to help you on your journey toward recovery. Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder. Help is always available, and recovery is possible.