Subutex and Suboxone are two drugs that for the most part, do the same thing. They both are used to reduce withdrawal symptoms and/or drug cravings.

In most cases, these drugs are used to treat users who have stop taking opioids such as heroin or OxyContin and Vicodin, which are prescription opioids.

Both medications are used to eradicate opiates’ influence on the brain by allowing users to quit opioids, whether they are prescribed or drugs bought on the street, without experiencing painful withdrawals.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an opioid addiction, yet fear quitting due to the consequences of withdrawals, you might have not only heard of these medications, but also might wonder what differentiates them even as they are used to treat the same symptoms.

Keep reading for insight into what exactly Suboxone and Subutex is, how and why they work, and why one might be better for you than the other.



Subutex and Suboxone share the same active ingredient, which is a substance called buprenorphine.

Buprenorphine acts as an “opioid partial agonist,” which means it is a partial opioid. The medical community have long known that partial opioid treatment has had much success with full opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers.

The buprenorphine found in Subutex and Suboxone interacts with the same brain receptors that are affected by opioids. However, as partial agonists, Subutex and Suboxone don’t instill the same type of feel-good high that comes with stronger opioid-based drugs.

This allows addiction patients who take Suboxone or Subutex under proper professional supervision to recover without the cravings that normally occur if a person were to quit opioid abuse cold turkey, which, incidentally, is not recommended for powerful opioids.

In short, buprenorphine fools the brain. The high causes the brain receptors believe an opioid has been introduced into their system, which makes coming off opioids much easier by eliminating many of the usual withdrawal symptoms.



For people who are not addicted to opioids, the opioid receptors in their brains are activated by neural endorphin chemicals. These chemicals occur naturally through activities like eating tasty food, exercising and yes, even sex.

Opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers tend to supercharge these opioid receptors. The result is an acute euphoria because with the introduction of opioids into one’s system, the opioid receptors are saturated.

That euphoria, however, is short lived. The user quickly needs more of the drug to replicate that joyful feeling as the brain develops more receptors. Thus the addict requires higher dosages of opioids.

Opioid addiction causes opioid receptor activation. Conversely, the user who stops taking opioids will have opioid receptors that will not sufficiently activate. The result are withdrawals in which an ex-user will experience increased sensations of pain, dysphoria and other symptoms. These are the opposite feelings of an opioid high, and the result is you feel sick from withdrawals.

The buprenorphine in Suboxone or Subutex fill and activate opioid receptors in the brain. Once you activate these receptors sufficiently, you stop feeling opiate withdrawal even though you are actively weening yourself from the drug.



Those who specialize in opioid-based dependencies, describe buprenorphine as a “sticky” chemical. Sticking means buprenorphine bumps other drugs out of opioid receptors and takes their place.

In time as one detoxes from opioid addiction, the buprenorphine bumps out all traces of heroin and fill in for the feel-good chemical. Eventually buprenorphine makes it so heroin no longer has any effect on the brain.



As a partial agonist, buprenorphine only has a limited ability to activate opioid receptors. Yes, buprenorphine fills up the receptors to the point that an ex-user will no longer feel sick, but it will not go as far as to cause euphoria within the user.

Buprenorphine is also quite safe, as even in high doses, the drug is unlikely to slow breathing to a dangerous level as is the case with non-partial opioids. To that end, it is much harder to overdose on buprenorphine than on normal “full agonist” opiates, such as heroin or methadone.

A quick buprenorphine summary:

  • Opiate addiction leads to an increased number of opioid receptors in the brain.
  • Normal levels of brain chemicals are not able to fully activate this increased number of opiate receptors.
  • When opioid receptors are left vacant (inactivated) a person will feel symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
  • An opiate-addicted person needs to take opiate drugs continuously to avoid feeling sick.
  • Buprenorphine activates these opioid receptors in the brain and will keep an opioid addicted person from feeling withdrawal.
  • Buprenorphine is stickier than other opiate drugs – even if a person tried to use heroin at the same time as buprenorphine, the heroin would have no effect.
  • Buprenorphine is a partial opiate agonist. It will not create much of a high and it is less dangerous than full agonist drugs.



There is one clear advantage Suboxone has that is missing from Subutex, and that is called naloxone.

Naloxone, in some ways, is a fail-safe device meant to keep a user from abusing the medication. If a user mixes heroin and naloxone in their bodies, a very strong and immediate opioid withdrawal will occur.

And while naloxone and buprenorphine act in similar ways by kicking out heroin from the brain receptors and in return, filling those receptors, naloxone will not activate the brain receptors as does buprenorphine.

The result is a painful withdrawal, yes. However, this also gives the user freedom to go home to recover as opposed to having to stay as an inpatient in a treatment facility.

A user going through cravings can abuse buprenorphine if left to their own devices and need for a painless withdrawal. But because naloxone offers nothing for the pain, it is impossible to abuse the drugs. Taking more of it than prescribed simply wastes the drug.



It’s difficult to debate the safety of Subutex over Suboxone or vice versa. Much or why one is prescribed over the other has to do with the nature of one’s addiction, how much of a chemical they have been using and how long.

Consult your doctor or rehabilitation counselor to find out which drug, Subutex or Suboxone, best suits your or your loved one’s addiction.

If you feel you or a loved one has an issue with opioid abuse, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.