Is My Son Really in Recovery if He’s Taking Suboxone?

    A mom recently called me with the following question:

    “After almost losing my son to a heroin overdose — not once but twice — and then watching him go in and out of rehab many times, he finally seems like he’s getting back on track now that he’s getting help with Suboxone. Although I am relieved, I am also confused because some people tell me he’s not really in recovery if he’s taking Suboxone.”

    Here's what I told her:

    It’s wonderful that your son has been able to get his life back on track, as it can take many exposures to treatment, medications, lifestyle changes and family support to manage an opioid use disorder. As for recovery, it looks different for every person. Some people, like your son, use medications as part of their recovery program while others don’t.

    Suboxone (a brand name for Buprenorphine) and other forms of medication for addiction treatment (MAT), like methadone and Vivitrol (a brand name for Naltrexone), are overwhelmingly supported by medical and behavioral health groups. These include the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the National Council of Behavioral Health and the U.S. Surgeon General as well as many treatment centers and support groups.

    A person who takes these medications as directed under the care of a physician is like a patient who takes medication to treat any other disease, like diabetes or heart disease. When used in conjunction with comprehensive therapy and support groups or other forms of treatment, MAT increases the rate of success.

    It can be confusing that while MAT can help your child’s recovery, it’s still controversial. MAT is controversial because some treatment programs and support groups define “success” as total abstinence from these medications as well as from all drugs and alcohol. While this may be a realistic approach and a goal for some, for others, especially those who have struggled with heroin and other opioids, medication is needed as part of a comprehensive recovery plan. It’s the same with diabetes. Some people can manage their disease using diet and exercise while others need medication to stay healthy.

    Bottom line:

    Look at the big picture of your child’s life. You know your kid. You know when he’s doing okay and when he’s not. There are many opinions out there and part of self-care is taking others’ opinions with a grain of salt. So, how is your kid doing these days now that he is not actively using substances?

    • Is he contributing to society in some way by attending school, volunteering or working?
    • How are his current lifestyle and habits in general? Is he taking better care of himself?
    • Is he attending support group meetings or getting some form of ongoing support or counseling?

    If he is no longer using the substance that was getting him into chronic trouble and threatening his health — and his life — then perhaps you will decide that Suboxone is helping him function more normally again.
    At the end of the day, “recovery” is a subjective term. It means something different for each and every person. Find people who are supportive of MAT. Talk with them regularly and support one another. In the meantime, treat the opinions of others lightly and rely on your own instincts when it comes to your child.

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