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

My son is taking suboxone for an opioid addiction. Is he in recovery?

A mom recently called me with a question about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and recovery:

“After almost losing my son to a heroin overdose — not once but twice — and then watching him go in and out of rehabs 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 is 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-assisted treatment, 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 all drugs and alcohol. While this may be a realistic approach and a goal for some, many people, especially those who have struggled with heroin and other opioids, need medication 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’s no longer misusing 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.

Download the Medication-Assisted Treatment eBook

This eBook will help you learn more about medication-assisted treatment – what it is, how it’s used, where to find it and how you can best support your child through treatment.


Has your son or daughter used medication-assisted treatment? Have you encountered people who don’t believe he or she is in recovery? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

22 Responses

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    October 11, 2017 at 7:01 PM

    As a provider, I feel this is a great medication to assist with treatment and be used to help with withdrawal symptoms . However, longterm use in the form of maintenance appears to me as a crutch preventing a change in mind set and creating a dependency on an angency or provider. Our goal as providers should be teach and help patients not use this medication or any other medication as the only tool for recovery.

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    Sheri Rettew

    October 11, 2017 at 5:14 PM

    I absolutely believe her son is on the road to recovery. However, for me (who runs a comprehensive outpatient opioid addiction clinic), my question would be how is the suboxone being used? It is a matter of transitioning from an illegal drug to a legally-prescribed one? Or, is it being used to taper down to start a Vivitrol course? I think the bigger question is the MAT in this case treating addiction or attempting to cure addiction as part of a larger, more comprehensive program.

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    John Byrom

    October 11, 2017 at 3:59 PM

    I would agree That her son is in recovery if he is not drinking alcohol or other drugs including marijuana. There must be change to stay in recovery, somehow grow as an individual not just stop using opiates. It’s not going to work if there isn’t change.

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    October 11, 2017 at 3:53 PM

    note please as well the level of abuse of “subs”……..
    the rooms are filled with people who need it but are abusing that as well too!
    as many addicts have/do……
    in NA, one can be “in” the rooms of recovery, but many say: don’t start counting clean time til one is clean from any mood or mind altering medications……

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      October 11, 2017 at 4:07 PM

      if it aids in recovery than it should be used.
      N A members don’t not have the right to decide someone’s medication in relation to recovery.
      I take a med for anxiety, and i don’t feel That I i am not recovering.
      I feel a prescribed medication monitored by a Dr can aid the recovery process.

      Each needs to find what works and enables their recovery.
      The present recovery has failed way to many addicts!

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    October 11, 2017 at 3:20 PM

    It’s a shame there is such stigma with MAT. I fear my son would not be here today withtout it and certainly wouldn’t be working, receiving therapy, and re-engaging with his family in a positive way. I wish MAT had been mentioned as an option in the multiple rehabs in which my son was a patient. They demonized MAT as part of their education programs for parents.

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