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.

21 Responses

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    October 13, 2017 at 9:31 AM

    If suboxone is used to medically treat addiction and is administered and taken as prescribed I think it is a great way to help one recover. Addiction is a disease and like any disease medication is needed for treatment. As far as AA and NA saying you aren’t clean if you are taking this, I feel this is wrong, if you had diabeties and were taking meds for that what is the difference. I think one should take the suboxone until the brain is restored to pre-addiction status. If it works then it should be used as long as necessary

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    October 12, 2017 at 8:52 AM

    I would agree with Pat A. that each persons recovery may be a little different and not “rubber stamped”. I believe that Recovery is defined as restoration on ones life from a bio psycho social standpoint. If an individual is in Medication Assisted Treatment and making the effort to improve ones life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, then they are “In Recovery”. As a Board Certified Addiction Medicine physician I must admit my own view has changed over the years. Initially, 10 years ago my answer would have been that “No they couldn’t be completely in emotional recovery”. Today I feel differently after seeing the devastation in so many addicts lives. I have seen many persons start Buprenorphine and get back into and finish school, get great jobs, restore broken family relationships, and become engaged in some sort of recovery community support system and get their zeal for life restored completely. Ive seen these same clients forced off their medication by a court system or child welfare agency and relapse and die. The treatment of choice now for Opioid Dependency is Medication Assisted Treatment. It is not someones lay opinion from a self help group that they must be abstinent or they are not in recovery. Abstinence is one option that works for some but not others. The best option for treatment is the one arrived at by any given patient and their physician and based on each patients goals and past treatments. Today I believe people can get into emotional recovery as they begin to look at and face issues from their past and come towards resolution of troubled areas. A persons “clean time” starts the day they stop all illicit, illegal, non prescribed substances and start their new life under the direction and suggestion of their treating physician. All the best!

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    Rose Young

    October 12, 2017 at 6:23 AM

    My son is currently incarcerated. He told me when he is released they are giving him a script for 3 months supply of suboxen. My son has extensive back injuries and suffers so much pain he said suboxen helps his pain and his addiction! That’s a no brainer to me!!! Shame on the government and drug companies for not making it more accessible to the addicts. Need a special doc which is expensive besides. Considering this epidemic, I’m scratching my head on this one

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    October 12, 2017 at 2:58 AM

    I would like to respond to part of your answer:
    “MAT is controversial because some treatment programs and support groups define “success” as total abstinence…”

    First of all, “groups” and “programs” simply offer an outline, or modality, of what being “clean” looks like.

    As Pat A said, every person’s recovery is based on what works for that individual.

    When we go to AA or NA, for instance, THEY may not think that someone is “clean” if they are on suboxone, but THEY are using principles which were created long before the buprenorphine was available.

    We go to 12 step groups, not to please THEY, who have their own recovery to worry about. We go for our OWN recovery. And if that includes suboxone then that’s GREAT!

    We go to the meetings, talk about things which help us stay clean and help us put our lives back in order. We are NOT going there to be judged by anyone elses standard of what is or isn’t being “clean”. In fact, it’s no one’s business but our own if we are taking MAT!

    Of course if you are using heroin for fun and going to NA, there is a blatant conflict, making attendence pointless.
    But suboxone (buprenorphine & naloxone) is a pill which blocks the brain’s ability to get high. It also blocks withdrawal sickness from quitting heroin or opioids.
    So if relapse were to occur while taking suboxone, there would be no “high”.

    And the pill itself provides no high. When I first started buprenorphine I did try to abuse it, like a proper addict. I took a week supply all at once and felt NOTHING. Taking more does nothing to help the user get high in any way.
    And it’s very difficult to overdose on. In fact I’ve never even heard of anyone dying from suboxone/subutex. No one.

    There are urban legends about people getting high from suboxone but they are untrue. Suboxone, not only DOESN’T get you high but also blocks your ability to get high if you relapse. Does THAT sound, in any way, like being anything less than clean?

    The only contraversy comes from people who do not understand this drug. What appears to be “abuse” is really nothing more than someone addicted to opioids who wants to make it through the day without getting dope sick, so they buy suboxone on the black market.

    The DEA has made it far more difficult to get suboxone than oxycodone! How much sense does that make? So yea, there is “abuse” but it is not for kicks. It is to stave off withdrawals. In fact, if the government didn’t make it so difficult to obtain buprenorphine (suboxone/subutex) we would see a sharp decrease in the “opioid epidemic”.

    I have been using buprenorphine for 15 years and still take it to this day. It eliminates cravings for heroin AND blocks opioids from working, which greatly reduce the chance of relapse. I’ve been clean for a long time, why still take it?
    My Dr says to. I’m doing things the way I’m told. For a change. Even after years of being clean, for a junkie like me to relapse would not be the kind of thing that’s unheard of!

    There are no long term negative affects from the pill. It ends drug seeking behavior. And in spite of more urban legends that its trading one drug for another and gets the user “hooked” I can tell you, first hand, that there are days in which I actually forget to take it. That’s how “hooked” i am.

    When i was injecting heroin it was the first thing i did when i get up in the morning. It was my reason for getting up in the morning. I’m in no rush to take a pill that doesn’t get me high AND blocks my chance of getting high!

    Does that sound “contraversal” in any way?
    I think not! Good luck!

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    Susan Lawson

    October 11, 2017 at 8:35 PM

    I get concerned about using suboxin or other substances as I have seen first hand the abuse of these drugs too. However, I understand the need for them in those who are in late stage of addiction. I understand if they do work a program and use suboxin to help with the brain chemistry that has been re wired from drug abuse – they may have a better chance fighting those cravings. My concern is how long should one be on suboxin? One addiction specialist said to taper off at 6 months until totally off. I also understand it takes from 18 months to 2 years for brain to heal. So – I just do not want to see addicts on this forever as it too has side effects and addictive.

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