Depression is a common mental health problem in the United States that affects millions of people each year. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, persistent depressive disorder (PPD), which is just one form of depression, affects about 3.3 million Americans. 

Depression is a complicated problem, but it’s typically treatable with therapy or medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, some depression cases are resistant to typical treatment methods. To better treat depression, researchers are looking to some unlikely sources, including one surprising medication. Suboxone is a pharmacological option in opioid addiction treatment. 

Is this unorthodox source of depression relief a viable one, or is it not worth the risk? Learn more about this drug and how it might be able to help people with depressive disorders.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a blend of two drugs. One is an opioid that partially activates opioid receptors called buprenorphine. The other is naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose antidote. The drug is carefully designed to treat opioid dependence and addiction. 

The buprenorphine supplies a small dose of opioids to the person using the mediation. This helps to curb cravings and allows an opioid-dependent person to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. At the same time, the low dose isn’t enough to cause intoxication. 

The naloxone is inactive when the drug is taken by mouth as directed. Its chemical structure makes it hard for it to reach your bloodstream by that means of administration. 

However, if the Suboxone is injected into the veins in an attempt to reach a more potent high, the naloxone will get into the bloodstream and kick opioids off of their receptors, sending the person into withdrawal. That makes the drug difficult and unpleasant to abuse. 

Suboxone has shown to be an effective treatment option for opioid addiction. Studies have shown that it can improve treatment retention, reduce opioid use, and lower other issues associated with active opioid addiction. 

Alongside Suboxone therapy, patients can attend individual, group, and family therapy sessions with clinicians that specialize in addiction. The combination of medication and traditional addiction therapy options is called medication-assisted therapy (MAT). MAT is helpful for people who had gone through addiction treatment before and relapsed because Suboxone can provide extra support in resisting the compulsion to use. 

But how does this medicine help treat depression?

Why Suboxone Might Work for Depression?

People who take Suboxone for opioid addiction have noticed that it has the additional effect of easing depression symptoms. 

According to Richard Gracer, MD, in a newsletter put out by the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT), some patients say they had never felt better since they started using buprenorphine. To understand why, it helps to learn what opioids and buprenorphine do in the brain. 

Opioids bind to your body’s own opioid receptors and activate them. Several different kinds of opioid receptors are in the body. Illicit and prescription opioid typically bind to and activate mu opioid receptors. Buprenorphine also binds to this receptor and partially activates it. 

However, opioids also block a different opioid receptor called kappa. Kappa opioid receptors are blocked for a short time by opiates like morphine and heroin. When you are withdrawing from opioids, the kappa receptor might become overactive, which may be linked to depression. 

In the NAABT newsletter, Dr. Gracer said, “I believe that kappa activation may be an important cause of depression in many persons with substance abuse problems as well as in the general population, even without the extra stimulation of opiate withdrawal.”

Gracer also theorizes that patients that have depression and start taking opioids for other reasons notice their depression disappear, sometimes for the first time in their lives. This could also lead to a higher risk of opioid dependence. 

Studies show that opioid dependence and mental health problems have high rates of comorbidity. Buprenorphine also blocks kappa opioid receptors, but it does so much more efficiently and for a longer period. The idea is to use buprenorphine to intentionally block kappa receptors in both opioid addicted patients and people who suffer from dependence.

The Potential Benefits of Suboxone for Depression

Suboxone is a unique treatment option that may be effective in people that have tried other approaches. It’s also a treatment that might be ideal for people with dual diagnosis issues that involve both opioid-addiction and depression. As a partial opioid agonist, the drug may also have some mood-lifting benefits in addition to its kappa opioid receptor blocking capabilities.

The Risks of Suboxone for Depression


The biggest drawback to using Suboxone to treat depression is dependence, especially in people who are not already opioid-dependent. For people going through MAT, buprenorphine is a great option. 

They are already dependent on opioids that are more dangerous, difficult to manage and cause intoxicating symptoms. By comparison, Suboxone is an excellent choice. But patients who are seeking treatment for depression only may have to become opioid dependent to achieve depression relief from Suboxone. 

Still, Suboxone may be an excellent treatment option for dual diagnosis patients that have both opioid use disorders and depression. 

Suboxone can also cause side effects like constipation, nausea, and withdrawal symptoms when you miss a dose. People that aren’t opioid-tolerant may also experience some symptoms of typical opioid use like euphoria and sedation that opioid-dependent patients wouldn’t experience.

Seeking Help for Substance Use Issues

Depression and addiction are two closely related disorders, partly because untreated depression can lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol. However, treating yourself with psychoactive substances without speaking to a doctor is dangerous and can make things worse. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, speak to an addiction treatment specialist to hear more about how addiction treatment can help you. Call California Highlands Vistas today to learn more about the therapy options that may be able to lead you to lasting recovery. Call at any time to take your first steps toward recovery.

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