When I finally hit rock bottom, I didn’t think it would be my bottom. I had tried to get clean at least half a dozen times. I was convinced that this time would be no different. Convinced that I would fail, that I would cave to my urges and use again, I put little faith in my dad’s last attempt to save my life.
My father watched in disappointment and fear as I lay on a leather couch in a suburban neighborhood, shaking from cold sweats and vomiting through my discomfort. I’d tried in-patient stays in rehab, countless intensive outpatient programs and 12-step programs, but this was the first time he had ever knowingly seen me withdraw from heroin.
He looked at me, visibly hurt by my actions, and recognized the pain I was in. For a moment, I think, he understood why I couldn’t stop using.
I spent two days thrashing about on that leather couch, gasping for air from dry heaving, sleepless from uncontrollable fits. I begged him to let me go get heroin. The poor man almost said yes. Today, I’m incredibly glad he didn’t.
Instead of enabling me, he said he was going to help me and that we were going to fix this the best we could. He called our insurance company, garnered resources from the internet and came to me with a list of treatment centers that we hadn’t already tried. Within a few hours of searching, I had a next-day appointment at facility that offered medically assisted treatment near my home.
On my third day of withdrawal, I sat in the waiting room of that treatment office for my interview with a doctor. I had to fill out paperwork and attempt to sit still for two hours while I waited. My father rubbed my back all the while, hoping to God that this time treatment would work.
I suppose the common recovery sentiments are true. The addict has to want to get clean. The addict has to be ready to change. The addict has to work to make the changes that keep them clean.
I didn’t think of these things during my withdrawals. All I could focus on was the pain I was in and the cravings that accompanied it. My thoughts raced while my father drove me from the treatment center to my pharmacy.
I whined to him that this medicine wouldn’t help, the only relief would be dope and that I would be doomed like this forever. Soon after, relief.
Thirty minutes after I took a Suboxone strip, not only did my whining dissipate, but my symptoms of withdrawal did as well. I was no longer in pain, and my cravings lessened. The effects were practically immediate.
The medicine worked, and I could definitely feel the difference. However, my doctor had told me that Suboxone was only a portion of the treatment. The real game changer would be adhering to a recovery plan that didn’t leave me room to screw up. It was time to learn to be accountable. Without accountability, Suboxone was a temporary solution.
Think about the purpose of diabetes medication. These medications, in combination with a healthy diet and exercise, are all designed to lower and balance one’s blood sugar. Consistently balanced blood sugar means weight loss, less risk for severe symptoms of diabetes, and improved quality of life.
If the person who takes that diabetes medication commits to a healthy, balanced diet and exercises on a regular basis, they have a better chance of seeing positive results. If that person takes their medication but stops eating balanced meals and replaces exercise with binge-watching Netflix, they will not achieve the same positive results.
Suboxone works the same way. Without a plan of action, long-term success is unlikely.
Suboxone — a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone — contains opiate antagonists, which are medications designed to block the “high” effects of opioids, such as heroin and OxyContin. Suboxone negates the effects of other opioids. It can be viewed as a kind of safety net for those with a high risk of relapse.
Suboxone is not a cure-all. This is not a magic drug that will make addiction go away. A cure for addiction doesn’t exist.
Suboxone is, however, a tool for recovery. When paired with regular attendance and participation in MAT-friendly support groups, and one-on-one therapy if necessary, Suboxone makes long-term recovery much more attainable.
At the end of the day, if a person isn’t working some kind of focused recovery plan, they will most likely revert to using soon after joining an MAT program.
When I first started treatment at my facility, I resented groups. I didn’t want to forfeit a Friday afternoon to a group of strangers and a counselor who thought they were better than me. My ego got in my way because I wasn’t sure I could get better. But the groups were mandatory, so I had to keep going.
I’m glad I did because I finally found a counselor I connected with, and I connected with other people in the process.
After several weeks at the center, I began to look forward to the groups. I was making friends, and I was making progress on myself, which is something I never believed would happen. The support system I built took the lead. Taking Suboxone simply became part of my morning routine.
The medication saved my life because of the resources that came with it. I had access to counselors who cared, doctors who held me accountable and a room full of people who were going through the same thing that I was. The combination of group, individual and medical therapy is a combination that worked for me.
However, everyone recovers differently. If one method worked for all addicts, we would have been “cured” a long time ago. Even after years of evidence-based testing and proven results, there is still a stigma against medically assisted treatment in most recovery communities
If you are thinking about adhering to a Suboxone treatment plan as a means to get clean and stay clean, don’t let anyone invalidate the progress you have made. If you feel alienated by people or certain support groups because of your MAT, don’t worry about it. You can find appropriate support groups and therapies that fit your individual needs and beliefs somewhere else.
The stigma against MAT can be a bit of a downside, but that is relatively minor in comparison to the attainment of long-term recovery. The individual needs of each patient are assessed when Suboxone is prescribed, so one person’s treatment plan may be very different from another’s.
Most often, Suboxone is prescribed in a long-term taper format. Patients start on an appropriate dosage and gradually taper down by milligram to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms.
If Suboxone is taken as directed, with open communication between the patient and physician about tapering schedules, withdrawal symptoms will include only minor discomforts. Suboxone has a long half-life, so long-term tapers are important to avoid extended withdrawal symptoms.
This can be a scary thought to anyone with a fear of going through withdrawal. Supervision and support will be provided by your prescribing center. It is just another step in moving forward. Research about Suboxone and its success rates shows that it’s an effective recovery tool and that MAT saves lives.