The impact of drugs on digestion + how you can stay healthy on Suboxone®

It’s important to note how Suboxone may affect your stomach so you can address and manage symptoms with your care team. Learn more about Suboxone here.

Ophelia team
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Anything you consume, from food and drinks to medicine and drugs, has to go through your digestive system. Some things pass easily and without issue, but others? Not so much.

The digestive system consists of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. Long-term substance use can take a major toll on these organs, potentially causing serious damage. If you’re starting medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD), you’ll probably be taking Suboxone® to reduce dependence (important safety information). It’s important to note how Suboxone may affect your stomach so you can address and manage symptoms with your care team.

How do drugs affect the digestive system?

The purpose of the digestive system is to break down nutrients that the body can absorb and discard the rest. When harmful substances come into the picture, they can wreak havoc on a normally healthy and efficient process.

Substance use affects any avenue it passes through. When drugs are taken orally, they start at the mouth and can damage every organ along the way, disrupting digestion. Injected substances harm the liver and kidney when blood passes through to be filtered. Long-term opioid use causes so many gastrointestinal (GI) problems that they’re all covered under one term: opioid-induced bowel dysfunction (OIBD). Symptoms include diarrhea, slowed digestion, constipation, abdominal pain, acid reflux, and incomplete bowel movements.

Different types of drugs have varying effects on the body. Many drugs induce nausea and vomiting, which can rapidly deplete your fluids and electrolytes. Excessive vomiting and nausea also make it hard to eat and keep food down. Those who use opioids tend to crave sugar and alcohol over protein and fats, which can cause even more stomach irritation. In short, substance use disorder puts individuals at a high risk of nutrient deficiency. 

Are there side effects to taking Suboxone?

Beginning your treatment with Suboxone will put you on the path to better health and well-being, but it won’t be an easy ride. One of the main ingredients, buprenorphine, is an opiate itself. Don’t worry—the other main ingredient, naloxone, makes Suboxone effective for reducing cravings and managing withdrawal symptoms.

Like any drug, there may be side effects. Suboxone-related stomach pain is a common complaint, as the drug causes many of the same GI problems as opioid use. You might also experience constipation, stomach cramps, and discomfort when you don’t get the nutrients you need.

If you’ve done some research on the side effects of opioid treatment, you might be wondering: Can Suboxone cause stomach ulcers? While one clinical study using FDA data found a connection, the majority of people who are receiving treatment will not  develop stomach ulcers. Of the 23,970 patients who reported side effects from Suboxone, only 67 individuals—just 0.28%—developed stomach ulcers.

You won’t necessarily experience digestive issues or ulcers while taking Suboxone. In fact, coming off the drug is more likely to cause serious symptoms. Suboxone withdrawal can lead to many problems with the digestive system, including vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and severe diarrhea. These symptoms may last for up to a month, depending on your dosage.

What are some tips for eating on Suboxone?

Eating might be one of the last things on your mind when you’re nauseous, but good nutrition can actually help you feel better by supporting physical, emotional, and mental functioning. Opioid use often leaves patients malnourished and lacking essential nutrients. On Suboxone, a healthy diet will help your body recover and improve the success of treatment. These tips will get you on the right track.

Resist the temptation to fill up on sugary treats

Instead, diversify your diet with low-carb, nutrient-rich foods. Snack on high-protein cheese, yogurt, or boiled eggs, or opt for high-fiber nuts and whole grains and high-water fruits, vegetables. These leave you feeling fuller and reduce your urge to eat throughout the day.

Follow a set schedule for meals and snacks to avoid binge eating

Slow down when you eat and stick to a predictable schedule. Your stomach sends signals to the brain when you’re full, but engaging in activities like reading or watching TV can distract you from that feeling. Eating mindfully helps you stay attuned to your body. Take small bites, chew slowly, concentrate on your five senses, and take breaks between bites. Each meal should last about 30 minutes.

Focus on foods that are full of essential nutrients

Aim for lean proteins like grilled chicken and turkey, as well as seafood, which is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, or “healthy fats,” can help with the absorption of certain nutrients. Fill your plates with a colorful variety of fruits and veggies to ensure you’re getting a good mix of vitamins and minerals.

Laxatives and fiber supplements can also help with bowel movements if you are dealing with constipation.

Text Ophelia


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