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Recovery is hard work. From detox to inner searching and sobriety to long-term recovery; you must want to change for recovery to become a way of life. Often those who are newly sober are confused by recovery terms like sober, clean, and in recovery. This confusion can lead to behaviors that are self-destructive, such as substituting one drug for another. With all the differences in opinions on what “clean” means, it can lead you to ask, “Are you clean if you take Suboxone?”

The answer is not as cut and dried as many believe. To understand what being clean means, we will look at all three recovery terms; sober, clean, and in recovery. Understanding these terms will make it easy for you to know if using Suboxone fits the definition of being clean.

What is Sobriety?

Sobriety in recovery terms means you are not taking the substance of choice that alters your mood. Being sober means that you are not using your drug of choice, but being sober does not mean you have stopped using all mood-altering substances. In recovery groups, your sober date is the last day you took a drink or used drugs.

Often people who have detoxed from one substance (drugs or alcohol) will use another substance to ease the discomfort of sobriety. This is seen in poor eating habits, smoking, and excessive caffeine use. Some people smoke cannabis to ease the discomfort of detox. When you substitute one substance for another, you are sober from the first problem substance, but you are not clean.

What Does It Mean to be Clean?

While sobriety means abstaining from the problem substance, it does not mean you are clean. Being clean means you are not using any mind-altering substances. Your clean date in recovery groups is the last day you took any drugs or alcohol.

By this definition, most of America is not clean. Caffeine is America’s most popular drug, with 90 percent of the population partaking daily. When used properly caffeine is a gentle stimulant to increase focus. When abused, caffeine causes headaches, dehydration, and other uncomfortable symptoms. This drug is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and many heath foods and energy drinks. It is easy to become over-caffeinated and suffer withdrawal symptoms.

So, Are You Clean If You Take Suboxone?

In the strictest sense of the definition, no. You are not clean if you are taking Suboxone to detox or step down from another drug. Suboxone is a drug that acts much like other opiates. While you are taking Suboxone, you are still high. But this drug helps you taper off other opiates altogether when used correctly.

But this does not mean you are not sober. When taking Suboxone under a physician to step down from other drugs, you are sober from the first substance of abuse. That’s great news and a wonderful first step. But it will take time before you are clean.

It is important to note, long-term Suboxone use is still substance abuse. Your brain is still addicted to drugs when using a step-down treatment. The drug should only be used to taper off other opiates quickly and safely.

While true, some people at high risk for relapse may be kept at a maintenance dose by their doctor. Only a doctor educated in recovery medicine should make that decision as using a maintenance drug leaves you vulnerable to withdrawal symptoms and relapse.

Best practice is to get into a recovery program and follow your doctor’s instructions to step down and eventually stop using Suboxone too. Once you are completely off all drugs and alcohol, you can record your clean date and continue to focus on long-term recovery.

What Does It Mean to be in Recovery?

Recovery is a term used for people who are sober and in treatment to prevent relapse. Treatment can be attending recovery groups, individual therapy, alternative therapies, along with nutrition and fitness therapy.

A person can be in recovery for 20 years; attending meetings, helping others get sober through sponsorship, and abstaining from illicit drugs and alcohol but not be clean. If you are using prescription drugs, caffeine, nicotine, or medical marijuana you are not clean.

While true, don’t be discouraged. Recovery groups understand your doctor may prescribe medications from time-to-time. If you are following your doctor’s orders and not abusing the prescription, you are fine. And, most recovery groups serve coffee at their meetings.

The point is, not everyone can keep a clean lifestyle due to medical conditions or a wish to drink coffee. Don’t let this discourage you from maintaining sobriety from illicit substance abuse.

Using the Terms Sober, Clean, and In Recovery Interchangeably

Some recovery groups will use these terms interchangeably even though they have different meanings. When visiting a new group, best practice is to ask the organizer their definition. This will avoid any discomfort and help you communicate clearly with the group during meetings.

Also, remember when you attend a recovery group you are meeting with others who are also sober, but may not be in recovery yet. If someone speaks against you for not being clean, try to be kind but don’t engage in an argument. You are in the meeting to gain recovery, not to be judged or to judge the actions of others.

How to Get Clean, Sober, and In Recovery

If you asked, “Are you clean if you take Suboxone?”, then you may consider tapering off the drug. Call Northlake Recovery at (561)-770-6616 and speak with an addiction specialist today. We offer detox, inpatient, outpatient, and intensive outpatient treatment to help you start your journey of recovery.

We can schedule treatment around your vacation to help you stay anonymous should your current Suboxone use threaten your employment. Our goal is to help you regain a healthy, clean and sober lifestyle. All calls are confidential. Call Northlake Recovery today at (561)-770-6616.


  • PL says:

    There is so much right with this breakdown. Saying you’re not clean if you take prescribed medication or drink coffee is absolutely ludicrous. Literally nobody in the recovery community subscribes to this notion or this definition of “CLEAN” in regards to being off drugs/alcohol. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Patricia says:

    I have never heard these type of definitions before. According to the recovery books I’ve read, I’m clean as long as I’m not obsessively compulsively abusing mind altering substances. If I’m taking medication under my Dr supervision, following his instruction, I’m still clean. In the end it’s all about what you believe after educating yourself on this spiritual disease. I think the better question is how is your relationship with God during supervised disbursement of these drugs? God never lies, he will always tell me by how close we are.

    If I were dying from cirrhosis of the liver with 30 yrs clean and my Dr prescribed pain meds to elevate a painful death within a hospital setting, did I lose my clean and sober milestone date? You tell me……

    • Admin says:

      If you have a disease that requires you to take drugs for whatever reason, then this does not concern you. If you take suboxone for more than a few months for any other purpose than to get clean, you are not sober, that is the only point here. If your doctor continues to prescribe you suboxone without slowly weening you off on a proper schedule within a few months, you are not sober, and your doctor is not looking out for your best interest. Unless this is a medical situation (which none really exist that you would need suboxone for an extended amount of time for treatment other than extreme cases of addiction) than unfortunately you are mis-interpreting your recovery books definitions of sobriety. “If I were dying from cirrhosis of the liver with 30 yrs clean and my Dr prescribed pain meds to elevate a painful death within a hospital setting, did I lose my clean and sober milestone date? You tell me…… ” – I wouldn’t want to “tell you” anything other than “you should do what you think is best”. If you were dying from cancer in pain, the last thing anyone would want to know is if you deserve your sober chip! Stay properly educated, and congrats on your relationship with God.

  • M. says:

    Is the first comment agreeing or disagreeing? Hard to tell. Interesting breakdown. What I am wondering is, after abstaining from morphine for 114 days, a prescription I was on for for 3 years for pain, does starting suboxone now make any sense? Will it have any effect on P. A. W. S.? I’ve been googling for hours but can’t seem to find an answer.

    • Admin says:

      If your doctor prescribes you suboxone to ween you off of morphine, then it would make sense if he recommends it for your situation. The prescription should be no more than 90 days and the doses should slowly be minimized until you are only taking a small amount, and then none at all. If you are prescribed it for a longer period of time, than your doctor should have a very good excuse based on your medical condition. Asking the right questions, and understanding that suboxone is a temporary situation is your best defense. If you use suboxone for an extended amount of time, the withdrawals have been known to be far worse than that of morphine or heroin. The detox process is lengthier and more uncomfortable in some situations. If this is a recommended long term solution, than you may need to seek out another doctors advise. I hope this helps.

      • David Sakse says:

        At first I thought that you guys really don’t know what you’re talking about because I thought you are saying that you have to take suboxone to wean off of an opiate. But then I read the entire article and realized I am just being an idiot. You guys really know what you are doing. Thanks for sharing the truth and not just defaulting to Suboxone treatment like every other scam company out there.

  • Patricia says:

    I know a person who has been on suboxine for 3 1/2 years and this said person says she is clean and I disagree because I know for a fact she is on some kind of benzos and the person says doctors are prescribing both at the same time! What is your thoughts on this situation? Is this situation normal? Is this person clean?

    • Daniel says:

      It’s hard to say without knowing more about your friend but overall we feel that Suboxone should only really be used to help people beat their addiction and if they are using it long term it’s really only replacing one with the other. Feel free to reach out to us and we can put you in contact with one of our specialist to help determine what is best for your friend and their situation.

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