Suboxone and Subutex Information: Opioid Drug-Receptor Interactions

Suboxone and Subutex Information: Opioid Drug-Receptor Interactions

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Antagonists, Partial Agonists, and Full Agonists

Not all opioids are the same. In fact, each opioid is classified by its effect on your brain’s endorphin receptors, and fall into three categories: antagonist, partial agonist, and full agonist.


This type of drug blocks the effect of agonists. Antagonists bind to the same endorphin receptors as agonists, but don't stimulate endorphin production. Instead, they block the receptors from being stimulated, and reduce the amount of endorphins being created. This is why when someone takes an antagonist while also taking a drug like oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, can into withdrawal. The antagonist blocks the receptors, preventing the oxycodone to stimulate the receptors to produce endorphins. Antagonists are used in emergency rooms to try to counteract the effects of opioid overdose by causing the receptors to immediately force out the opioids that are affecting the brain’s receptors. Naloxone and naltrexone are some examples of antagonists.

Partial Agonists

This type of drug binds to endorphin receptors in the brain, artificially causing them to produce endorphins. When these drugs bind to the brain’s receptors, it greatly diminishes or even completely negates any pain the person may be feeling, and can also cause feelings of euphoria and if left unchecked can have addictive effects. While taking a greater amount of a partial agonist can increase its effects, there is a cap to how much of an increase there can be. Buprenorphine, Suboxone and Subutex are some examples of partial agonists.

Full Agonists

This type of drug stimulates or produces an effect in the brain’s endorphin receptors just like partial agonists, just to a far greater degree. Just like partial agonists, taking more of this type of drug will increase its effects, but there isn’t the same cap. That lack of diminishing return is one of the most dangerous parts of full agonists, and often leads to serious addiction, and can potentially result in a fatal overdose if not kept in check. Some examples of full agonists include oxycodone, methadone, codeine, heroin, and morphine.

Comparing the Effects of Full Agonists and Partial Agonists

At Novus Detox, we like to use the elevator example when explaining how partial and full agonists work. Consider how elevators, especially ones in buildings with restricted floor access work. In order to get to the highest floors, you need to enter a special code or use the right key. Full agonists act like a master key or code, and allow users to reach the highest floors. Depending on how much of this drug you take, the higher you can go.

On the other hand, buprenorphine and other partial agonists don’t provide the same level of access, and don’t grant access to those higher floors. No matter how much of this drug you take, you will never be able to reach the top floors. This is why it may be more difficult to abuse partial agonists in the same way as full agonists, and why these types of drugs can be so useful for medical detoxes.

If you’re interested in learning more about full agonists, partial agonists, and antagonists, call Novus Medical Detox Center today. We are committed to helping those struggling with addiction break free and regain control of their lives.

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

    • Please enter your name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
    • Please enter your email address.
      This isn't a valid email address.
    • Please make a selection.
    • Please enter a message.