What is Methadone?
Table of Contents
- What is Methadone?
- Understanding Methadone Treatment For Opioid Addictions
- The Duality of Methadone
- Why Is Methadone Still Being Used?
- Understanding Methadone Addiction
- Methadone in Combination With Other Drugs
- Side Effects of Methadone Abuse
- Can You Overdose on Methadone?
- Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
- The Steps In Methadone Addiction Treatment
- Medical Detox for Methadone Addiction
- Recovering at a Methadone Treatment Center
- Finding a Methadone Rehab Facility Near You
Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain. In addition to this, it has also become increasingly used to treat individuals struggling with opioid addiction; in particular, those who are addicted to heroin.
Methadone acts on the same receptors in the brain as other opioids, which can help to stabilize recovering individuals and minimize opiate withdrawal symptoms. Currently, methadone is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
This means that, while this medication has a recognized medical usage, it also poses a high risk for addiction. Because of this, methadone is more strictly regulated than other prescription painkillers that pose a lower risk for abuse.
Understanding Methadone Treatment For Opioid Addictions
When considering methadone rehabilitation, one must first grasp just how dangerous of a drug it is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least one in three opiate-related deaths involve methadone. Because of its usefulness, however, society has proven reluctant to give up the use of methadone in various addiction treatment practices.
When this substance was first produced, it was intended to help individuals that are addicted to opiates. Its usefulness in treating those struggling with an opioid use disorder was first discovered in the 1950s. From there, research progressed, focusing on its use as a maintenance medication.
This term means that it was used to help maintain someone coming off of opioid use. Despite the US Bureau of Narcotics’ strong opposition to this research and testing, this substance grew in popularity during the 1960s.
This was followed by a brief decline, before picking back up again in the 80s, as methadone administration reduced deaths caused by AIDS as well as lowered opiate-related crime rates. Today, methadone is an effective tool in helping people overcome heroin and other opioids. However, this drug also carries its own shadow of addiction and dependence.
The Duality of Methadone
Methadone is used to shut down a recovering person’s urges for drug use. However, as it is a heavily controlled substance, its distribution is extremely limited. The clinics that need to use methadone only get doses of the compound based on their specific requirements.
When prescribed this drug, a person will not be allowed to remove it from these methadone treatment centers. Rather, it will be administered to them within the clinic by a trained professional. Furthermore, despite being created to treat opioid abuse, one can also form a physical dependence on methadone.
The drug attacks the same sites that opioids bind to, lowering the craving that dependency generates. However, someone who is using methadone for recovery may also become dependent or addicted to it. This fact is doubly true for someone who already has a track record of opioid dependency.
Unlike morphine and heroin, the drugs it treats, methadone does not usually create the same euphoric effects. It is a synthetic drug designed to do the complete opposite. It is formulated to block that euphoric feeling from other opiates.
If someone is on methadone and tries to get high on heroin, they will not be able to do so. Unfortunately, methadone has sedative side effects, and it is these effects that can lead to euphoria in higher doses, leading to the development of this drug addiction.
Why Is Methadone Still Being Used?
Most non-specialists look at methadone in puzzlement. How can a drug with such a massive potential for addiction still be used as a treatment? There is a distinct difference between methadone and other opiates, which it replaces. Methadone actually offers several benefits to users as compared to other opiates, including:
- The source of the methadone is known, whereas heroin may come from an unknown source that may be impure.
- Because methadone is administered in a clinic under medical supervision while heroin is usually self-administered, it tends to be safer with less chance of an overdose.
- Methadone is typically taken orally, while heroin needs to be injected. Even where methadone is administered intravenously, the needles used are always clean and disposed of afterward. Heroin needles are not usually sterile, and their use may lead to HIV or other infections.
- Methadone is administered strictly through a clinic. Heroin is bought and sold on the streets. Individuals usually find themselves involved in criminal enterprise when addicted to heroin.
With this usefulness, methadone has found itself on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. However, despite its treatment benefits, it can still be misused. Any case in which someone uses more methadone than they are prescribed is considered drug abuse.
Understanding Methadone Addiction
Many medical professionals do not like discussing methadone addiction. Many of them see it as a “necessary evil,” as methadone does indeed prevent overdoses from heroin and other opiates. However, the possible formation of dependence on this drug does not do a recovering person any favors.
Dependence and addiction are distinctly different. When someone is dependent on a substance, their body chemistry changes to use that substance. This can then lead to addiction, a condition that makes someone seek out an abused substance, regardless of the adverse effects this may have on their life.
Unfortunately, methadone addiction can be challenging to pin down and keep track of. Since the person is getting their drugs administered by a medical professional, it might be tempting to overlook their misuse. Yet, this is highly problematic, as methadone abuse can cause severe problems in the person’s life.
Methadone in Combination With Other Drugs
While most people use methadone to help them overcome opiate addiction, some use it along with other drugs. Methadone depresses the central nervous system, allowing it to remove the pain associated with withdrawal from other drugs. However, when the substance is used in conjunction with alcohol or benzodiazepines, the results can be disastrous.
Individuals may leave their opiate addiction behind and sink into depression and alcoholism. In extreme cases, mixing alcohol with methadone may result in dangerously low blood pressure and a respiratory system collapse. Ideally, if someone is on methadone, they should never use this drug with another substance. Even herbal remedies should be avoided.
Side Effects of Methadone Abuse
In addition to methadone’s euphoric and sedative side effects, there are several unpleasant side effects that may occur from this form of substance abuse, as well. The most common of these are decreased reaction times, reduced ability to focus, and drowsiness. Many individuals also report other uncomfortable and impairing side effects from their methadone abuse, including:
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
- Low body temperature
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased sensory sensitivity
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired cognition
- Impaired balance and coordination
While these may not necessarily be life-threatening on their own, they can cause potentially fatal harm to the user and those around them. For example, the damage that may occur should someone try to engage in potentially dangerous activities, such as driving or operating other heavy machinery while under the impairing influence of methadone.
Can You Overdose on Methadone?
Methadone is a long-acting drug, meaning that it can quickly build up in a user’s body. Because of this, taking even a little bit over a prescribed dosage of methadone can result in a potentially fatal overdose. When not being carefully monitored in a professional treatment environment, methadone use can be extremely dangerous.
In many cases, methadone addiction and abuse will have very serious consequences. Methadone can have a half-life that ranges from 8 to 59 hours; its pain-killing properties, however, will only last up to eight. While this can help treat opioid addiction by easing withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, it will be significantly less helpful in other cases.
When treating conditions or diseases that cause chronic pain, for example, methadone will remain in the body longer than its pain-killing effects will last. Thus, if someone tries to take more of this drug to prolong this relief, they will be at an increased risk of overdose.
Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Overdose
Someone who is abusing methadone will be very likely to eventually overdose on this drug, as it is incredibly strong compared to other opioids. This can be a very dangerous situation, often requiring immediate medical attention to be properly addressed.
Because of the severe nature of methadone overdose, knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this dangerous side effect can be life-saving. Common symptoms associated with this form of drug overdose include:
- Constricted pupils
- Blue-tinted nails, lips and fingertips
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory depression
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
When attempting to beat a methadone (or any other opioid) addiction, many people develop unpleasant side effects from reducing or stopping their use of this drug. In other words, they experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be life-threatening if not properly managed. The effects of methadone withdrawal can be severe and last for a significant amount of time.
Typically, when someone’s body becomes dependent on methadone, stopping its use suddenly can put the body into shock. Since this drug affects the same parts of the brain as opiates such as heroin and morphine, methadone withdrawal symptoms will be similar to those caused by these substances, and may include:
- Heart Palpitations
- Vomiting or Nausea
- Muscle Aches and Pains
Because of the intensity of the methadone withdrawal period, those attempting to beat this addiction will require professional treatment. This can not only help them stay committed to their recovery process, but will be able to provide essential care in the event of a medical emergency.
The Steps In Methadone Addiction Treatment
When it comes to methadone addiction treatment, everyone will have a different experience. This is because addiction is a highly personal disease, affecting each person differently depending on a variety of biological, medical, and environmental factors. Generally, however, this process will typically start with a medically supervised detox treatment program.
This will then likely be followed by a recovering person’s participation in inpatient or outpatient rehab programs. Furthermore, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), effective addiction treatment will incorporate mental health services in order to address both a person’s substance abuse and the underlying causes of this behavior.
This is known as dual diagnosis treatment, which is most commonly used to treat those struggling with a simultaneous substance use disorder and mental health condition, or co-occurring disorders.
Getting professional medical advice from your healthcare provider or an addiction specialist, such as a Find Addiction Rehabs representative, can help you narrow down which treatment options will best serve your unique care needs.
Medical Detox for Methadone Addiction
The first step in the methadone treatment process is medical detox. Because of the body’s dependence on the drug, attempting to quit “cold turkey” can lead to severe symptoms. The intensity of these withdrawal symptoms can vary based on several factors, including the severity of an individual’s methadone addiction, as well as their overall health.
When participating in a medical detox program, a recovering individual will be gradually tapered off of methadone while under constant clinical supervision. This can help to manage and even prevent many of their withdrawal symptoms. Their treatment provider may also incorporate the medication-assisted treatment to help with the pain and the cravings of withdrawal.
Detox treatment may take a while, but it is a necessary step in kicking the habit. After methadone detox, a person has the option of participating in inpatient or outpatient treatment, as well as additional medication-assisted treatment services.
Recovering at a Methadone Treatment Center
Methadone may be treated either through inpatient or outpatient means. Both of these approaches have their own benefits and drawbacks for recovery. The choice of inpatient or outpatient levels of care should be based on the level of a person’s substance dependence and any specific recovery needs they may have.
Inpatient Methadone Rehab
Individuals who choose to recover at inpatient methadone rehab centers will be able to receive constant support and assistance during their treatment process. This is because they will be required to live at their specific treatment center, helping to keep them on track with their recovery and avoid falling back into old habits.
While inpatient care may be more expensive than other treatment options, they are often the best choice for those with more severe addictions. Inpatient rehab offers a more intensive way to treat addiction, whether this is to methadone or other substances. Additionally, staying at an inpatient treatment center completely removes any external stimulus that might trigger a relapse.
When choosing to receive treatment through an inpatient rehab program, this may include the incorporation of various other treatment services. This may involve integrated mental health services, which can help recovering individuals come to terms with their condition and its causes.
Outpatient Methadone Treatment Programs
Compared to more intensive inpatient methadone treatment centers, outpatient rehab offers a more flexible way to treat opioid addiction. This may include intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) or partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), which can serve as a sort of in-between option for outpatient and inpatient rehab programs.
Individuals who participate in outpatient treatment programs can receive addiction treatment services, while still being able to manage their regular lives and jobs. With this level of care, a person will be able to have access to both substance abuse and mental health services. Outpatient therapy may include participating in several forms of addiction services, such as:
- Sober Support Services
- Recovery Support Groups
- Individual, Family, and Group Therapy Sessions
Many people will choose to seek out an outpatient addiction treatment provider, as this will cause far less disruption to their daily lives. These will also be more affordable, and therefore more accessible to many people. However, this level of care will also require more willpower and independence than inpatient rehab may call for.
This is because there will be a higher likelihood of encountering people, places, and things that may tempt recovering individuals back into their previous lifestyle. While this risk of relapse can be managed with the right resources, tools, and support systems, it may be more difficult for many people to beat their addictions without constant access to these services.
Dual Diagnosis Methadone Treatment Centers
If someone is struggling with both a substance use disorder and a mental illness, they will likely need to seek out more extensive forms of addiction treatment. This will primarily involve their participation in a dual diagnosis treatment program.
This level of care will help individuals overcome not just their substance abuse, but the underlying mental disorders that may be causing or contributing to these issues. A dual diagnosis treatment program may offer several forms of comprehensive therapy, including:
- Individual therapy sessions
- Group therapy sessions
- Family therapy sessions
- Behavioral therapy services
- Maintenance therapy services
Amongst various levels of addiction treatment, behavioral therapy services are often an integral part of the recovery approach. One of the most popular forms, of which, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can help recovering individuals better understand the thought and behavioral patterns that contribute to their addictive habits.
Finding a Methadone Rehab Facility Near You
Recovering from an addiction to methadone or any other opioids requires making a choice to change. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and are ready to start seeking addiction treatment, know that you are not alone, and help is available.
The recovery representatives at Find Addiction Rehabs can help you find a methadone rehab center and addiction treatment provider that can serve all of your personal care needs. The best time to think about leaving substance behind is now. So call our 24/7 hotline and let us help you get started on your road to recovery, where you can finally achieve long-term sobriety, today!
Charles F. has been an active part of the Florida recovery community for over 5 years. He began as a behavioral health technician at an addiction treatment facility in Ocala, Florida and has since begun training as a Licensed Addiction and Chemical Dependency counselor in Boca Raton. Charles’ passion involves the promotion of recovery and helping spread the hope of recovery to as many readers as possible!