Methadone is believed to have a less potent effect than commonly abused opioids like oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco). It was a preferred drug on Medicaid prescription lists in most states until a few years ago, when doctors began to realize its addictive properties and its connection to increased overdose deaths.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies methadone as a Schedule II substance with a high potential for abuse. Misusing methadone can quickly lead someone to develop a physical dependence that is accompanied by intense withdrawal symptoms.
Dependence and addiction often go hand-in-hand, especially with highly addictive opioid drugs. Individuals suffering from methadone addiction must undergo detox to rid their body of the toxic substance before beginning an addiction treatment program.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone, often branded as Dolophine or Methadose, is a synthetic opioid drug that can be used as a pain reliever. Like other opioids, methadone changes the way the brain reacts to pain, rather than reducing the pain itself. Over time, the brain can become dependent on the drug to regulate pain or produce a calming sensation, and a person may experience discomfort without methadone.
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Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction commonly uses methadone to help people overcome addiction to stronger opioids, like heroin and prescription painkillers. Methadone targets opioid receptors in the brain, stopping withdrawal symptoms while producing only a mild sense of euphoria.
Methadone In Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been found to be effective in reducing deaths associated with opioid use as well as helping people stay in treatment longer. Many people drop out of treatment because opioid withdrawal is severe and long-lasting, which leads them to resume taking opioid drugs for relief.
The ability of methadone to alleviate withdrawal symptoms without producing an intense high makes it useful in MAT. With methadone maintenance, many people are able to live productive lives that they could not attain while addicted to more potent opioids.
Unfortunately, not everyone is successful in MAT with methadone. Some people become dependent on methadone, just as they were on heroin or prescription opioids. Their brain structure changes and they develop an addiction to methadone, craving it and taking it in excess despite the destruction it causes to their health and life.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
An individual can build a tolerance to methadone even if they use it as recommended by a medical professional. This means that the body needs more methadone to produce the same effect. Tolerance often causes people to take more of a drug than they should.
Taking too much methadone can lead a person to become physically dependent on it, meaning that their body needs methadone to function normally. When they stop taking the drug, they experience withdrawal symptoms, which may begin up to 30 hours after the last dose.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms may include:
- increased tear production
- a runny nose
- aching muscles
- abdominal cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- dilated pupils
Some of these symptoms could be dangerous if left untreated. Sweating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea lead to dehydration, which weakens the body. Heightened blood pressure, increased breathing pace or rapid heart rate may also occur during methadone withdrawal.
How Long Does Methadone Withdrawal Last?
Methadone stays in a person’s system for eight to 59 hours. This time frame is wide because the time it takes methadone to break down and be expelled from the body depends on a variety of factors.
The rate of methadone metabolism can be influenced by:
- Height and weight: a high proportion of methadone to a person’s body mass index (BMI) causes the drug to be metabolized more slowly
- Age: younger people generally have faster metabolisms and can break down drugs faster
- Overall health: a healthier body is more efficient and has a quicker metabolism rate
- Genetics: some individuals metabolize drugs more quickly for unknown reasons
- The severity of dependence: high, frequent doses over a long time period cause methadone to build up and therefore take longer to metabolize
While methadone may only stay in the body for 59 hours, detoxing from methadone can take longer than this. It is very difficult for people to abruptly stop taking methadone because of the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Tapering is often used for methadone detox, which lengthens the process but makes it safer and more tolerable.
Methadone Detox Programs
Because the methadone withdrawal process can be very unpleasant and is often accompanied by strong cravings for the drug, many people fail to undergo detoxification alone. They end up taking methadone to relieve withdrawal symptoms, fueling their dependence and addiction.
Medically supervised detox programs, like the one offered at Vertava Health Texas, ensure that individuals make it safely through the withdrawal process. These programs take place in an inpatient setting, where individuals are closely monitored. Medical professionals keep track of vital functions and may administer medicine to ease withdrawal symptoms.
If tapering is necessary for methadone detox, the dosage will slowly be decreased, rather than abruptly stopped. This can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and help the body adjust more gradually to functioning without methadone.
If a person is taking methadone as part of an opioid addiction treatment program, a different drug may be used to continue medication-assisted treatment (MAT). A combination of buprenorphine and naloxone (Suboxone) is also effective in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms. The naloxone blocks the opioid effects of buprenorphine, giving it less potential for abuse.
Medical detox programs may also provide nutritional support to improve a person’s overall health as they clear their body of toxins. Some programs offer counseling to prepare the individual for a life without drugs or alcohol. Detoxification is usually the first step in addiction treatment and is most effective when followed by an inpatient treatment program.
Treatment For Methadone Addiction
At Vertava Health Texas, we offer a unique blend of therapies that deal with the many aspects of addiction. Our treatment plans are molded to individual needs to give each person the best chance at preventing relapse.
Behavioral therapy is one of our foundational treatment methods. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals change negative thought patterns that lead to unhealthy behavior so they can regain control over their lives. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) focuses on acceptance and finding the strength to change through mindfulness and coping techniques.
Motivational interviewing, equine therapy, mindfulness practices, and family support may also be integrated into a methadone addiction treatment plan. Our long-term programs allow individuals to recover at their own pace and take the time to make a lasting change.
To learn more about detox and treatment for methadone addiction, speak with one of our specialists today.