Methadone is a prescription opioid that is typically used by doctors to treat severe pain for long-term, round-the-clock pain relief. It has also been used to help people recover from addiction to heroin and other opioid drugs since 1964. This is referred to as Methadone Maintenance Therapy.
Methadone is generally safe when prescribed by a doctor and used within the confines of a medically-assisted treatment program, but the drug itself can also be very addictive. Many patients who take methadone are required to do so at a medical facility under the supervision of a doctor, although some may be permitted to take it at home.
Methadone works by modifying the way the body responds to pain, reducing the painful symptoms of heroin and opioid withdrawal while also blocking the pleasurable effects of those drugs. It is typically prescribed and consumed in a pill, wafer, or liquid form.
It is often sold under the brand names Dolophine and Methadose and should be taken exactly as prescribed. Since methadone doses are adjusted and tailored to the individual patient, taking someone else’s methadone can be extremely dangerous and may lead to overdose.
Additionally, the active ingredients in methadone stay in the body for long periods of time, even after the effects of the drug have worn off. Therefore, it’s very important to avoid using other medications or taking other drugs that may negatively interact with the methadone.
- Chocolate chip cookies (methadone or heroin combined with MDMA)
In 2013, there were 3.9 million total prescriptions written for methadone and according to findings from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 18.7 million people (or 6.9 percent of the population) reported abusing prescription drugs like methadone in the past year.
Despite the physical and psychological dangers of abusing prescription drugs like methadone, many people find themselves physically dependent and addicted to their medication.
Methadone is typically prescribed on a long-term basis but it should always be used under the close supervision of a doctor. The misuse of this drug can begin as an intentional or unintentional act and may include:
- Taking someone else’s methadone prescription
- Taking an extra dose of methadone
- Taking methadone with other drugs or alcohol
Although certain risk factors do come into play, anyone can become addicted to methadone. Historically, methadone abuse occurs predominantly among Caucasian individuals, affecting males and females of various age groups. It is also a concern among high school students in the U.S.
Common physical signs of methadone abuse may include:
- Constricted pupils
- Increased pain
- Slowed breathing
Long-term methadone abuse will affect each person differently, but those who abuse it regularly are at much higher risk of developing respiratory problems, bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and sexual dysfunctions.
Anyone can become addicted to methadone, but those who are undergoing Methadone Maintenance Therapy may be at higher risk for developing an addiction. Some warning signs that a person may be addicted to methadone include:
- Getting multiple prescriptions for methadone from several doctors (“doctor shopping”)
- Getting methadone from other sources like friends, co-workers, or drug dealers
- Taking methadone with other opioid drugs, benzodiazepines, or alcohol
- Taking more than the recommended amount of methadone (if the patient is permitted to take the drug on their own at home)
- Skipping doses and saving them for one massive dose later
If a person is addicted to methadone and wants to quit, he or she should not just suddenly stop using it. This could result in painful or dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Methadone detox should involve a slow, medically-assisted tapering process that will gradually wean the patient off of the drug.
During methadone withdrawal, a person may experience some of the following physical symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
An individualized medically-assisted drug detox program will treat these uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms and provide a safe, tapered withdrawal process for individuals detoxing from methadone.
Medically-assisted detox also reduces the risk of relapse by providing a safe and comfortable place for the patient to get sober under the supervision of nurses, doctors, and therapists. Medical treatment for methadone detox will address the physical and psychological aspects of withdrawal to provide the safest experience possible.
Methadone withdrawal will not be exactly the same for everyone, but this is a general timeline outlining the symptoms someone may experience.
24-30 hours after the last dose: Cold or flu symptoms may appear, including chills, goosebumps, runny nose, sweating, aches and pains, and insomnia.
1-3 days after the last dose: Withdrawal symptoms are typically the most intense and may include anxiety, agitation, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
4-5 days after the last dose: Most of the intense withdrawal symptoms should have dissipated at this point. Anxiety and cravings may persist for up to two weeks but individuals who develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome may experience mild symptoms for several months following detox.
Following the completion of methadone detox, a person may choose to enroll in a rehab program to continue to address their methadone addiction. In rehab, clients participate in individual and group behavioral therapy, 12-step groups, and learn life skills and coping strategies that will help them stay sober.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term addiction treatment of 90 days or longer will provide the best opportunity for sustained sobriety. Many drug rehab programs only last 30 or 60 days, which may not be enough time for a person to internalize the attitude and behavioral changes required for a lasting emotional and spiritual transformation.
Clients enrolled in drug and alcohol rehab for methadone addiction can expect to experience the following things:
- Educational lectures on the disease of addiction
- 12-step program work
- Relapse prevention
- Life skills development
- Time away from triggers and drug-abusing friends to practice be sober
The added addition of peer support in long-term rehab is also highly beneficial, as social engagement, accountability, and peer support are all very important aspects of addiction recovery.
Inpatient Drug Rehab vs. Outpatient Drug Rehab
There are two main types of drug rehab programs: inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab. Each type has its own benefits and requirements. The best type of drug rehab for your own methadone addiction recovery will depend on your individual needs.
Inpatient drug rehab programs require clients to live on-site at the rehab center for the entire duration of their treatment program. During this time, clients room with other people in recovery who are also working their way through a treatment program. Clients must adhere to structured schedules which typically include individual therapy, 12-step group meetings, process groups, mealtime, gym time, and personal quiet time.
Clients enrolled in outpatient rehab programs are required to attend several group sessions each week. These sessions are facilitated by licensed addiction counselors and held at a safe, clinical location. Clients participate in 12-step work, process groups, and educational lectures throughout the course of their treatment program. Outpatient rehab may be ideal for those who cannot commit to living at a rehab center for 90 days or who do not require the structure that inpatient treatment provides.
The overall cost of inpatient or outpatient drug and alcohol rehab will vary, but clients may have a variety of payment options, including utilization of medical insurance or Employee Assistance Programs, private loans, or out-of-pocket payments.
Overcoming drug addiction of any kind is a lifelong process, requiring years of continued treatment. After completing a drug rehab program, some clients may choose to continue their treatment by enrolling in a sober living or aftercare program.
Sober Living Programs
Sober living programs are designed to help clients transition from a highly structured rehab program to living an independent sober lifestyle on their own. Transitional living homes provide safe, comfortable, and sober group living environments for men and women in addiction recovery. Often times, enrollment in a sober living program also provides access to additional recovery support services, such as:
- Drug and alcohol testing
- Education/employment assistance
- Structured daily schedules
- Personal monitoring programs
- Tiered recovery programs
- Personal guidance from a peer recovery specialist
Costs for transitional living programs will vary based on the type of housing (house or apartment), the location of the sober living home, and any additional outpatient treatment, such as IOP.
An individual who is recovering from addiction may also choose to enroll in an aftercare program, which will provide continued support in recovery. Aftercare is tailored for alumni who have already completed a drug and alcohol rehab program and want a place where they can check-in on a regular basis and engage with other individuals in recovery.
Aftercare programs are comprised of a weekly meeting held at a safe, clinical location. Each session serves as a safe, welcoming, and sober place where clients can be open and honest about their struggles, relapses, or successes in sobriety. Aftercare groups also give clients the opportunity to share learning experiences and receive feedback and/or advice from other people in recovery.
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