Although methadone is known to aid in the treatment of other opioid addictions such as heroin or prescription pain relievers, the studies and statistics of methadone use are quite alarming. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methadone accounts for nearly one in four prescription opioid-related deaths.
Methadone is an opioid used to treat chronic pain, and it also serves as a maintenance program to abstain from other, more dangerous drugs. Methadone addiction is common among individuals who have been using the substance for a long time.
The steps leading up to addiction include building drug tolerance and dependence, which happen relatively quickly because of the chemical properties and the effects methadone has on the body and brain. If you or someone you know is struggling with methadone addiction, we are here to help.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a synthetic opioid that affects the central nervous system by attaching to the mu-opioid receptors in the brain. The drug resembles the actions of morphine and derivatives of morphine. It is classified as a narcotic with the potential for abuse, which ultimately leads to methadone addiction if used improperly. Methadone addiction will not occur immediately. However, if you are using the drug to combat the symptoms of other opioids, such as heroin, you are more than likely predisposed to addiction, heightening your chances of developing dependence and addiction to methadone.
Methadone is typically prescribed by a doctor or administered in facilities called methadone maintenance clinics or programs. The frequency and amount of your dosage depend on individual components such as:
- The severity of your disease
- The number of opioids you were initially taking
- How much methadone you are taking
- If you are pregnant
- If you are physically dependent on methadone
- How long you have been using methadone or other opioids
- If you are addicted or abusing other substances
Doses are based on individual tolerance and body chemistry. Typically, you might start with a lower dose, such as 20 mg (milligrams) a day, slowly building up to a higher dose to increase effectiveness. Doses can range anywhere from 20 mg to 80 mg or higher, depending on the specifics of your addiction, a medical professional’s suggestions, and the ideal outcome of using methadone to combat opioid addiction.
Methadone is specifically designed to treat opioid dependency and prevent you from using more dangerous drugs like heroin. It is long-lasting, which is one of its most effective properties. One dose of methadone can last throughout the entire day—the longer an individual is using methadone, the more it builds up in the system. Although effective in certain cases, it does not negate the risk of consequences that arise from opioid abuse. Negative long-term and short-term effects can arise, and they can be dangerous and intolerable to those afflicted.
Methadone’s potential for abuse can result from the various forms it comes in such as wafer, liquid, or pill.
Sometimes, methadone is taken from the home and can be self-administered in which an individual who plans to get high on the drug can take more than the required amount. Also, the half-life of methadone is relatively long; it is eight to 55 hours. This means it builds up in the body, which heightens the likeliness of experiencing an overdose.
The methadone addiction withdrawal process and the misuse of methadone, in general, can pose serious threats to your overall well-being—both psychologically and physically.
What are the Effects of Methadone?
Methadone addiction is accompanied by a series of side effects and negative symptoms.
Unfortunately, there are risks associated with prolonged methadone use, which is most common due to the duration of methadone maintenance programs. Although methadone is designed to help people overcome addiction to other opioids, the consequences associated with methadone addiction and long-term use can potentially outweigh the consequences of the substances you were initially using.
Methadone and the Body
Tolerance leads to dependence, and dependence will lead an individual to experience methadone withdrawal symptoms once they stop using methadone, lower the dosage, or miss a dose. Since the effects of methadone in the body are intense, an individual might experience unpleasant physical symptoms. The half-life of methadone is longer than most opioids so the symptoms might not begin to appear until the third or fourth day after the last dose.
Unfortunately, methadone withdrawal is a component of addiction and is ultimately unavoidable if you are experiencing the hardships of methadone addiction.
Methadone Addiction will Affect the Body in Several Physical Ways Such As:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Increased pain in muscles, bones, and joints
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to concentrate
How Methadone Affects the Brain
Methadone addiction also affects the brain adversely. First, it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain and activates them. What this means is that an individual who takes a higher dose of methadone can experience euphoric side effects and feel high, especially if they are using other drugs in conjunction with methadone. The effects of methadone resemble other opioids such as morphine or heroin, causing an influx of pleasure, drowsiness, and overall contentment.
Methadone affects the neurotransmitters in the brain ultimately altering the communication between nerve cells. This affects the way the brain controls basic functions such as:
- Motor skills
- Thought processing
Also, if an individual is predispositioned to addiction, which is common among methadone users, the chances of methadone affecting the brain more severely is greater.
The brain’s structure is entirely altered due to the change in communication patterns between nerve cells. The constant influx of pleasure will trick the brain into believing it doesn’t need to produce the chemicals found in the reward system of the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. The more extensive your methadone addiction is, the longer it will take your brain to completely restore itself and begin producing these chemicals once again.
Methadone Use in Pregnant Women and Newborns
Women who are pregnant can safely take methadone; however, the risk of your child developing an addiction to methadone and experiencing withdrawal symptoms after birth is high. Infant methadone withdrawal can begin immediately after birth, and in some cases, it can begin two-to-four weeks after birth.
Sometimes, taking methadone while pregnant is more beneficial than if the mother were to eliminate its use. This is due to the more severe risks associated with experiencing methadone withdrawal while carrying a child.
The mother can experience a miscarriage or premature birth if she has been using methadone for an extended time.
Risk of Methadone Overdose
Methadone addiction can lead to overdose due to its properties and the potency of the substance when taken in large amounts. It is essentially poisonous to an individual who accidentally or intentionally takes more than the recommended amount. The risk for overdose correlates to the consumption of other substances while also taking methadone. The most common term for this is polydrug use.
Drugs that can enhance the symptoms of a methadone overdose consist of other opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines, or alcohol. Overdose symptoms caused by methadone addiction consist of:
- Constricted pupils
- Slow or shallow breathing
- Respiratory failure
- Cold skin
- Weak Pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Stomach or intestine spasms
- Blue skin tone and lips
Overdosing on methadone requires immediate medical attention as it can lead to permanent consequences such as death or succumbing to a vegetative state.
What are Methadone Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms?
Methadone addiction treatment will first begin with recognizing the stages of withdrawal, and withdrawal will occur when you have been taking methadone for an extended time. You must develop a tolerance and dependence to methadone before you experience the unpleasant symptoms of methadone withdrawal.
Methadone withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable without the support from a medical detox or medications aiding in the relief of certain symptoms.
Methadone also remains in the body for a long period. The buildup of methadone can affect the entire structure of the body and brain, which can result in the withdrawal symptoms of methadone to be more severe than the drugs previously used.
Also, methadone can sometimes prolong the symptoms of other opioids you were addicted to before starting a methadone maintenance program.
If you are taking other substances with methadone, your chances of experiencing more severe or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms increases depending on the specific drugs and the amount you are taking.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms are similar to other opioids, but methadone affects the body more intensely—resulting in a wide range of symptoms with the potential to be far worse than any other opioid. The symptoms of methadone withdrawal consist of:
- Appetite loss
- Mood swings
- Emotional instability
- Excessive yawning
- Watery eyes
- A runny nose
- Cold sweats
- Muscle pain and aches
- Restless leg syndrome
- Increase agitation
The physical withdrawal symptoms of methadone addiction can last anywhere up to two weeks.
The time it takes methadone to completely remove itself from the body is rather long and depending on your tolerance, it could take two to three times longer than opioids such as heroin or morphine. The physical aspect of methadone withdrawal is not deadly or fatal. However, your emotional instability can make you feel like you are.
Psychological withdrawal also arises from methadone addiction. These symptoms include:
- Drug cravings
- Obsessing over the substance
- Inability to cope
- Unable to mentally perform normally
The psychological effects of methadone coincide with Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) and can last anywhere up to six months after the last dose.
At first, the symptoms will feel tolerable. However, they will worsen and increasingly cause physical and mental discomfort.
The risk of returning to methadone use is high during the withdrawal process, which is why it is imperative to ensure your safety and comfortability in a licensed medical facility.
Methadone Addiction Treatment Timeline
The methadone addiction treatment timeline will be structured similarly to other addictions and co-occurring disorders minus the exception of certain individual’s needs and issues. Typically, the timeline of methadone addiction treatment will begin when you ask for help. Having an addiction to methadone or other substances can be hard to admit and more difficult for family and friends to distinguish. However, there are many family support groups that can help them to overcome any issues they may have faced during active addiction and recovery.
The signs and symptoms of methadone are severe and life-changing, which is a good indicator that you or someone you know should not be taking the substance against medical advice, recreationally, or in large doses. Methadone treatment becomes increasingly easy after time passes. However, in the beginning stages, it can be difficult, emotional, and cause physical discomfort, which might seem impossible to overcome.
With the help of addiction professionals, the withdrawal process and the overall recovery process is much easier to handle.
First, you will need to admit you need methadone addiction treatment and be willing to receive help. At this point, it is possible that you have nowhere to turn or are sick and tired of experiencing the consequences and negative side effects of methadone use.
Attending detoxification programs will be the beginning stage of your treatment process. In a medical detox facility, you will be provided with a safe environment to remove the substances from your system. It is imperative to attend a detox due to the number of negative consequences that may result from the shock your body and brain endures after long-term drug abuse—especially if you are using other drugs or suffer from mental illness.
Most detox programs are designed to taper you with medications that ease withdrawal symptoms and aid in the progression of the withdrawal process.
It is obvious that each individual will metabolize the drugs in their system differently so there is no set duration of how long withdrawal symptoms will last. However, the length of a detox program for methadone addiction can be anywhere from five to 14 days.
Even after the physical symptoms subside, the psychological aspect of withdrawal and addiction can linger for months after the last dose.
After completing a detox program, such as Arete Recovery, you will be transitioned into a residential program. This type of program will solidify you in your recovery journey. You will learn how to cope with the obstacles of addiction such as:
- How to cope with lingering withdrawal symptoms
- Individual therapy sessions that target the root of addiction
- Group therapy sessions to learn how to share certain issues you are dealing with
- Addiction education
- Relapse prevention and overall treatment plans
- Introduction to long-term programs that help maintain sobriety
Residential programs provide 24-hour care in the case of emergencies and the need for support in the most vulnerable times of early recovery.
It is important to be surrounded by professionals, support, and people who understand addiction because of the unstable emotions and irrational thought processes people in recovery often experience in the first few months of sobriety.
Also, residential programs will help you find a long-term or outpatient program that can help you build your foundation in early recovery. Residential programs can last anywhere from 30 days to 90 days, and they focus on the issues that may have caused you to use or continue using and the solutions. Each individual will have a different experience while attending these facilities, as every individual’s recovery process is different.
Building a foundation is important for sustaining recovery to ensure you have the support and tools you need to overcome any obstacle you may face throughout sobriety.
Outpatient programs are less intense and extensive as a residential or detox program. Nonetheless, the topics discussed in outpatient programs will be based on the issues you may have faced during active addiction if similar situations arise in recovery.
Also, the length of outpatient programs can be anywhere from four to 12 weeks, but the duration of the groups and the number of days per week group sessions will be significantly lower than other programs. Typically, you might spend three hours of your day for three days a week in an outpatient or intensive outpatient program.
You also will be accountable for passing drug screens and making sure you are living in a safe and sober environment. Also, these programs are designed to transition you from living in active methadone addiction to maintaining daily responsibilities as a functioning member of society.
After completing the entire methadone addiction treatment timeline, 12-step support groups and individual therapy can help you maintain your sobriety. Keeping up with specific actions is vital to maintaining recovery and are effective in the success rates of recovering from methadone addiction.
Recovery from Methadone Addiction
Recovering from any addiction is difficult but possible. The success rates of recovering from methadone addiction vary depending on the individual and the steps the person is taking to maintain sobriety. Although methadone use in place of other opioids is beneficial in some cases, in others, it leads to side effects correlating with methadone addiction.
The steps to successfully get off methadone are challenging and can take a long time, but ultimately, the benefits are worth it.
Also, when you take drugs for a long time, the chemical structure in your brain changes. Sometimes these changes are permanent. It is important to recognize the changes and if they correlate to co-occurring disorders or the development of mental illness. Proper diagnosis of a mental disorder can help you become more stable in your recovery and possibly prevent you from self-medicating, which will lead you to the initial obstacle and the symptoms of methadone addiction and withdrawal all over again.
The recovery process is long and difficult, but following suggestions and completing programs that are known to be effective in treating addiction can help you fully recover from methadone addiction.
Through relapse does happen to many people in recovery, it does not mean you should give up. It is important to realize that this is a lifelong process and, as human beings, we are not perfect. Mistakes happen but what matters most is when they do, you utilize your support network and the tools you’ve learned in early recovery to begin again.