Methadone Withdrawal and Detox
Methadone is a prescription medication used to treat heroin addiction and chronic pain.
Read on to learn more about methadone addiction, detox and withdrawal, and how to get help if you or someone you love has developed an addiction to methadone.
How Is Methadone Used?
Methadone was developed as a detoxification and maintenance treatment for opioid addiction. Since the 1990s, however, methadone has been prescribed more frequently to treat chronic non-cancer-related pain. Methadone can be ingested as a pill, liquid, or powder. Sometimes, methadone can be injected intravenously.
The recommended length of methadone maintenance therapy is at least one year, although some patients have been on methadone maintenance therapy for much longer. There is no time limit on methadone prescriptions used to treat chronic pain, because this type of pain can continue throughout the patient’s life.
Is Methadone Addicting?
Yes. Since methadone binds to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin or narcotic painkillers, it can be addictive or habit-forming like other opioids. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists methadone as a Schedule II drug, meaning the medication has a medical use, but also a high potential for abuse.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), methadone intoxication can impair:
- Distance perception.
- Time perception.
This indicates methadone can induce a “high” when a person uses the drug, even if the impairment is not directly felt by the individual.
People who receive prescriptions for methadone as a painkiller are, unfortunately, more likely to accidentally overdose on this drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 5,000 people die every year from overdoses involving methadone. Only 2% of painkiller prescriptions are for methadone, yet it accounts for about one-third of overdose deaths.
Overdose rates are six times the overdose rate of the 1990s, largely due to methadone being prescribed for chronic pain management. Because methadone is a generic drug, it is less expensive than other brand-name painkillers, which has led doctors to increasingly prescribe methadone to cut treatment costs.
Despite the risks, 33 states still list Methadone as a preferred drug, and Medicaid covers the costs of it drug for pain management.
Withdrawal From Methadone
While not life-threatening, withdrawal from methadone can cause uncomfortable and painful symptoms. Supervised medical detox is the recommended standard of care for withdrawal from methadone.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms are similar to withdrawal symptoms of other opioids. They may include:
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Appetite changes.
- Mood swings.
Methadone releases more slowly into the body than other opioid drugs, and symptoms may appear up to 36 hours after last use with fully developed withdrawal 72–96 hours after last use. The total duration of withdrawal can last 14 days or longer. The most severe symptoms occur in the first week of withdrawal, but symptoms can continue for weeks or even months after the last dose.
The intensity of these symptoms can increase the risk of relapse and subsequent overdose.
Detox Treatment for Methadone Addiction
Treatment for methadone addiction typically begins with medical detox, which ensures patient safety and comfort during the process.
Detox may involve tapering a methadone dosage over a period of weeks or months, under the supervision of a medical professional. This can help manage and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
In some instances, doctors may switch patients to a different replacement medication, such as buprenorphine. Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, was approved by the FDA for opioid addiction treatment in 2002.
Doctors can dispense this medication to their patients through pharmacies, rather than specific clinics. Buprenorphine binds to the same receptors as opiates, so it can ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings without inducing euphoria.
While it can be a helpful first step, detox alone is typically not enough to support a person’s long-term recovery from drug addiction. To maintain recovery over time, you’ll need to address the underlying thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that led to substance use. An evidence-based rehab program can help learn these skills.
At Recovery First Treatment Center in Hollywood, Florida, we offer multiple types of rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. These include: