Methadone is part of a category of drugs called opioids. German doctors created it during World War II. When it came to the United States, doctors used it to treat people with extreme pain. Today, you might also get it as part of a treatment program for an addiction to heroin or narcotic painkillers.
Even though it's safer than some other narcotics, your doctor should keep a close watch while you take methadone. Taking it can lead to addiction or abuse. Methadone changes the way your brain and nervous system respond to pain so that you feel relief. Its effects are slower than those of other strong painkillers like morphine. Your doctor may prescribe methadone if you're in a lot of pain from an injury, surgery, or long-term illness.
It also blocks the high from drugs like codeine, heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. It can give a similar feeling and keeps you from having withdrawal symptoms and cravings. You may hear this called replacement therapy. It's usually just one part of your treatment plan. It isn't a cure for addiction and shouldn't be viewed as such.
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While methadone is used as a way to curb addiction and reduce cravings, it is a heavily-regulated drug. Methadone is a federally designated Schedule II drug, meaning it has a legitimate legal use but also a high likelihood of its users developing a dependence.
This also means that it is illegal to use methadone to get high, and abuse can lead to severe mental impairment and physical dependence. Other Schedule II drugs include hydrocodone and morphine.
It is so regulated, that patients who are prescribed methadone in an outpatient setting have to go to a clinic every day to be administered their dose. It is a powerful opiate with potentially addictive qualities.
People who start using methadone to overcome their heroin addiction are at a higher risk of abuse because they already have a history of opioid dependency. In fact, for some addicts, methadone is their substance of choice. Any time someone uses more methadone than they are prescribed, or use it without a prescription, they are abusing the medication.
Methadone does not create the same euphoric effects as heroin or morphine because it is designed to do the opposite; the drug is formulated to block the pleasurable sensations of other opiates. If an individual who is being with Methadone attempts to get high by using heroin, the methadone will, indeed, block the euphoric effects of the heroin (and all other opioids).
However, Methadone does have sedative effects, effects which may become euphoric. The euphoric effects are limited; however, they are also great enough that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has indicated that Methadone users are "not fit to drive" due to the side-effects of Methadone.
Some of the side-effects of Methadone include sedation, euphoria, decrease in reaction time and attention span, drowsiness, droopy eyelids, dry mouth, muscle weakness, decreased body temperature and blood pressure, and little to no reaction to light. In high doses of Methadone, an actual "high" can be created. The euphoric effects are also increased based on method of administration, such as IV use.
The number of poisoning deaths involving methadone increased from 790 to 5,420 between 1999 and 2006 (assumed to be linked to the drug's increased use as a pain medication). In 2008, there were 750,000 methadone prescriptions written for pain relief. Between 2000 and 2001, the number of people treated for abuse of "other opiates" (including methadone) increased from 28,235 to 36,265. Methadone is involved in one third of opiate pain reliever-related overdose deaths.
As a powerful opioid, methadone can cause an overdose. An overdose occurs when someone takes too much of the medication, often without a prescription or beyond medical limits. An overdose is a dangerous situation which requires medical attention, so it's important to recognize the signs.
The symptoms of a methadone overdose include:
Methadone is most commonly used to curb cravings for addictions to other opiates, such as heroin. For the past 20 years or so, the drug has been increasingly prescribed as a painkiller for moderate to severe pain. Methadone is often seen as a necessary evil for addicts who need to overcome a much more dangerous addiction.
Methadone is controversial in some circles because it is an opioid, and there are academic and moral concerns over using it to treat opioid addiction. There are also concerns about how addictive methadone is and the damage that it has done to the lives of methadone abusers and their families.
However, methadone maintenance programs have consistently been found to be among the most common and effective methods for treating heroin addiction since the late 1970's. Every year, tens of thousands of recovering addicts are treated with methadone.
Addiction to methadone can be a bit of a taboo topic, as many people in the medical community see it as a necessary aid in helping heroin addicts recover. But as with any opiate, addiction is an all-too-common side effect. An addiction to methadone can come about because the drug eases an user's pain. As time goes on and tolerance builds, more of the drug is needed for the same effect.
Methadone is a central nervous system depressant, and there is a very high risk of negative complications when it is combined with other depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. Some people struggling with a methadone addiction are also alcoholics.
This is a potentially deadly combination as the two substances combine to cause dangerously low blood pressure and respiratory depression. It is never safe to use methadone together with any other substance, even some herbal remedies (particularly St. John's Wort).
Once the body becomes reliant on methadone to function normally, a dependence has developed. Those with a dependence on methadone will experience withdrawal symptoms if they quit taking the drug.
Withdrawal happens because the body has to relearn how to function without methadone in its system. While the body tries to reestablish normal functions, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms occur, which can make recovery difficult.
Because the withdrawal process can cause adverse symptoms, methadone users are advised to detox in a medical environment. Most inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer medical detox, which can help reduce the severity of methadone withdrawal symptoms.
The withdrawal process is different for everyone. The symptoms and duration of withdrawal will vary depending on the severity and length of the user's addiction. An user's body chemistry and tolerance will also affect their symptoms and how long the withdrawal process takes.
Methadone is most commonly administered orally, through pills or tablets. Some illicit uses of methadone may include crushing and swallowing the pills or administering the drug via injection. Intravenous use of methadone can lead to side effects like collapsed veins and transmission of other diseases, including HIV.
With short-term use, you may notice side effects like:
Some side effects are more serious. Call the doctor if you have:
Some people shouldn't take methadone. If you have any of the following conditions and are addicted to the drug, it is vital that you reach out to a doctor and a rehab facility ASAP, as methadone use can be fatal for you:
Drugs than can affect methadone include:
A methadone addiction can turn healthy, happy people into dependent, depressed versions of themselves. Knowing what to look for in a methadone addiction can help you or someone you love regain control of life.
A red flag may be any time someone's behavior changes dramatically, especially in correlation with starting or increasing doses of methadone. Here are some telltale signs of methadone addiction:
When a methadone user develops a tolerance to the drug (meaning they require a higher dose to get the same effects as before), they may have an addiction. This is usually the first sign, but on its own not always a surefire indicator.
A habitual methadone user has unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. Symptoms range from depression to cramps to insomnia.
When a methadone user chooses the drug over social and familial responsibilities, addiction may be present.
Overcoming an addiction that has become a part of your life can be overwhelming. Many people are deep into their addiction, unable to remember what life was like before methadone. But if you're at the point where your methadone addiction has lowered your quality of life, or if you want to recovery before that happens, it's time to overcome it. There is a compassionate treatment provider that can help you
Because methadone is a long-acting drug, its presence remains in the user's body long after the effects wear off. For this reason, many people overdose or take more than they should because they're looking for a high that isn't easy to get.
Detoxing from methadone can be as difficult as detoxing from heroin. Both are opiates with similar effects on the body, including nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps. A medically supervised detox may include buprenorphine to ease the symptoms of the withdrawal, as well as shorten the time it takes to detox.
Individuals who are prescribed methadone for MAT are typically weaned down to less than 40mg per day. Slowly, they will be tapered down until reaching 10-20mg for a few days prior to the dose gradually decreasing to reach 2mg per day. This effective tapering process assists in reducing many of the strongest withdrawal symptoms, such as drug cravings, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, body pain, anxiety, excessive sweating, and restlessness. After the individual has been on this low, 2mg, dose for a couple of days, the physician will usually add Naltrexone, in conjunction with the methadone, to further ease the individual off opioids. If the individual entering detox has been misusing methadone and is addicted due to other reasons other than MAT, the physician will continue with the weaning or tapering approach, however also prescribe Naltrexone in addition to Buprenorphine.
Weaning or tapering off opioids should only be done under the supervision of a physician as they can regulate the doses and ensure medication compliance. Physician's may also prescribe additional medications, often called "comfort medications," to assist with relieving additional withdrawal symptoms. A few examples of comfort medications include Pepto-Bismol and anti-anxiety medications such as Buspar, Clonidine, and Ibuprofen.
If you are ready to make a change and end your methadone use, seeking an evaluation from a substance abuse counselor at a treatment facility is an important step. Your specific situation will need to be assessed to understand the level, frequency and intensity of your methadone addiction and associated addictive behaviors.
Depending on your responses, a detox period, followed by inpatient treatment or one of three different styles of outpatient treatment will be recommended. Outpatient treatment is also used as a supportive level of care that is recommended to assist with transitioning from inpatient or residential treatment back into the community.
If you're struggling with a methadone addiction, you're not alone. Whether you started using methadone for pain or as a way to stop using another drug, you can come overcome addiction and get back to normal. If you or a loved one has a methadone problem, please talk to a dedicated treatment provider today and learn about the many options for rehab.
After discharge from treatment, it is common for treatment centers to recommend aftercare programming to further support your transition from treatment, back into your daily life. This can assist with building a healthy routine, life skills, relapse prevention techniques along with therapeutic support throughout the process.
Upon completion of aftercare, which is also called standard outpatient treatment, which is held once per week, it is always recommended to participate in Alumni programming (if offered by your treatment center). This helps keep you connected to your support team and further develop healthy relationships with fellow individuals in recovery who are struggling with methadone addiction for fellowship and support.