Since methadone therapy was introduced as a solution for opiate dependence in the 1960s, the drug has been helping people recover from the disease of drug addiction. This man-made opioid, which acts on the same brain cells that respond to heroin and other morphine-derived drugs, can reduce the severe side effects of opiate withdrawal, making it possible to get clean. With continued, medically supervised use, methadone can help you maintain your recovery for months, years or an entire lifetime. Methadone is also used to relieve moderate to severe pain in patients who suffer from serious diseases like cancer.
Like other opiate drugs, methadone can produce physical and psychological dependency. Once you’re dependent on methadone, your body relies on the drug to feel normal. Quitting suddenly will result in severe side effects and overpowering cravings. Because giving up methadone is so hard, many people who are dependent on the drug go back to using it, even after they’ve resolved to quit. Although methadone withdrawal usually isn’t fatal, going through the detox process under medical supervision will increase your chances of a safe recovery and help you create a drug-free future.
Why Is Methadone Prescribed by Doctors?
Because methadone can be taken orally in tablet or liquid form, this drug is considered to be safer than street opiates like heroin, which are taken intravenously and can expose the user to blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Supervised methadone maintenance therapy offers a number of important benefits for recovering opiate addicts, such as:
- Freedom from overwhelming cravings that drive the user back to drugs
- The ability to perform daily activities like working and childcare
- A reduced risk of communicable diseases, violence and incarceration
- Improved emotional and physical health
Like other opiates, methadone affects the way you respond to pain. When you take methadone as prescribed, the drug binds with opioid receptors in your brain, relieving sensations of discomfort and preventing the side effects of opiate withdrawal. If it’s taken at prescribed doses, methadone typically doesn’t produce the intense feelings of euphoria that users get from abusing heroin and other narcotics.
When Does Methadone Become Addictive?
Most methadone users don’t start using the drug with the expectation of becoming addicted. But if you take more than the recommended dose of methadone or use it more often than it’s prescribed, you may develop a full-blown addiction. Warning signs of methadone addiction include:
- An increased tolerance to the drug, or the need to use more methadone to get the same sense of pleasure or pain relief
- Buying or stealing methadone in order to get more of the drug
- Continuing to abuse methadone in spite of your knowledge of its dangers
- Feeling guilty, sick or remorseful about your methadone use
- Repeated failures at quitting methadone, even though you want to break free from the drug
Methadone is stronger than morphine, and your body takes longer to process this synthetic substance, according to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Over time, methadone can build up in your body’s tissues, making it hard to stop using the drug without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Professional rehabilitation centers provide a supportive environment where you can clear the drug from your system at a comfortable pace.
Can I Detox From Methadone at Home?
Detoxification is the process of cleansing your system of a substance that’s become harmful to your body. Although it’s possible to detox from methadone at home without any medical supervision, many users find that the experience is so uncomfortable that they can’t quit effectively for any length of time. After stopping methadone suddenly or even cutting back on the dose, Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health warns that you may experience the following symptoms within 24 to 72 hours:
- Muscle cramps
- Bone pain
- Upset stomach and nausea
Although these symptoms will usually start to go away within a week, the craving for opiates can continue for months. You may also continue to experience sleep disturbances, as well as psychological side effects like depression or anxiety.
Detoxing from methadone can be a slow, time-consuming process. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, methadone stays in your body’s fat cells and in the tissues of your liver for a long period of time. As your tissues release methadone into your bloodstream, you may experience the effects of methadone even after you’ve stopped taking the drug. This prolonged effect creates the possibility of a fatal overdose if you take other drugs that slow down your breathing and heart rate, like oxycodone, hydrocodone or alcohol.
What Are the Benefits of Medical Detoxification?
Medical methadone detoxification offers a lot of advantages to the user. Under the supervision of experienced clinical staff, you can be weaned off the drug slowly, minimizing your cravings and withdrawal side effects. Addiction treatment centers offer a secure, structured environment, where you can be monitored by doctors and nurses in an atmosphere that’s free from the triggers that drive you to use. As part of your methadone detox program, your treatment team may recommend the following interventions, according to the Drug Policy Alliance:
- An individualized plan to taper down your dose of methadone over a period of time that’s appropriate for your needs
- Supervised care in an inpatient (overnight) or outpatient setting
- Medication to relieve the symptoms of methadone withdrawal, such as muscle cramps, nausea and diarrhea
- Alternative anti-addiction medications, such as buprenorphine, to prevent opiate withdrawal
- Psychosocial support in the form of counseling, group meetings and 12-step programs
Methadone detox through a comprehensive rehabilitation program gives you the optimal chance at achieving a long-term recovery. As you detox from the drug, counselors and therapists will prepare you for the next phases of rehab, which include individual psychotherapy, group counseling, family counseling and medication maintenance therapy.
Instead of trying to kick this powerful opiate alone, you can take advantage of an entire network of supportive clinical professionals. You can also draw strength from your peers in recovery through participation in group counseling sessions and self-help meetings. Finally, you can lay the foundation for a stable, sober home life through family or couples counseling, nutritional counseling and life coaching. After detox and rehab, a professional treatment center will continue to support your sobriety through aftercare programs and referral services.
What Drugs Are Used in Methadone Detox?
Medication therapy is a powerful tool in helping users reach their recovery goals in methadone addiction treatment programs. Ironically, although methadone is one of the most effective drugs used in heroin detoxification, methadone detox also requires the use of drugs to prevent opiate withdrawals. Your providers may also prescribe medications to address the specific symptoms of withdrawal or to help you deal with underlying psychiatric disorders like major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or clinical anxiety. Some of the drugs that are most commonly used in methadone detox are listed below:
- Buprenorphine: Sold under the brand names Suboxone and Subutex, this partial opiate agonist may help you deal with the physical cravings for methadone and maintain your abstinence as you go through rehab. Buprenorphine has a lower abuse potential than methadone, and the risk of overdose is lower.
- Clonidine: Prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure, clonidine can also be used to manage the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. The drug is prescribed during the early stages of detox to minimize side effects as your body is cleansed of opiates.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone can be taken orally or by injection to block the pleasurable sensations of taking opiates. Unlike buprenorphine and clonidine, which prevent withdrawal symptoms, naltrexone discourages relapse by making opiate abuse less rewarding. According to the Journal of Addictive Diseases, oral naltrexone has not proven effective in promoting long-term abstinence from powerful opiates like methadone or morphine. However, the naltrexone injection, which is effective for up to one month, has been more beneficial at helping opiate addicts stay clean.
Medication alone can’t ensure that you’ll remain abstinent after detox. In order to maintain long-term recovery, you’ll need to draw from a combination of resources, including psychotherapy, behavioral modification therapy, 12-step support programs and holistic therapies. Many addicts make the transition from rehab back to their normal lives by spending time at a sober living facility, where they can continue to strengthen their inner resources in a drug-free atmosphere.
How Can I Stay Clean After Detox?
Creating the life you want requires not only a personal commitment to abstinence and a high level of motivation, but the help of a team of compassionate addiction treatment professionals. A comprehensive treatment program should include a full range of aftercare services, such as:
- Continued counseling to help you acquire and practice new coping skills
- Ongoing medication therapy to help you manage cravings and lead a sober life
- Referrals to vocational counselors, childcare providers and affordable sources of transportation
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, if needed
At Axis, we provide a full spectrum of rehab services to address your personal recovery needs. From the detox phase through rehab and aftercare, we can help you build a foundation for the healthy life you deserve. Getting off methadone and other drugs may be the hardest thing you ever do, but it may also be the most rewarding. Call our intake counselors to find out how you can start your recovery today.