Methadone as a Short-Term Detox Drug

What’s the Difference Between Methadone and Heroin?

Heroin addiction is a serious problem that is sweeping the nation and destroying lives and families along the way.

Are you or a loved one struggling with heroin addiction but don’t know how to treat the addiction? Many people are considering methadone treatment for their heroin addiction, but the thought of treating drugs with other drugs can seem controversial to some people.

There is a large difference in methadone vs heroin, and the effects of methadone for heroin addiction has proven to have effective results.

We are here to tell you everything you need to know about methadone vs heroin, and to make this decision about addiction treatment as easy as possible for you and your family.

What Is Methadone

Methadone is a synthetic drug that is part of the opioid family, and it works similar to morphine. It was originally created during World War II by a German doctor. When methadone made its way to the United States, doctors used it as a way to treat pain. However, today it is often used to treat heroin and narcotic addictions.

How Does Methadone Work?

Methadone affects the brain and the nervous system and alters the way the body reacts to pain. Unlike strong painkillers and narcotics such as codeine, heroin, hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone, methadone purposely omits the chemicals that cause a euphoric high.

Replacement Therapy

Methadone can also be used to help treat heroin addicts by training their bodies to function without the euphoric high sensation. Methadone replacement therapy also helps to eliminate dependency from heroin. By replacing heroin with methadone, doctors can eliminate the withdrawal symptoms that patients undergo, which can be intense and cause relapses.

It should be noted that methadone replacement therapy is only beneficial when administered in a medical facility by medical professionals. Methadone replacement therapy is not a substitute for support groups, therapy or lifestyle changes, and it is only proved to effective when administered in a medical setting.

While methadone is not a cure for opioid addiction, it is used as part of a treatment plan. These treatment plans change for different patients. While no concrete time duration is set for methadone replacement therapy, doctors suggest that patients implement the therapy technique for at least a year.

When the patient is ready to stop their methadone replacement therapy, their doctor will slowly start to lower their dosage in order to prevent more withdrawal symptoms.

Risks of Methadone

Much like any other drug, there are some risks that come along with methadone if it is not taken properly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methadone is one of the most common drugs to cause prescription opioid overdose deaths.

One reason for this is that methadone is a slow-release drug that can stay in the body for up to 59 hours. If someone assumes that taking more methadone than prescribed will result in an opiate high, they can easily overdose.

Another reason that methadone causes so many overdoses is that taking it with other opioids, alcohol, sedatives, amphetamines or antidepressants can also result in an overdose.

What Is Heroin

Heroin is an opioid drug that is illegal and has no medical use in the United States. It is often injected into the body using a needle, but people also sniff, snort or smoke heroin. Heroin provides similar effects as narcotic pain relievers.

How Does Heroin Work?

Heroin quickly enters the brain and binds to the opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many different areas of the brain including the areas that affect sleeping, breathing, pain, pleasure and heart rate.

Once heroin attaches to the receptors, it floods the brain with dopamine, which is what causes the euphoric high. Many heroin users describe this sensation as a surge of pleasure or a “rush”.

Heroin also depresses the central nervous system, which can cause people to become drowsy, fall asleep or even become sedated.

Risks of Heroin

Heroin affects the brains reward system, which makes the drug highly addictive. In fact, only one use of heroin can have permanent effects on the brain.

Overdoses are a fatal risk of using heroin, and the overdose numbers are extremely high. When someone overdoses on heroin, their breathing slows down immensely or even stops altogether.

The result of decreased oxygen to the brain can cause hypoxia. Hypoxia can affect the nervous system and cause the body to go into a coma or can even result in permanent brain damage.

More than 115 people die every day from overdosing on opioids and roughly five times as many Americans are using heroin than a decade ago.

Methadone vs Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

If a patient refuses to stop taking methadone, there are a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can arise.

1. Impaired judgment

2. Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

3. Respiratory problems

4. Bloodborne diseases like HIV

5. Sexual dysfunction

6. Change in menstrual cycles

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are often described as an extreme case of the flu. These withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks and are often so intense that it can easily lead to a relapse.

1. Abdominal cramping

2. Vomiting

3. Sweating

4. Anxiety

5. Muscle aches

6. Sweating

7. Depression

8. Craving for other drugs

Methadone vs Heroin

Methadone is administered in a medical facility with a proper dosage and clean supplies. Methadone patients are then watched closely to ensure that their vitals are stable. Methadone is used to treat addiction while heroin is what causes the addiction.

Heroin is taken at home without the supervision of a medical professional, and the tools and needles are often dirty. This can lead to a variety of other diseases including addiction.

The withdrawal symptoms of heroin can be so intense and uncomfortable that it can easily cause an addict to relapse. However, this is where methadone comes into play.

Methadone is used to ease the withdrawal symptoms so addicts can slowly ease themselves off of heroin as opposed to stopping cold turkey, which has poor results with heroin users.

The Main Takeaway

Methadone and heroin are similar in the sense that they are both in the opioid family. However, when used correctly, methadone can help treat heroin addiction due to the fact that it is long-lasting and does not provide a euphoric high. Methadone replacement therapy is highly effective for heroin addicts, but it may not be for everyone.

If you have any other questions on methadone vs heroin, visit our methadone page, which covers everything you need to know about methadone treatment.

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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