If you suffer from an opioid or heroin addiction and are currently being treated using methadone maintenance, you're on the right track. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methadone treatment increases the patient's participation in behavioral therapy and reduces ongoing drug use and criminal behavior.
Methadone maintenance is meant to stop the painful withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids and heroin. The goal is to help a person gradually overcome physical dependency instead of cutting them off completely. This is done under medical supervision so the patient can't abuse methadone and can also receive substance abuse counseling concurrently.
However, methadone is a strong drug and you'll need to taper yourself off it when the time is right. If you don't, you could form a separate addiction. You'll need to talk to your case worker about slowly reducing your methadone treatment so you can move on with your life drug-free. But before you do, you need to understand more about methadone's effect on your body.
Understanding How Methadone Treatment Works
Methadone has been used since the 1970s to aid in the addiction recovery process for people who've developed a serious dependency on opioids or heroin. It works by decreasing cravings and reducing the extent of withdrawal symptoms, some of which could be deadly.
What makes methadone treatment so effective is that it actually blocks the intoxicating effects of heroin and other opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. This helps prevent a patient from relapsing and erasing all the work they've accomplished so far.
However, although methadone isn't an opioid, it's still addictive. This is a very strong drug that can produce its own euphoric effects. In fact, it's considered a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it carries the risk of both physical and psychological abuse.
That's why methadone treatment must be performed in a clinical environment. It's also why you must taper off the drug instead of going cold turkey. If you don't, there's a good chance you'll experience withdrawal symptoms. It's imperative you've gone through enough substance abuse therapy and gotten hold of your addiction triggers before you start tapering.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
The necessity to taper off methadone treatment is directly related to the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms that will result if you stop suddenly. Gradually reducing the amount you take will help keep these symptoms at bay. Many of these withdrawal side-effects are similar to those experienced after stopping heroin or opioids. They can include:
- Depression and other psychological issues such as anxiety, mood swings, and panic attacks
- Insomnia, especially during the first week
- Cold or flu-like symptoms including coughing, runny nose, and fever
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cold sweats
- Stomach issues including cramping and constipation
The threat of relapse is much higher if methadone treatment is stopped immediately instead of tapered. A person may find the withdrawal symptoms too much to handle and return to using methadone, sometimes increasing the dose and frequency. This can be highly dangerous and potentially fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that methadone accounts for nearly one in four opioid-related deaths.
It's important you discuss your progress in the methadone maintenance program with your case worker. You need to have reached a state where no longer feel the effects of the controlled treatment and feel secure in your ability to cope with heroin or opioid cravings once off methadone. Both you and your case worker must feel confident you're mentally prepared to begin a drug-free life.
Tapering Off Methadone in a Clinical Setting
Tapering your methadone treatment should only be done in a medical environment under doctor supervision. Once your case worker has given the green light, you'll need to talk to your clinic and discuss your plan of action. It may be beneficial for your case worker to speak with them as well.
Tapering involves slowly reducing your dosage until you no longer need the drug to combat cravings or feel normal. Your schedule will depend on the level of your previous addiction and how long you've been participating in methadone treatment.
An average tapering schedule involves reducing the dosage by 10% every few weeks. Once you've reduced your dose to the lowest amount, you'll need to decide if you're ready to stop taking it altogether. This is a huge decision that should involve your case worker, doctor, and substance abuse counselor. You may want to play it safe and remain on the low dose for an extended period of time. Some people opt to remain on a low dose indefinitely.
Ongoing Treatment After Methadone
Whether you stop taking methadone altogether or taper down to the lowest dose possible, you'll need to participate in ongoing treatment to increase your chances of recovery. There are several options, including Narcotics Anonymous, one-on-one substance abuse counseling, or group therapy. Your case worker can put you into contact with the right resources.
Receiving ongoing treatment is a great way to help keep you focused on your recovery. You'll also have access to information regarding relapse and coping mechanisms. Most importantly, you'll have a support system in place to help you through periods of doubt and anxiety. This is a powerful tool that can reduce the possibility of relapse.
If you feel that living without methadone is too difficult, speak with your case worker about starting a low dose or increasing your current dose. This is a better option than heroin or opioid relapse. Remember, recovery is a long process and you'll face many hurdles. Use the resources at your disposal to help you prevent becoming addicted again.
Informing yourself about the addiction issues you face and the treatment options available is critical during your recovery. This is especially important when treating addiction with a drug like methadone. It's crucial you understand what to expect.
It's our goal to educate people about every aspect of methadone, opioid addiction, and detox. Check out more articles about methadone treatment and make informed choices regarding your well-being and drug-free future.