Opioid Addiction and Methadone as a Treatment Option

The Principles Of Successful Opioid Addiction Treatment

treat opioid abuse effectively

There are a few simple facts to be aware of. The first is that addiction is a disease and, like most other diseases, it can be treated. Evidence-based treatment options have been developed, including methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) for opiate addiction, for instance. When successful, it means that patients are able to stop abusing opioid drugs and can once again lead a happy, healthy, and productive life.

Relapse Is Not Failure

Another important fact to be aware of is that addiction cannot always be cured. It is a chronic disease, just like asthma and diabetes, which means people need to learn how to manage it. What this also means is that, even if successfully treated, relapse is common.

“Chances of addiction relapse are higher than those for any other drug addiction, with one study reporting that as many as 91% of those in recovery will experience a relapse. The study also found that at least 59% of those who had an opiate relapse would do so within the first week of sobriety, and 80% would relapse within a month after discharging from a detox program.”

Relapse is so common that it is seen as a normal part of the overall addiction recovery process. The rates, as described above, are very high, just as they are with asthma, hypertension, and diabetes, all of which are also chronic, and all of which also have both physical and psychological elements. If a chronic illness is to be properly treated, it means that behaviors and habits that people have developed over many years have to be changed, something that is incredibly hard to do. When patients relapse, therefore, their treatment hasn’t failed. Rather, it means they require more treatment or that they should attempt a different type of therapy.

The Principles of Effective Treatment

There has been a lot of research to demonstrate that, when available, both medication and behavioral therapy should be offered in order to increase the chances of success. It is vital that the approach to treatment is tailor-fitted to the needs of the patient, which is based on drug abuse history, medical history, and social, psychiatric, and medical problems. What matters overall is that addiction doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Using Medication Like Methadone for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction

Studies have shown that there are many different medications that treat different types of addiction and that offer help in different ways. For instance, tobacco addiction can be treated using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), like nicotine gum, inhalers, and patches. Alcohol addiction can be treated using disulfiram, naltrexone, or acamprosate. Opioid addictions, meanwhile, can be treated using naltrexone, buprenorphine, and methadone.

Medication does three key things for the treatment of addiction:

1. It helps fight withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping the use of a particular addictive substance. These symptoms are both emotional and physical and include mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, sleeplessness, restlessness, and more. Drugs, such as methadone, help to stop these withdrawal symptoms from occurring, making it easier to undergo rehab.
2. It helps patients remain under treatment. It is common for drugs to be offered under medical supervision to avoid the withdrawal symptoms, after which the patient is slowly tapered off the drug. What this means is that patients remain calm and do not experience the strong cravings that so often lead to relapse. Through this, patients are encouraged to remain in treatment while engaging more in psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and counseling.
3. It helps to prevent relapse. It is a known fact that there are certain triggers that make relapse more likely, with triggers being unique for each individual.

“One of most effective techniques for preventing relapse is to identify your personal relapse triggers and make a detailed plan on how you will manage them.”

There are some common triggers: drug cues (moods, things, places, and people), stress, and drug exposure. By providing medication, it is possible for these triggers to lose their strength, thereby allowing patients to keep themselves on the road to recovery.

What About Behavioral Therapy?

The fact that methadone is an effective treatment for opiate addiction is beyond question. However, it should not be seen as the only treatment available. Rather, it should be part of a continuum of treatment that also involves behavioral therapy.

“Behavioral approaches help engage people in drug abuse treatment, provide incentives for them to remain abstinent, modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse, and increase their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt another cycle of compulsive abuse.”

Behavioral therapies address every element of a person’s addiction disease. It often includes one to one counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. In certain centers, and particularly luxury and private rehab centers, other forms of treatment such as equine therapy and art therapy can also be offered. Behavioral therapy not only provides patients with better coping and life skills, it also helps them come to terms with their past and may even make medication more effective.

How to Recover from Opioid Addiction

Recovering from an opioid addiction is a very complex and long process, but it is possible. When people first seek methadone treatment, they are often at their very lowest, having their lives completely taken over by their addiction. They are compelled to seek out more drugs and this compulsion has taken over their life. Methadone can break this cycle, giving patients the clarity that they need to stick to their treatment. Slowly but surely, they can learn to manage their disease, be offered positive reinforcement solutions to help avoid relapse, enhance their motivation to stay in treatment, and develop new relationships with their families and support networks. Methadone in itself does not make this possible. Rather, it makes it possible for people to become receptive to other forms of treatment, as it stops addicted individuals from compulsively seeking out their particular addictive substance. In so doing, they get a real chance at recovery.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to opioid drugs and want to find options for methadone treatment near you, give us a call at (855) 976- 2092.


[1] Opiate Relapse. (2018, November 25). Retrieved from https://drugabuse.com/opiates/relapse/

[2] The 10 Most Common Addiction Relapse Triggers – The Cabin Chiang Mai. (2018, August 29). Retrieved from https://www.thecabinchiangmai.com/blog/10-most-common-addiction-relapse-triggers/

[3] NIDA. (2018, January 17). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition on 2019, February 19

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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