4 Things to Keep in Mind as You Taper off Methadone

4 Things to Keep in Mind as You Taper off Methadone

Opioid addiction is a large problem throughout America. People become addicted to opioids in many different ways. When people are recovering from an accident or injury, they are sometimes prescribed pain killers to minimize the pain that they have to experience. When this happens, they can sometimes become addicted to them. Eventually, the doctors will stop prescribing the drugs to the person and if they are addicted to the pills, they will turn to other opioids to get the feelings they crave and this is where methadone can come into play.

Being able to overcome an opioid addiction by yourself isn’t easy to do. Opioids, such as heroin are readily available, which can make it difficult to stop using. Seeking professional help can make the process easier because you can be prescribed medications, such as methadone to make the recovery easier. It’s important to know that methadone presents its own risks though. The following guide walks you through a few things you need to know about methadone.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid medication that is long acting and commonly given to people who are trying to recover from an addiction to opioids. The idea of taking an opioid medication to battle an addiction to opioids can seem counter-intuitive to some people. The drug is designed to decrease the cravings and minimize the withdrawal symptoms that come when quitting other opioid use.

Like any other opioid, methadone can be addictive. It needs to be taken properly in order for it to be as effective. When you are ready to stop using methadone, it’s important to taper off of it to reduce the withdrawal symptoms that you experience.

Tapering Should be Monitored

Working with a professional treatment facility is the best way to treat an addiction to opioids. An evaluation needs to be taken to determine how much methadone you need to take, when you need to take it and how you need to take it. You need to be sure that the drug is taken properly in order to be as safe as possible at all times. A professional treatment facility will have the knowledge, tools and staff available to make you feel comfortable throughout your recovery process.

At first you will take a larger dose of methadone to decrease the withdrawal symptoms you feel from stopping the use of heroin or other opioid. Over time, the amount you take needs to gradually decrease. The professionals at the treatment facility can ensure that you are safe throughout the tapering process. The amount of methadone you need to take is determined through many different factors, including your weight, age and length of addiction. If you start to experience any withdrawal symptoms, the staff can determine if they need to increase the doses slightly to get minimize the symptoms you experience. Most symptoms last only a few days but treating them as quickly as possible minimizes the chances of you turning to something else to treat the symptoms.

Tapering off Methadone Takes Time

It’s important to be patient when it’s time to taper off of methadone. You cannot simply stop using it because withdrawal symptoms will occur. If you do quit cold turkey, you will feel nauseous, have headaches, have body aches and feel lethargic overall. Many people compare the symptoms to the way they feel when they have the flu but intensified.

When you are ready to stop using methadone, the doses that you take need to be slowly minimized so that your body can adjust to the changes. This can take many weeks to accomplish if you don’t want to have intense withdrawal symptoms. The staff at the treatment facility can monitor how your body reacts to tapering and slowly decrease the amount of methadone that you take when the time comes.

Tapering Can Be Dangerous

When you taper off of methadone, it’s important to know that relapsing is possible if you aren’t careful. There are many people who make the mistake of thinking that they can handle tapering off of methadone on their own. They assume that because they got clean from the other drugs, they were addicted to that they have the ability to quit using methadone cold turkey through sheer willpower alone. This typically isn’t the case.

When you stop using methadone suddenly, your body will go into detox and start to experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Many people figure out that they cannot handle the symptoms and take a dose of methadone to try to stop the symptoms they are experiencing. This can lead to an overdose because they take too much of the methadone for their body to handle.

Tapering Off Methadone requires Additional Care

When you start tapering off of methadone it means that you are going to return to an opioid-free life in the near future. It’s important to combine the methadone treatment with mental health assistance at the same time. You need to be able to identify why you turned to opioids to begin with and what you can do to minimize the chances of relapsing in the future.

You can meet with a psychologist to learn if you have any mental health issues that need to be treated. Properly treating mental health issues allows you to take control of your life without having to continue methadone use. You can also learn strategies to use if you feel tempted to use again in the future. Taking control of your mental health before leaving a treatment program is essential to long term success when it comes to opioid treatment.

When you are ready to stop using opioids, find a treatment facility that offers a methadone treatment program. You want to be sure that not only can you get access to methadone, but also to counseling sessions, inpatient treatment and help with handling the stress that comes with addiction and everyday life. Once you have treated your addiction and are ready to taper off of the methadone, stay at the treatment facility until you are able to live without methadone completely. This will better your chances of avoiding a relapse in the future.

How to Get Your Case Worker to Taper You Off

How to Get Your Case Worker to Taper You Off

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Photographer: Tim Gouw | Source: Unsplash

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.

Stay Educated

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.