Methadone is an opioid pain reliever used to ease opiate withdrawal symptoms for opiate users who are undergoing drug addiction detoxification and maintenance programs.This Schedule II narcotic is used to treat pain and addiction to other opiates during the detoxification process, but without the high. With methadone, pain relievers are blocked from interacting with the brain, which helps reduce the cravings that accompany withdrawal symptoms.
Despite its therapeutic effects, methadone is still dangerous when misused. It can be habit-forming, even at regular doses, and addictive as well, so users are advised to take caution while using it. Physical and psychological dependence on the drug has been said to be hard to end and that the detox process can take at least a month, maybe more. And, some users struggle to achieve and maintain mental and emotional clarity, normal sleep schedules and more after battling a methadone addiction.
Methadone Abuse, Addiction, and Withdrawal
Taking methadone at doses that are too high can result in dependence and addiction. In a hospital or other medical facility, the patient is monitored while receiving the medication and that dose is adjusted as needed. However, outside of a controlled setting, methadone users risk taking too much of the drug, sometimes without realizing it. That’s because methadone does not bring with it the euphoric high that is experienced with other opiates, so users increase their use and risk overdosing on the drug, which can lead to death.
Regular methadone users can build up a tolerance and become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug. Many do not realize they are addicted until they experience withdrawal symptoms. Methadone withdrawal is not a fast or easy process. Just one dose of the drug can stay in the system for 30 days, and the protracted withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, can make methadone recovery challenging to manage.
Risks Come with Quitting Methadone “Cold Turkey”
People with methadone addiction may decide to quit “cold turkey” by either not using it or reducing their usage. However, abruptly stopping drug usage, particularly after extended heavy use, is likely to bring uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Drug withdrawal symptoms can be painful and difficult, and if they include breathing difficulties or a rapid heartbeat, they can be life-threatening. The physical withdrawal symptoms–such as nausea and fever–are similar to ones experienced by people who abruptly stop using other opiates, such as heroin or oxycodone. The side effects can cause some to return to using methadone to end their withdrawal discomfort. This is known as relapse.
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Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
Common Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms
Regular or heavy methadone users who stop using the drug likely will go through withdrawal, an uncomfortable and taxing process. How long withdrawal lasts will vary. Factors that determine the length and intensity of withdrawal symptoms include:
- A person’s age, health, and lifestyle
- Codeine tolerance
- How long codeine has been used
- Dose taken
- Whether other substances, such as alcohol, were used along with codeine
Symptoms set in after a dependent user stops taking the drug. After usage is stopped, the body will react to not having the drug in its system. When this happens, people in methadone addiction can have the following:
- Appetite loss
- Cold flashes
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated heartbeat
- Excessive yawning
- Goose bumps
- Increased breathing rate
- Increased heartbeat
- Joint and leg pain
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Decrease in sex drive
- Hallucinations (auditory and visual)
- Inability to concentrate
- Irrational thoughts
- Suicidal thoughts
*If you are exhibiting serious withdrawal symptoms, such as rapid breathing, a shortness of breath a fast or irregular heartbeat, call 911 immediately or visit an emergency room or urgent care center immediately for medical attention. These symptoms are red flags that your situation is urgent, and you must seek help now.
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Methadone Withdrawal Timeline
Common Methadone Detox Medications
Common Medications for Methadone Withdrawal Treatment
- Buprenorphine – Recovering users in detox treatment may receive this opioid medication, also known as Subutex, at a medical facility or doctor’s office. It also can be used at home under a doctor’s prescription. Buprenorphine affects the same receptors as heroin and morphine do, but without the same intense high or harmful side effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Clonidine – This medication used to treat blood pressure is also prescribed to help alleviate the physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as muscle pain, cramping, and excessive sweating, and psychological ones, including anxiety and agitation or restlessness.
- Naltrexone – This medication blocks opioids from acting on the brain’s receptors, which strips away the reward of achieving a drug high. It comes in pill form or as an extended-release injection. As with all drugs, naltrexone should be used with care. The initial dosage, as well as any adjustments to it, will be prescribed by the doctor.
What Happens Now That Methadone Detox Is Over?
Ending Methadone Addiction Is Just the First Step
The detoxification for withdrawal symptoms is an important process, but it’s only one part of it. After recovering users go through the medically supervised detox to end the physical part of an active addiction, the next step is to follow a plan of action that helps clients address underlying issues that weren’t identified or faced when the person was in addiction. This plan also teaches clients how to change thought and behavioral patterns that can keep them free of methadone addiction and relapse.
When the body starts the process of returning to its normal state after the drug has left its system, the mental, emotional, and psychological parts of the puzzle will have to be addressed.
This may include identifying triggers and other factors that could lead a person back to abusing methadone and making key changes. This process can take several months, and for some people, it may take several years. A post-detox recovery program that offers clients guidance and support can help those who need ongoing recovery support. Recovering users may also want to look for programs that provide services that teach healthy coping skills and strategies that help recovering users manage the issues that influenced them to use drugs.
Methadone Detox: How It Works
Methadone Withdrawal FAQs