Watch a commercial for any prescription drug and you may notice that it likely spends more air time disclosing all the potential side effects of a medication than talking about the benefits. A common dilemma in the medical field is the fact that a particular treatment will often solve some problems–and create new ones.
The use of methadone as an opioid addiction treatment is a prime example. While historically effective in helping patients disengage from heroin dependency, it has the potential to simply replace one addiction with another. Thus, one removed obstacle can lead to another one: overcoming methadone withdrawal.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a prescription drug medication commonly applied as a treatment for opioid addiction. Also an opioid itself, doctors will occasionally prescribe methadone to treat severe pain, but this application is less frequent. Methadose and Dolophine are common methadone brand names.
Examples of other opioids include heroin, morphine, and codeine. While methadone and heroin share the same drug classification, they act upon the body differently. Because of this, and the fact that methadone is much less likely to induce a “high” or any euphoric effects, it can be used to treat opioid addiction.
According to the CDC, addiction to synthetic opioids, such as heroin, is the leading cause of drug overdose in the United States. As a closely-related substance, methadone has been shown as an effective treatment to “wean” an opioid abuser off of the substance.
The very characteristics that make it an effective addiction “antidote” also make methadone a viable candidate for dependency and abuse. If someone has “weaned” from a heroin addiction via methadone, there is still a detoxification process that needs to occur for full addiction recovery.
Thankfully–though it can be uncomfortable and difficult–methadone withdrawal is not life-threatening.
How Long Does Methadone Stay in Your System?
Methadone is a slower-acting opioid than its synthetic counterparts. This means that a methadone half life is longer, ranging from 8–60 hours. For comparison, oxycodone’s half life is just 3–5 hours.
This comparatively longer methadone half life does not necessarily make the drug “safer.” On the contrary, methadone’s half life means there is a potential for a higher concentration to build-up in the body if it is taken in more frequent intervals than prescribed.
It’s worth noting that patients who have withdrawn from opioids are at increased risk of overdose due to reduced opioid tolerance. These types of risks have contributed to methadone slowly falling out of favor in the medical community.
More and more addiction specialists see methadone as a crutch at best–and a risky one at that. Many are trying alternative methods to help patients overcome addiction to pain-relieving narcotics.
What Is Methadone Used For?
There are two main forms of addiction treatment involving methadone: methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) and medication assisted treatment (MAT).
The former is the type of treatment program mentioned above that more professionals are moving away from. It essentially “manages” heroin withdrawal and cravings by giving patients consistent doses of methadone. The main objection to this concept is that it has enables clients to simply remain addicted to a different opioid, with no built-in program to taper clients off to prevent severe methadone withdrawal.
On the other hand, a medication assisted treatment program (MAT)–with an emphasis on the word assisted–provides more comprehensive care for those struggling with a heroin addiction. As a general rule, most MAT programs have plans to get clients off all opioid-based medications within three months.
A holistic approach to methadone withdrawal may include supplemental treatments such as:
- Vitamin supplements
- Healthy meals
- Exercise and sports activities
- Spa amenities and treatments
Treatment centers with this type of holistic-minded MAT program are more respected by addiction specialists and see better recovery results than MMT services.
What Are the Symptoms of Methadone Withdrawal?
Methadone withdrawal symptoms may begin within 24-36 hrs after the last dose. Days two and three are when symptoms usually peak and should slowly decline over the following days.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms for first 30 hrs might include:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Trouble sleeping
Extended symptoms–which often feel similar to the flu–may occur over the following weeks:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Severe nausea
- Drug cravings
The timeline for methadone withdrawal varies from person to person, and largely depends on the length and intensity of a patient’s opioid addiction. The total time for detox can last anywhere from two to three weeks up to six months.
This is why it is imperative that a medical professional monitor the methadone withdrawal process. Attempted alone, the chances of returning to other opioid use increases significantly. Tapering off of methadone in the safety of a MAT program makes full recovery more likely.
Recovery & Help
Symptoms of withdrawal aren’t life-threatening on their own. However, they can become so with use of an improper detox method or a person relapses soon after completing detox.
Because of these reasons, we highly recommend seeking professional treatment. The best kind is one that includes medically-supervised detox and ongoing support to stay sober after detox.
These are services which you can find at Reflections Recovery Center. Give us a call to see how we can help you or a loved one start the road to recovery today.