What Is Methadone?
Methadone is one of a handful of drugs approved for used in the pharmaceutical treatment of opioid addiction and dependence. If someone has an addiction to heroin, morphine, or prescription painkillers, they may be prescribed methadone to manage the addiction. There are three main reasons why methadone is a valuable tool in opioid recovery.
- It is effective when taken orally.
- It has a long duration of action.
- It continues to work even when taken over a long period of time.
Problems may arise when people abuse methadone without a prescription or in combination with other opioids, benzodiazepines or alcohol.
Signs and Symptoms
At 30 minutes, the relatively short half-life of heroin can result in a rapid cycling between intense highs, and devastating lows. Methadone, with a 22-hour half life, is longer acting and, furthermore, less potent than heroin. For these reasons, methadone has proved useful in the management of the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin and some other opioids. This specific type of addiction medicine, or medical management of opioid addiction, is referred to as methadone maintenance therapy (MMT). Supervised methadone administration occurs at a methadone clinic.
Physical Signs of Methadone Abuse
The physical symptoms of methadone abuse are similar to those of other opiates and include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Constricted pupils.
- Increased pain.
- Slowed breathing.
While methadone is indicated for the medical management of opiate addiction, it holds it own potential for abuse and addiction. Signs of addiction to methadone include:
- Attempting to obtain multiple prescriptions–also known as “doctor shopping.”
- Using the drug more often or in higher doses than advised. While clinics generally require you to take the drug in the clinic initially, some users may be able to access and abuse methadone outside the clinic, taking more than the recommended amount.
- Skipping scheduled doses to ‘stockpile’ them for later high-dose administration.
- Obtaining the drug from alternative sources. This could include friends or associates who have access to methadone, or it could include using other opioids along with methadone, such as OxyContin, heroin or morphine.
- Neglecting other aspects of life like work and relationships in order to continue methadone use.
Effects of Methadone Abuse
The health effects of methadone use are wide and varied, and they generally depend on the individual’s body. If the person doesn’t get off the drug in the long-term, the may be at higher risk for the following long-term effects:
- Impaired judgment.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Respiratory problems.
- Blood borne disease like HIV (associated with injection use without sterile precautions).
These symptoms tend to build and develop over time. Overdose from methadone is a major concern and continues to be problematic. Mixing methadone with other substances that slow the body like alcohol and benzodiazepines increases the risk of breathing problems and death.
To avoid these unwanted effects, people using methadone should only take the substance as prescribed and alert their physician to any symptoms experienced.
Methadone Abuse Treatment
The good news is that there are countless methadone abuse treatment centers around the country. This means that many centers are designed to specifically manage the effects of opioid withdrawal symptoms as an initial part of opioid abuse rehabilitation.
If you are ready to end your methadone use, seeking an evaluation from a trusted substance abuse counselor or facility is an important step. Your specific situation will need to be assessed to understand the level, frequency and intensity of your methadone dependency and associated addictive behaviors. Depending on your responses, a detox period, followed by residential rehab or outpatient treatment will be recommended.
Detox is appropriate when the goal is to end all forms of opioid use completely. This process reduces the level of the substance in your body until it is completely removed. The supervision from medical professions will ensure comfort and safety.
Rehab programs might provide treatment by switching you to another medication that is used to treat opioid dependence like Suboxone or Subutex. The residential setting of a rehab center allows you to focus on aspects of recovery while any avoiding problematic situations and triggers in your home life.
Whether started after detox and rehab or at the beginning of recovery, no treatment plan will be complete without outpatient treatment. A therapist may use skills and interventions related to cognitive-behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing to address the underlying triggers of substance use and build your desire for abstinence.
The support and fellowship of 12-step programs can help foster the recovery process while building additional sober supports.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration:
- In 2012, almost 2.5 million people over the age of 12 reported abusing methadone in their lifetime–marking an increase from 2.1 million in 2011.
- In 2011, more than 65,000 emergency room visits were related to methadone use.
- From 1999 to 2005, methadone overdose deaths increased by about 460%.
Teen Methadone Abuse
Teen drug abuse or addiction to methadone is relatively uncommon and unstudied. Instead, teens are be more likely to abuse opioids that are more easily accessible like narcotic painkiller medications including OxyContin and Vicodin.
However, teens prescribed methadone for the management of a heroin addiction (or addiction to another opiate) are equally as vulnerable to developing a methadone abuse problem as anyone else. Parents must monitor their teen’s methadone use if they have been prescribed the drug and watch for inappropriate increases in dose or regularity of ingestion. If you have concerns, discuss these with the physician prescribing methadone to your teen.
Resources, Articles and More Information
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a lot of information on drug abuse, particularly with regard to common questions on methadone. The UK’s National Health Service has an informative factsheet on methadone use that covers what to expect when taking the drug.
Additional articles on the subject include the following:
- The Effects of Methadone Use
- How to Help a Methadone Addict
- Concurrent Alcohol and Methadone Abuse
- Does Methadone Treatment Suppress Testosterone in Opioid Addicts?
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- Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
- Methadone. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2015, from http://deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/methadone/methadone.pdf
- Methadone | CESAR. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2015, from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/methadone.asp