Methadone Addiction Treatment

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What is Methadone?

Methadone is a painkiller that was developed in the 1940s for chronic or long-lasting pain, but it is known today as a treatment for opioid addictions, such as heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone or morphine. Opioids are synthetic compounds that mimic the effects of opiates, or pain medicines which are derived from the opium poppy flower. Misuse of prescription opioids can result in dependency, abuse and addiction. Methadone is used to help opioid users through the uncomfortable and often dangerous opioid withdrawal process, and can be prescribed as a tablet, dispersible tablet, oral concentrate (liquid) or injection.

Unfortunately, because methadone is also an opioid and a Schedule II controlled substance, people trying to get clean from other drugs can develop a dependency or addiction to methadone. When taken incorrectly, some users may experience a high, and simply switch from one opiate to another, assuming it is safer. Methadone has been a successful opioid treatment for many, but due to its propensity for abuse, it has a controversial role in the current opioid epidemic, and must be prescribed with caution. Methadone is also used for the treatment of chronic pain, although it should only be prescribed for acute pain in non-cancer pain patients.

Methadone is sold under brand names such as Dolophine, Methadose and Methadone HCl Intensol. When sold illicitly, it may be described as dollies, wafers, fizzies and other names.

Methadone side effects and dangers

There are common methadone side effects even when taking it correctly. These include:

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash
  • Mood changes such as anxiety and fear

Methadone use crosses the line into abuse and addiction when it is misused. Taking more than the prescribed dosage is considered misuse because it goes against your doctor’s instructions. If your current methadone dosage is not providing effective relief, it is important to talk to your doctor about what to do, instead of self-medicating with additional doses.

It is illegal to share, give away or sell methadone because of its dangerous overdose risks. Prescriptions are filled for specific people in specific doses, and it can have different and deadly reactions in others. Taking an incorrect methadone dose can react adversely with other medications or drugs, resulting in respiratory depression, coma and possibly death.

Signs of methadone overdose include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Fast heartbeat or chest pain
  • Extreme drowsiness leading to coma
  • Circulatory collapse
  • Heart attack

The path to serious abuse of methadone can begin when the desired effect is the high produced by the drug, even though this effect is not as pronounced as in other opioids. Crushing and snorting the pills allow the body to absorb the drugs faster, but this is extremely damaging to the brain and body. The small euphoric high comes faster, but so does the potential for addiction.
If a person with a methadone addiction is unable to access the drug, or wants to have more of it than prescribed, they may look for ways to buy it illegally. Because illicit methadone is not controlled by a pharmacy, it frequently contains unknown and harmful ingredients. Because methadone is meant to curb the use of other opiates, some may not believe the high is worth the side effects, and simply return to stronger drugs, like heroin.

Signs of methadone addiction

Any use of methadone outside of a doctor’s instructions is considered drug abuse. This includes tampering with methadone pills by using them in any method other than prescribed. Even if the methadone prescription is not tampered with, taking more of it than prescribed is also abuse of the drug.
Methadone addiction signs include:

  • Taking more than the prescribed dosage
  • “Doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions
  • Lying or exaggerating symptoms to be prescribed higher doses
  • Refusal to undergo appropriate examination, testing or referral
  • Repeated “loss” of prescription

Opioid withdrawal symptoms and treatment

Developing a physical dependency on methadone is not uncommon, and so your dosage should be discussed with your doctor. A physical opioid addiction occurs when the body adjusts to the presence of the medication and depends on that medication to function normally. A methadone prescription can include instructions from your doctor to taper off the dosage to reduce and eliminate this physical dependency. This type of medication management is important—those who are physically dependent on methadone will experience opioid withdrawal symptoms if they stop their methadone prescription too suddenly. If the opioid withdrawal symptoms are extreme, they could drive the patient to continue using the substance despite significant harm—the definition of addiction.

Because methadone can be used to help people through a heroin withdrawal, these symptoms should not be confused with those of methadone withdrawal. Both drugs are opioids, however, and share a number of withdrawal symptoms. It is best to talk to your doctor and be fully assessed to differentiate between the two.

The signs and symptoms of methadone withdrawal can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Tearing eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability, anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure, heartbeat or breathing

These problems vary in severity and duration depending on the specific methadone dose taken and duration of use.

Methadone withdrawal stabilization, also known as detoxification or detox, is done in a similar way as most opiate withdrawal treatment. In general, the opiate withdrawal stabilization procedures resemble those used for withdrawal from sedatives: longer-acting opioids are substituted for shorter-acting ones and the patient is stabilized on the longer-acting opioid medication, such as Suboxone. The patient will be most uncomfortable during the first one to three days of the opioid withdrawal phase, so a combination of clonidine (an alpha-adrenergic agonist), a sedative such as phenobarbital, and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as Motrin (generic name ibuprofen) is frequently combined with the longer-acting opioid to help make the patient more comfortable for the first two to three days of the conversion to Suboxone. Usually after day three of the correct dose of Suboxone, a patient’s withdrawal symptoms and opiate cravings have almost completely subsided.

Methadone addiction treatment options

Most users of methadone need help with their addiction and require residential drug treatment. Few people can safely stop using without a certified detoxification and evidence-based addiction treatment program.
Withdrawal and recovery from opioid addiction is most effectively accomplished under the supervision of board-certified medical professionals, who can assist with the intense cravings for the drug, along with dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as disturbed sleep patterns, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rate, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, muscle aches and flu-like symptoms.

Typically, opioid addicts go through a detoxification program—or withdrawal stabilization—before beginning a long-term treatment program. Patients can be prescribed anti-addiction medications to lessen the withdrawal symptoms.

The detoxification process alone is not a cure for methadone addiction. A comprehensive, personalized addiction treatment program, like the program at Enterhealth, is crucial for a successful recovery. A combination of therapeutic and pharmacological addiction treatment can help those with opioid addiction regain a stable and productive life and address the underlying issues creating the desire to use. Research shows that integrating both types of treatment is the most effective approach to restoring a degree of normal function to the brain—and provide a more positive, life-long outcome.

Effective behavioral treatments for opioid addiction can be administered in a residential or outpatient setting after withdrawal stabilization. A treatment plan may include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy sessions
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
  • Wellness, nutritional and stress management treatment services

Anti-addiction medications approved for methadone addiction treatment work through the same opioid receptors in the brain that methadone prescriptions affect. Medications such as Suboxone (buprenorphine) and Vivitrol (naltrexone), block the effects of methadone, reduce cravings and allow healing to continue. These medicines treat opioid addiction through the same receptors as the addictive drug, but are safer and less likely to result in addiction.

Methadone addiction recovery with Enterhealth

People suffering from methadone addiction may feel hopeless, but they are not alone. Enterhealth Ranch and Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence can help you or a loved one begin recovery at our 43-acre residential opioid addiction treatment center just north of Dallas-Fort Worth, and our outpatient opioid addiction treatment center located in the Preston Center area of Dallas, Texas.

At Enterhealth, our goal is to treat the whole person for a lifetime. We offer a better chance to recover through our advanced, evidence-based treatment approach, designed and administered by board-certified addiction psychiatrists, physicians and other experts, that is proven to be more effective than traditional twelve-step approaches.