Methadone is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that’s used to treat opioid addiction. In the U.S., it’s sold under the brand name Dolophine, and it’s used for both methadone detox and maintenance. This process is designed to help you avoid withdrawal while you go through detox.
Maintenance is a long-term therapy that allows patients to get off opioids by satisfying their cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
As an addiction treatment option, methadone has benefits and drawbacks. A therapeutic dose of the drug would allow someone who’s addicted to an opioid to get sober without having to experience uncomfortable symptoms or cravings. Maintenance is a long process that can take up to a year to complete. In some cases, patients go through methadone maintenance with no other treatment, but the most successful uses of the medication are accompanied by addiction treatment and psychotherapies.
Similar to morphine, methadone binds to opioid receptors in the brain and activates them, which causes analgesia and sedation.
Like other opioids, it comes with some common side effects, including constipation, nausea, and hypotension. High doses can also cause respiratory depression.
Long-term use can cause you to become tolerant to certain effects, but it’s only a partial tolerance. Therefore, users who undergo methadone maintenance will still be dependent on an opioid, but they’ll be able to avoid the risks that come with illicit drug use.
While methadone is less likely to cause euphoria and intoxication than other opioids, a euphoric high can be achieved if the drug is abused. This overuse can lead to a severe substance use disorder, and it can even cause a fatal overdose.
If you or a loved one has been prescribed methadone, it’s important to be aware of the signs of substance abuse and addiction. By catching a substance use disorder early, you can avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction, such as health problems, social issues, financial problems, and legal troubles.
A substance use disorder (SUD) is a clinical diagnosis that’s separated into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. A mild SUD could involve using the drug outside of the prescribed means. A moderate SUD occurs when you develop a chemical dependence on the drug, and a severe SUD involves compulsive use that’s out of control. Learning to spot the signs of this progression can help you avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction, and it can allow you to seek the help you need as quickly as possible.
Addiction can happen quickly, but it usually develops after some symptoms occur. The first sign is tolerance. Methadone is fairly resistant to tolerance, but abuse can cause your body to adapt to the drug. If you feel like your standard dose is becoming less effective after a period of frequent use, you may be building up a tolerance, which is your body’s response to a psychoactive chemical. After enough use, your brain will start adapting to its presence and balancing your brain chemistry accordingly. If you keep using or increasing the dosage, you’ll develop a chemical dependence.
This dependence occurs when your brain and nervous system integrates the drug into normal brain functions. Instead of producing its own endorphins, it may start relying on methadone. If you stop using the drug, your neurochemistry will suddenly become unbalanced, and you’ll start feeling withdrawal symptoms. Methadone withdrawal can come in the form of a runny nose, sneezing, goosebumps, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, tremors, and tachycardia.
Methadone abuse can cause feelings of euphoria that have a profound effect on your brain. Addiction is a disease that primarily affects the reward center of the brain, which causes it to mistake the drug for a life-sustaining necessity. It’s designed to notice activities that are good for you, and it learns to encourage you to repeat those activities. But opioids such as methadone can hijack this process and cause your brain to compulsively encourage drug use.
Ultimately, addiction is identified by compulsive drug use that gets out of control. If you keep using it after you’ve experienced significant consequences (such as a DUI or job loss), you may have an addiction.
Methadone addiction treatment is a process that involves detox and a full continuum of care, which may involve a variety of therapies, depending on your needs. When you first enter a program, you’ll go through an assessment process with medical professionals and your therapist to determine your most pressing needs. During this process, you’ll develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses each of your needs.
Effective treatment won’t just address your substance use disorder. It will also address everything that may be contributing to it, including medical issues, social issues, mental health problems, financial struggles, and legal issues.
Depending on your needs, you will be placed in one four main levels of care, and you may move to new levels of care as you make progress. Here are the main levels of care you may go through during treatment:
Medical detox is the highest level of care. It involves round-the-clock medically managed care for about a week. You may be treated with medications to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Detox can also treat other medical issues, such as minor injuries and infections.
If you have ongoing medical needs or a living environment that’s unsuitable for long-term sobriety, inpatient services may be the level for you. In addition to round-the-clock managed care, this level includes residential services, which allow you to live in a sober living environment.
In intensive outpatient services, you’ll be able to live independently, and you’ll have access to partial hospitalization and up to 12 hours of services each day.
Outpatient service is the lowest level of formal treatment. It involves up to nine hours of treatment services each week.
Anderson, I. B., & Kearney, T. E. (2000, January). Medicine Cabinet: Use of Methadone. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070723/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 06). Opioid Overdose Crisis. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates