Methadone has been used for decades as a substitute opioid drug to treat addiction to opiates. While it’s not a cure, it suppresses withdrawal symptoms, which can make it much easier to stop abusing the harmful substances.
Despite methadone maintenance therapy being a highly sought out option, the drug itself can be highly addictive due to its opioid status. Any drug that someone becomes addicted to can be challenging to stop, but the prospect of quitting methadone may intimidate those who fear withdrawal symptoms.
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Fortunately, it is possible with the right treatment. Advancements in addiction recovery are able to take advantage of medical detox that allows a person to transition smoothly off of methadone.
What Are the Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms?
Methadone is typically utilized to minimize the withdrawal symptoms attributed to heroin addiction and other opioid drugs, without causing the same euphoria they produce. The designated purpose of a methadone detox program is to provide its clients with a safe, comfortable, and monitored space so that they can gradually taper off methadone. In addition to monitoring vital signs, many other medications can be provided to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
The most common methadone withdrawal symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle aches
- Body aches
- Increased heart rate
The more severe an addiction may be to methadone, the more intense the withdrawal symptoms will likely be. In most cases, it will be in a person’s best interest to seek professional care at a detox facility that manages withdrawal symptoms.
What Are the Stages of Methadone Withdrawal Timeline?
Methadone withdrawal is going to vary from one person to another based on many factors. One person may experience the effects for a couple of weeks, while others take months or years to shake off their symptoms.
Varying factors will be present that determine the withdrawal timeline, which includes:
- The severity of the addiction
- The dosage of methadone
- How long you’ve been using methadone
- Whether other drugs are being abused
- History of relapse
- Overall health condition
- Support network, home environment
- Stress levels
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The methadone timeline goes as follows:
- Day 1: Withdrawal symptoms may start within 24 hours after the last dose of methadone depending on the level of dependence. The most common withdrawal symptoms in this period include flu-like symptoms, such as sweating, fevers, muscle aches, and chills. You may also experience anxiety while anticipating more severe withdrawal symptoms to come.
- Days 2-10: The first few days will likely be the most arduous portion of the withdrawal process. At this point, the person must secure a proper support system, such as professionals at a detox or treatment program to overcome the severe side of the symptoms. The symptoms are going to depend on the factors we discussed above, but many report extreme feelings of discomfort. Common symptoms at this time can include strong cravings, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, irritability, and anxiety.
- Days 11-21: For the majority, the worst of the symptoms will have dissipated after day 10. Some symptoms may still be present, such as mood swings, cravings, depression, agitation, and feelings of fatigue. A support system will help get you through the symptoms without wanting to relapse.
- Days 22 and beyond: For those on a significant dose of methadone (40mg or above), symptoms can persist for weeks or months. Someone taking a smaller dose by the third week may not experience any symptoms. The most common nagging symptoms can include cravings, fatigue, and depression.
Why Should I Detox?
If you have developed a dependence on methadone, it’s imperative that you detox in a medical detoxification facility so the body can adequately clear itself of toxins related to the drug. By doing so, you will notice a significant reduction in cravings to methadone.
While methadone is commonly used to treat withdrawal symptoms for heroin or prescription painkillers, known as opioid replacement therapy, people can still become dependent on methadone while getting off other opioids.
Stopping methadone in a fashion known as cold turkey or stopping abruptly can be dangerous.
A gradual taper is recommended under the care of an addiction specialist. To cope with some of the worst symptoms, the physicians can prescribe non-habit forming medication that can either sedate you or calm you down while alleviating physical withdrawal symptoms.
There will be mental health professionals on staff that will help you create a long-term recovery plan to be implemented after detox.
What is the Next Treatment Step?
While detox is the first step in a long process, it’s not enough to overcome addiction. The next step in treatment is a drug treatment center. You will be surrounded by addiction specialists, psychiatrists, peers, and others who will help guide you in your journey toward recovery.
Residential treatment is a common recovery path, and it can be helpful for some to break free from their comfort zone and live in a facility where you can focus specifically on recovery. It is a proven method to ensure long-lasting recovery from addiction. A treatment stint can last anywhere from 30 to 90 days, and an addiction specialist will make the determination based on some of the factors discussed above.
Others may opt to attend an outpatient treatment center where they will have more freedom to go about their business. For those who function at a high level, they still need to fulfill their obligations for work or education, and outpatient will allow them to go to therapy and leave once they finish. The extra support will help your recovery.
Mitchell, S. G., Kelly, S. M., Brown, B. S., Reisinger, H. S., Peterson, J. A., Ruhf, A., . . . Schwartz, R. P. (2009, June). Incarceration and opioid withdrawal: The experiences of methadone patients and out-of-treatment heroin users. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2838492/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Methadone maintenance treatment. (1970, January 01). Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310658/
Methadone: MedlinePlus Drug Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682134.html