When to Take Methadone

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Should You Take Methadone, and When Should You Start?

Methadone is used in the treatment of opioid addiction, but it’s not for everyone. You can successfully embrace a sober lifestyle and enjoy a productive, happy life without the use of this medication. If you or someone you love will soon enter treatment or are already in the process, this is a personal choice that you will have to make.

An estimated 30% of people will drop out of drug treatment programs before successful completion. Rates are different for specific substances, especially opiates. However, the high dropout rate speaks to the emotional, physical, and spiritual strength that is required to break the dependence on substances and develop healthy life patterns. For those with mental health issues as well, the process is potentially even more difficult.

That’s why medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an option. Medication like methadone can increase the chances of completing a treatment program. To help you decide if it’s right for you or a loved one, here is some information to help you decide if and when you should take methadone. 

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is an FDA-approved medication used to ease the most uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The longer you use opioids, the more your body and mind become dependent. It may feel like you simply can’t function without some type of opioid substance in your body. Withdrawal comes with a variety of symptoms, including hot or cold flashes, anxiety, irritability, and digestive problems like nausea and lack of appetite.

Methadone is an opioid, but the way it impacts the brain and body is different from illegal drugs like heroin. Heroin is a short-acting drug that creates fast, short-lived changes in the brain. Methadone is a long-acting opioid that doesn’t produce the strong, immediate impact that comes from heroin.

When taken orally under the supervision of a trained medical practitioner, it can deliver the opioid effects that a user depends on to function. It allows some recovering opioid users to make it through detox and treatment so that they have a strong chance of beating their addictions long term.

Is Methadone the Only Option for MAT?

Methadone is the most common medication used for opioid use treatment. It’s been in use since the 1940s, and many research studies have explored its effectiveness over the years. The FDA has approved it for this use, and many users have successfully transitioned into drug-free lifestyles with its help.

There are some other medications used in the treatment of opioids. Buprenorphine is one of the most common alternatives. Choosing the right medication is essential and should involve guidance from an experienced medical professional who understands all the options available and how they may affect your treatment.

How Methadone Fits Into the Detox and Recovery Process

Methadone treatment often begins during detox. The goal is to ease the most painful withdrawal symptoms and increase adherence with the goals of the treatment program. It’s delivered orally, either in pill or liquid form. The dosage can vary and is determined by the medical team monitoring each individual.

How long you use methadone depends on a variety of factors. Every user has a different experience working through the detox and recovery process. Some remain in detox for an extended period of time while others get through that initial process rather quickly. It’s essential to focus on your journey and not compare yourself to anyone else.

The longer you’ve used opioids, the longer you may need the assistance of methadone. Working with a professional care team will ensure you start and stop methadone use at the most advantageous times.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Methadone?

Now that you understand when methadone or other medications may come into the recovery picture, it’s time to explore another question: Should you use methadone? This is a personal decision that you will ultimately make with the guidance of a compassionate and knowledgeable care team. For now, it helps to educate yourself on the pros and cons of methadone treatment programs.

Methadone Advantages:

  • Methadone eases symptoms of withdrawal and makes recovery easier.
  • Medication-assisted treatment programs are medically supervised to ensure safety.
  • The use of methadone may help some people get through the most difficult stages of withdrawal and recovery, even if they have relapsed previously.

Potential Methadone Disadvantages:

  • Overdose is a risk of using methadone. It can take up to two months to get up to an adequate treatment dosage, and that induction phase presents a higher risk for relapse and overdose.
  • Methadone is an opioid. Some people believe the use of opioids in recovery continues the mindset of addiction. For some users, that is outweighed by the benefit of reducing the risk of relapse.
  • If you choose to take methadone as part of your medically assisted treatment, you will have to wean off the substance to achieve complete sobriety eventually. 
  • There are some potential short- and long-term side effects of using methadone.

Short-term side effects can include lightheadedness, stomach distress, and dry mouth. Alternatively, long-term health issues such as damage to your blood vessels, liver, and brain may occur if you do not use methadone as prescribed by a medical professional.

Is Methadone Treatment Right for You?

Understanding what methadone is and how it fits into the recovery process is only the first step to determining if it’s right for you or a loved one. Some people working to achieve a sober lifestyle prefer a natural, holistic approach to detox and recovery. They don’t want to introduce any more opioids into their system and worry that using methadone will keep their mindset in line with dependence.

Other people in substance use programs are open to medication-assisted treatment for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They’ve failed to complete treatment programs in the past, and they want to improve their chances of making it through this time. Relieving some of the more difficult symptoms of withdrawal gives them a fighting chance of successfully detoxing and working through their long-term treatment program.
  • They know the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are extremely painful and uncomfortable. From shaking and shivering to body aches and anxiety, the fear of withdrawal has kept them from entering treatment for months or years. The thought of easing those symptoms with methadone removes that fear and gives them greater confidence in their ability to make it through the detox process.
  • The fear that they can’t make it through daily life without opioids has stopped them from entering treatment or causes severe anxiety. They have a mental dependence on opioids and can’t imagine their lives without it. Using methadone assures them that they aren’t going “cold turkey” and have the support needed to make this critical life adjustment.
  • They don’t have a negative view of methadone use when supervised by an experienced medical care team. While some criticize MAT, these clients believe it is a helpful tool that will make it easier for them to create a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones.

Methadone or No Methadone – The Decision Is Personal

Now that you understand some of the reasons our clients may or may not opt to use methadone when recovering from opioid addiction, where do you think you stand on this issue? If you are not sure whether you want to use methadone or not, don’t let that stand in your way of seeking help for your substance use disorder. You don’t have to know whether you want to enroll in a medication-assisted treatment program when you decide to take your first steps on your recovery journey. 

Once you reach out to a treatment center, you will have professional guidance from compassionate experts who understand all the detox and recovery options. They will help you make the right decisions for your personal treatment plan. 

Your decisions are also reversible. If you enter a treatment program and decide it isn’t working well for you, then switching to a different program is always an option. Recovery is a personal process that proceeds differently for each person. 

You’re Never Alone – Reach Out for Help Today

If you’re interested in learning more about methadone or medication-assisted treatment programs in general, it’s probably time to reach out for help. Perhaps you know your use of illegal substances is interfering with the spectacular life you were meant to live. Maybe you’re concerned for someone you love.

Either way, the first steps are to admit help is needed and request assistance from trained professionals equipped to walk you through each step of the upcoming process. That’s where our team at Defining Wellness Centers comes into the picture.

Our services range from medical detox to dual diagnosis and various recovery programs. We start by assessing your current condition and determining the severity of your addiction and any mental health issues. From there, we work with you to create a personalized treatment plan.

Detox, recovery, and lifelong improvement are personal. That’s why we believe in treating every client as a unique and valuable person. Contact us to learn more about your treatment options.

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If you are ready to take the step towards a new life, call Defining Wellness today and learn more about how we can help you.