Methadone is an opioid or narcotic pain medication. It was first developed during World War II by German scientists in response to a shortage of morphine. In 1947, the American pharmaceutical Eli-Lilly began producing it. By the 1950s, it began to be used as a treatment for opioid addictions and subsequently heroin addictions.
Today, methadone continues to be used for extreme pain management and to treat addictions to other painkillers. Even though methadone is considered safer than other narcotics, it’s still extremely physically addictive, particularly when used in higher doses. When used to wean patients off from other painkillers, methadone use can lead users to replace one addiction for another.
Frequent methadone intake leads to tolerance which means that patients need to take higher and higher doses to achieve the same results. Once the body becomes used to the drug, it will need it to function normally. Quitting the drug thus becomes difficult and entails challenging withdrawal symptoms as the body learns to operate without it.
What is Methadone?
Apart from treating chronic pain management, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug for opioid use disorder (OUD) and as part of medication-assisted treatments (MAT). It’s sold under the brand names Methadose and Dolophine among others.
Methadone comes in different forms like powder, liquid, and diskettes.
When taken as prescribed, it is a practical treatment for addressing addictions because it reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms while blocking or mitigating opioid side effects. Its relatively long half-life (12 to 18 hours for the first dose and 13-47 hours for additional doses) makes it a good option for treating opioid addictions. Using methadone to detox from opiates is, therefore, a common practice in inpatient care facilities.
Since methadone is a synthetic opioid, there’s a risk that patients recovering from another addiction can end up trading their former addiction for a new one.
Side Effects of Methadone
The side effects of methadone range from mild to severe and depend on the individual taking it. Prescribing methadone as a treatment is thus largely up to the discretion of your doctor. Doctors will only prescribe it if they believe that its benefits outweigh the side effects.
Common side effects of methadone use are:
- Heavy sweating
- Itchy skin
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slow breathing
More serious side effects include:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Hives or rashes
- Rapid and pounding heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
- Swelling of the lips, face, throat, or tongue
Note that these side effects can occur even if you aren’t abusing the drug.
Is There a Safe Way To Use Methadone?
Methadone should always be taken under the supervision of a medical professional. While there’s no way to completely avoid methadone-related risks, there are guidelines you can practice to make sure that your chances of becoming addicted remain minimal and you don’t accidentally endanger yourself or others:
- Take your medication as prescribed. Make sure that your intake follows the recommended dose and schedule given by your doctor. If you feel like you need more to help with your pain, discuss your concern with your doctor to see if you can increase your dose or make other necessary adjustments. Don’t self-medicate by upping your dosage on your own.
- When on methadone, avoid potentially dangerous activities that require your full attention like driving and operating heavy machinery.
- If you were prescribed methadone, it was because of your doctor’s assessment of your particular case. Don’t share it with others.
- Once you no longer need to take the medication, dispose of the unused medication properly. This is not the kind of drug you store in your medicine cabinet for future purposes.
It’s important to stress the importance of not self-medicating because unintended overdoses can result from it. Even if you avoid an overdose, drug abuse will easily lead to methadone dependence. When you disregard the prescribed dose and take it at your own discretion, your body can quickly build a tolerance for it and addiction begins.
The dose, frequency, and duration of every medication are tailored for individual patients. Use your consultations to give your doctor a full account of everything you’re experiencing, including a history of your health and condition. If you fear that you may be developing an unhealthy dependence on methadone, mention it to your doctor as early as possible.
It’s also vital to note that methadone can react with other medications so you should tell your doctor about other drugs that you’re taking. Drug reactions can lead to serious medical issues like heart conditions.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
You’ll experience methadone detox withdrawal symptoms if you’ve been taking methadone for some time before stopping intake.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms have difficult physical and psychological effects that can begin manifesting within the first 12 to 48 hours of not taking it.
The longer your methadone intake, the more complicated and lengthy your withdrawal.
What Is Methadone Withdrawal Like?
There are days when you’ll experience withdrawal at full blast while other days are more manageable. One thing you’ll certainly experience is a strong craving for methadone.
After you get past the physical symptoms, expect an onslaught of psychological and mental challenges.
Here are physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Joint pains
- Muscle pains
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
How to Detox From Methadone
Detox is the first step towards a methadone-free life. Detoxification is designed to rid your system of methadone.
Patients who have been prescribed methadone to treat opiate addiction will have their doses gradually tapered down. Unfortunately, opiates take the longest to detox which means the weaning off process will take some time.
Methadone detox is best done in medically supervised methadone detox centers because it requires 24/7 monitoring, guidance, and support. A methadone detox at home is not recommended because the process demands a controlled and supportive environment that not all homes are ready to provide.
Tapering down methadone also requires careful and consistent guidance. Gaps and inconsistencies can lead to serious emergencies like heart problems, breathing issues, and even seizures.
Methadone Detox Timeline
Expect time to feel inconstant during a methadone detox. Some days and seconds will feel excruciatingly slow while others pass inexplicably fast.
Combine this with the withdrawal symptoms and you’ll wish it would be over quickly.
The first week of rapid methadone detox will be the hardest and most painful. Withdrawal symptoms will be at full force.
How many days does it take to detox from methadone?
The whole detoxification process can take three to six weeks while high-dose methadone detox lasts longer, extending to several months. If you take methadone in doses higher than 40 milligrams, expect to have a long battle with withdrawal.
Here is a general timeline along with symptoms you’re likely to experience:
First 24 Hours of Methadone Withdrawal
On the first day, expect fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms. Your heartbeat may be faster than usual too.
Days 2 to 10
Your body is trying to get used to functioning without methadone. You’ll experience intense cravings for the drug.
As your body struggles to keep up, paranoia and hallucinations can happen. You’ll feel tired and agitated. Flu-like symptoms can persist until the tenth day.
If you can’t sleep, this will also contribute to your mood swings and irritability.
Days 11 to 21
After three weeks into your methadone detox, you’ll be past the physical symptoms.
However, the craving for methadone is still as real and strong as your first week. Your biggest challenge during this time is depression. You can lose motivation in everything you’ve been fighting to achieve and start questioning your detox.
Expect intense negative emotions like anger, fear, helplessness, and apprehension.
Day 22 and Beyond
By this time, your body starts to acknowledge the absence of methadone.
Now and then, you’ll still have episodes of depression and mood swings while mild symptoms will continue for several weeks.
Inpatient Methadone Detox
Inpatient methadone detox is one of the best and safest treatment options for methadone addiction because you will have access to expert and round-the-clock medical care.
A detox facility also ensures you stay away from potentially harmful and triggering situations that could undermine your efforts. During treatment, you’ll need to set aside work, school, and your daily activities to focus on yourself and your recovery.
Detox facilities offer a range of activities to help with recovery. These activities will vary based on the inpatient detox facility you choose, but they generally include:
The admitting facility will need to understand every detail of your situation so they can create an individualized treatment and recovery plan for you.
All facilities offering inpatient methadone detox use this as the first step for detox. A psychiatric nursing professional or psychiatrist usually does the evaluation.
One of the goals of the initial evaluation is to identify the level of your dependence and where you are in the withdrawal process. This is also the time to disclose any existing medical conditions, complications, as well as other addictions.
#2. A Tailored Treatment Plan
Since every case is as unique as the individual they’re treating, your treatment plan will need to be based on your specific needs and situation. Creating a tailored treatment plan is one of the first steps to recovery upon entering any facility. What it entails and how long it lasts is different from patient to patient.
Whether they decide to taper off your methadone dosage or replace it with another medication, treatment plans usually include other therapies to ensure that rehabilitation is holistic. Typical therapies include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy evaluates the links between your behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. By being aware of these factors, you can analyze and break down the unconscious processes that triggered your dependence on methadone.
The main intention for conducting CBTs is to help you alter your behavioral patterns once you see that your previous and current routines are unhealthy. It can help you identify, avoid, and address harmful triggers for drug use. The therapy can also introduce you to new coping mechanisms that you can apply to stressors and problems that come your way.
Opening and talking about what they’re going through can be difficult for some people but it may be easier to express themselves visually. There are people who have trouble with words or are incapable of accessing deeper emotional states with therapists.
This is where art therapy comes in. Art therapy can help you open up and provide a healthier channel for your negative emotions and thoughts. It’s a creative outlet for your feelings when words just don’t seem sufficient to express what you’re going through.
Some find this a more liberating and easier methodology for feelings they didn’t even know existed.
Talking with others, sharing experiences, struggles, and knowing you’re not alone are a big help to someone in recovery. This is an invaluable tool during and even after the detox process because it helps you explore the roots of your problem while hearing how other people are dealing with the same challenges.
Moral support and solidarity from like-minded individuals can be a huge source of comfort in light of the difficulties presented by withdrawal. After detox, group meetings are a great way to continue recovery and prevent relapse.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation are relaxation techniques that have been used for thousands of years. They force you to focus on the breath, postures, and being in the moment so that you can have a reprieve in the midst of withdrawal. By teaching you to redirect your focus, they can be effective and healthy coping mechanisms for stressors that might lead you to relapse.
Sessions are usually held early in the morning. Sometimes, these activities are also open to patients’ family members. This is done to provide patients the opportunity to receive support from family in a nurturing and controlled environment.
#3. Life After Detox
Inpatient facilities often provide continuing support to their patients even after finishing their detox programs. The goal for recovering addicts is to prevent relapse. This is not as simple as it sounds since the incidence of relapse among patients with OUD is very high. It’s estimated that three out of four people who complete their detoxification programs have a relapse in the next two to three years.
This is why continued support from post-detox programs like counseling and group therapy is highly advised.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I help a loved one detox from methadone?
Extending emotional support to a loved one undergoing methadone detox and withdrawal is invaluable. Remember that withdrawal symptoms have difficult physical and emotional manifestations which include depression and mood swings.
As someone who cares for someone in recovery, this can be difficult for you as well. A lot of patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen are helpful during this time.
If your loved one has family or friends that they argue with a lot or use drugs, discourage them from visiting.
In any case, the most important factor for someone suffering from methadone addiction is their will to overcome it. If they’re willing to be admitted to an inpatient facility, this is already a huge step. If visits are allowed, make sure to visit and talk with them on such occasions. Avoid stressful and contentious topics.
After they get home, you can do the following:
- Distract them from their cravings. You can encourage them to watch a movie, listen to music, play a video game, or do any activity that they used to enjoy before their addiction started.
- If they feel overwhelmed by their emotions and experiences, suggest and encourage them to delay making any decisions for an hour.
- Encourage them to drink water. Liquid intake is important during and after detox because it helps the body flush out toxins. Electrolytes also help restore balance to the body.
- Talk with them and remind them of their reasons for stopping.
- Go with them for a walk or do yoga, Tai Chi, and other relaxing exercises together.
What is the difference between detoxing from methadone vs detoxing with methadone?
Detoxing from methadone means that you are in the process of ridding it from your system. You might have inadvertently started taking larger doses as part of a pain management program and developed a dependence on it. Whatever the reason, you now face an unhealthy habit that requires you to retrain your body to function without it.
In comparison, detoxing with methadone means that you’re using methadone to ease an addiction from another opioid. Since methadone is often used to treat opioid addictions, detoxing with methadone can be part of the detox treatment for another drug.
Whether you are detoxing from methadone or with methadone, they should both be done under medical supervision.
Before You Go: Address a Possible Methadone Addiction as Soon as Possible
Methadone is an effective medication for advanced pain management, however, the risk for misuse and dependence is high.
If you are currently using methadone to treat a medical concern, make sure to be extra cautious and only take the necessary doses at the prescribed times.
If you’ve been using it for some time and fear that you may have developed an unhealthy reliance on the medication, talk to your doctor and discuss possible alternatives and treatments. The road ahead is far from easy, but the sooner you address the situation, the less severe the withdrawal.