Doctors customarily prescribe methadone to patients in the event of an injury or other painful condition. Unfortunately, people with a history of drug abuse and those battling mental health have found ways to acquire it illegally, as with many drugs. Its use and abuse have become controversial because of the cases of overdose and deaths caused by methadone
Even though methadone is used to treat opioid use disorder, methadone itself is quite addicting. Many who use it as a remedy for opioid addiction are thus faced with the challenge of coming off methadone, exchanging one addiction for another. All things considered, however, methadone is still incredibly beneficial in medicine.
If you or someone you know is addicted to this synthetic opioid, this article will teach you everything you need to know about the drug and getting off methadone. We will go into detail by describing methadone’s side effects, withdrawal symptoms, withdrawal timeline, and its treatment.
Understanding Methadone and Addiction
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is particularly efficient in alleviating pain and treating opioid addiction. This means that methadone prevents withdrawal symptoms from affecting individuals with morphine or codeine addiction.
It is one of the most popular controlled substances, which means that the government controls its use and distribution. Without government regulation and a free-to-purchase policy, it’s anticipated that methadone use could spur a US drug crisis.
Let’s take a look at the statistics associated with methadone and its life-threatening effects:
- Each year, roughly four million methadone prescriptions are written for patients and an estimated 5,000 Americans die from methadone overdoses. This is higher than the overdoses related to cocaine and heroin combined.
- According to a government report, methadone is responsible for more than 30 percent of painkiller-related deaths in the United States.
- Methadone tends to be a long-term addiction. Studies show that many who start taking it often end up using it for 20 years or more.
Is Methadone Addictive?
Methadone is highly addictive, but so are the majority of opioids. It’s often used as part of opioid withdrawal treatments because it blocks withdrawal symptoms and acts on the pain receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of the symptoms.
If you start taking methadone for medical reasons and use it regularly for an extended period, your brain grows dependent on it to eliminate pain and produce a calming sensation. The results are chemically induced feelings of relaxation and even euphoria though it isn’t as intense as with other opioids.
Can You Overdose on Methadone?
Definitely. The risk of overdose in methadone is quite high. A person can overdose on methadone if they take higher and higher doses over an extended period. The symptoms of methadone overdose are:
- Muscle twitching
- Decreased heartbeat
- Pale or bluish skin
- Constricted pupils
- Vomiting and nausea
Should you suspect that someone around you is having an overdose, the first course of treatment is a fast-acting medication called Naloxone. It is an emergency drug that is used in case a person starts to overdose on methadone. Its effects can begin within a minute after being administered and last up to one day. Naloxone can be given intravenously or through a person’s nose.
What Are the Dangers of Methadone?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, methadone-related mortality climbed by more than 73 percent in just four years. This demonstrates how dangerous non-prescription methadone abuse can be.
Similar reports show that the recreational use of opiates like methadone is extremely dangerous. According to reports, the majority of methadone-related deaths were caused by methadone pills dispensed outside of opioid treatment programs rather than methadone intended for opioid treatment programs.
Side Effects of Methadone
Methadone side effects are physical symptoms that the body may suffer because of the drug’s presence in their bodies.
It’s important to distinguish between side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms appear after an individual has developed a dependency on the drug. When they try to stop using the substance, the body experiences health consequences as a result of becoming accustomed to the drug in the system.
Side effects occur because the drug has entered or is still in the patient’s system while withdrawal symptoms occur because of reducing the dosage.
Side effects of using methadone may include:
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Abdominal cramps
- Mood swings
- Insomnia or drowsiness
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
- Bladder problems
How do you know if your symptoms are a cause for worry? In case you notice any of the following symptoms, consult your doctor immediately. Sometimes, these symptoms are withdrawal symptoms, especially if you have decided to stop taking prescription methadone abruptly.
- Hives, rashes, or severe itching
- Swelling (nose/throat/eyes)
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme drowsiness, lightheadedness, and fainting
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Severe nausea and vomiting
- Erectile dysfunction
- Irregular menstruation cycle
- Decreased sexual drive
- Fast heartbeat
Methadone withdrawal symptoms occur after methadone is discontinued after a long period of dependency and abuse. These symptoms can manifest regardless of whether methadone was acquired illegally or legitimately as an over-the-counter drug.
Methadone is generally prescribed to alleviate pain and withdrawal from opioid withdrawal symptoms including morphine withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, the body becomes used to the chemical. Methadone use may therefore lead to more issues than it solves. When someone tries to do without it, withdrawal symptoms start to show.
What Are the Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms?
Methadone withdrawal is characterized by physical and psychological symptoms with cognitive manifestations.
- Runny nose
- Abdominal Discomfort
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate
- High Blood Pressure
Psychological and Cognitive Symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
- Spontaneous orgasm
- Severe increase or decrease in the individual’s sex drive.
In extreme circumstances, methadone can cause high blood pressure, hallucinations, delirium, and dehydration. These are all serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention. Less severe symptoms, on the other hand, like headaches and cramping can be monitored for a week before medical attention is sought.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms in Infants
Did you know that infants can also suffer from withdrawal symptoms? This is a condition referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Babies’ bodies can receive the drug during pregnancy through their mothers.
If a pregnant woman was on opioids during her pregnancy, the drugs are passed to the infant through the placenta. There is a high risk that the child will become accustomed to the opioid through the pregnant mother if the mother continues to use it up to a week before the due date. Hence, the infant can experience withdrawal symptoms after birth when the baby no longer receives the medication. How do infant methadone withdrawal symptoms differ from the symptoms that adults suffer?
Methadone withdrawal symptoms in infants manifest as:
- Tremors, seizures, and twitching
- Loud and excessive crying
- Poor feeding or excessive sucking
- Breathing problems
- Fever and sweating
- Blotchy skin
- Sleeping problems
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Stuffy nose or sneezing
How Long Can Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
Withdrawal symptoms from opiates like fentanyl and methadone can begin six to 12 hours after the last dose and can last up to 21 days. The withdrawal for coming off methadone can be categorized into three stages:
Stage 1: Acute Withdrawal
Acute withdrawal is experienced three to eight hours after the last dose. The side effects of getting off methadone are mild at first and include a runny nose, goosebumps, muscle tension, and abdominal cramps. Expect to feel a strong craving for methadone.
Stage 2: Fully-Developed Acute Withdrawal
More distressing symptoms develop during fully-developed acute withdrawal, such as rapid breathing, elevated heart rate, and intense vomiting. These symptoms manifest for one to three days.
Psychologically, you can expect depression and mood swings. There is a strong desire to take methadone.
Stage 3: Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
PAWS is the last stage of withdrawal and acute symptoms will have worn off by this point. However, significant psychological symptoms such as depression, irritability, sleeplessness, and mood swings may still be present. The third stage can persist for weeks and even for up to half a year.
Though you’ll physically be better than the first two stages, the psychological symptoms are still there and will gradually decrease with time.
Factors Affecting Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
Methadone withdrawal symptoms are often compared to oxycodone withdrawal symptoms as both drugs are opioids and bear similar properties. However, the duration and intensity of symptoms are typically determined by the following factors:
- Height, age, and weight of the individual
- Overall health and immune system
- Medical history
- Severity of dependence
- How long the drug stays in your system
- Combinations of drugs abused
- History of drug use and abuse such as prior addictions
How To Stop Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
As tempting as it may seem at the beginning, you should never decide to go cold turkey when trying to stop methadone use. While many try to quit cold turkey, this is a risky decision that can result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. At the very least, sufferers can experience excruciating levels of withdrawal.
The best course of action for stopping methadone is to consult a medical professional before attempting to quit. Medical professionals will guide you on when and how to stop drug intake, what medications to put you on, if and how to taper off the drug, etc.
What Helps Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms?
While there are no avoiding withdrawal symptoms, there are healthy ways you can deal with them. Here are a few options you can consider:
- Join support groups to meet with encouraging and positive people, surround yourself with people who can help
- Yoga and exercise to decrease stress, anxiety and for more peace of mind
- Keep yourself entertained and distracted with books, TV shows, hobbies, etc.
- Explore alternative healing methods like massages, acupuncture, and herbal medicines
- Tapering off the drug over time, keep in mind that this should be medically assisted
- Get in touch with nature, go on a hike
- Get a small pet for love and companionship
The Power of Distraction and a Caring Support Network
As you might have guessed, a big part of coping with withdrawal is avoiding unnecessary stress and refocusing your mind from your symptoms and your cravings. There will be times during your detox that the urge to relapse will be extremely strong. It’s important not to become overwhelmed by this instinct. A lot of times, all you can do is survive moment by moment.
Distraction by engaging in unrelated activities or hobbies that you enjoy is a great way to occupy the mind and focus on something else.
Surrounding yourself with caring individuals by joining a support group or talking with someone you trust is another arsenal in your fight against methadone and relapsing. These are things you can continue to do even after you’ve finished the detoxification process to keep yourself from relapsing.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms: Treatment
There are various treatment methods available for methadone withdrawal. They are the same treatment methods available for morphine, codeine, and other opiate withdrawal symptoms. Read on to know how to detox from methadone.
Detoxification is the process of employing drugs to remove all traces of methadone from the body. If you wish to detox from methadone, it can take anywhere from a day to two weeks, depending on a variety of factors such as:
- The severity of withdrawal symptoms
- The combination of the drugs that are being abused such as cocaine and fentanyl
- The dosage of the drug that the person needs to function
- The half-life of the drug
- Duration of addiction
Medical detox should generally take place in a treatment center. Though there are ways to detox at home, it is not recommended. Detoxification requires expert medical care, guidance, and supervision. A medical facility can provide these things as well as help you with a treatment plan. They also provide continuous monitoring so that if you develop severe withdrawal, they can quickly mobilize medical care and adjust your detoxification plan.
During detox, your doctor may prescribe medication for treating methadone withdrawal symptoms. These can help make your withdrawal less severe and more manageable. Eventually, all drugs will be tapered off until you can function normally again without needing any opioid drugs.
Tapering off methadone means that the drug’s dosage is gradually lowered over time instead of stopping it abruptly. By administering methadone in decreasing doses, your body has an easier time adjusting and the withdrawal symptoms are less pronounced. This means that you suffer less and incur less risk during detox.
Gradual cessation is therefore a highly preferred means of detoxing since methadone doses are not abruptly withdrawn.
Because methadone stays in your body for longer, it’s also a popular withdrawal medication for opioid withdrawal treatment. This is why in some cases, patients overcome one addiction and inadvertently replace it with a methadone one instead.
Rehabilitation therapy can be used to help methadone addicts recover. Some therapists and caregivers cater to the needs of patients round the clock, ensuring that they exercise, take their prescriptions on time, participate in social activities, and, most importantly, do not relapse. The goal of rehabilitation is to create a safe and compassionate environment that encourages convalescence.
There are a few things to keep in mind in case you are prescribed methadone for pain or drug addiction. Once you start medication, it is important to remember that while it might appear to help you, underlying medical conditions might get in the way. Inform your doctor if you suffer from any of the following preexisting conditions:
- An allergy to methadone
- Asthma or breathing issues
- Heart condition
- Head injury or brain tumor
- Pregnancy or if you’re breastfeeding
- Liver or kidney disease
- Addiction to methadone or any other opioids
You can observe warning signs of methadone addiction in a loved one if you notice that they are constantly taking it, if they are taking it in increasing doses, if they show withdrawal symptoms, and if they continue to take methadone even if it affects them negatively,
Methadone withdrawal symptoms aren’t typically life-threatening but they can be very uncomfortable and get in the way of your mental health. Despite its challenges, it’s an essential part of recovery. Detoxification should always be done with medical supervision as part of a planned treatment program.
If you aren’t dependent on methadone yet but you’re taking it as part of a medical issue, be wary of the drug and never take more than the recommended dosage. Should you notice that the drug doesn’t have the same effect as before, consult your doctor instead of upping your dose on your own.
If you suffer from methadone addiction, reach out to a medical professional or someone you trust. On the other hand, if you suspect that someone you care about has an unhealthy relationship with the drug, talk to them about it. Due to the tolerance that our bodies build to methadone, prolonged use can only mean higher doses. The longer this reliance is allowed to continue, the harder the road ahead will be.
Getting treated will boost your health, prevent accidental overdoses, and relieve hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms. Most of all, you get your life back.