how does methadone treatment work

How Does Methadone Treatment Work?

Methadone treatment has been one of the most reliable methods used to treat addiction to dangerous drugs, including heroin and other opioids. If you or a loved one has developed an addiction, it may be time to consider methadone treatment as an option.

In this article, we’re exploring a common question among people interested in overcoming an addiction to heroin and other opioids – how does methadone treatment work?

How Does Methadone Treatment Work

Methadone treatment is one example of pharmacotherapy – the use of pharmaceuticals, like antidepressants, in the treatment of a mental disorder (in this case addiction).

Methadone is not the only kind of pharmaceutical drug used to for addiction treatment, but it is among the most common – and it is also the starter of a great many debates, namely around whether or not using methadone in the treatment of heroin addiction isn’t just creating a series of methadone addicts, and whether that’s a risk that should be taken.

But to discuss this, it’s important to first understand what methadone is, how it affects opioid use, and why it’s still a common practice to prescribe the drug in cases of opioid misuse.

So, how does methadone treatment work?

What Is Methadone?

Methadone has been the most reliable method to combat heroin addiction in the past few decades, providing a window of opportunity in the life of someone struggling with opioids necessary to help them get their life together and focus on building a robust, happier world without drug abuse.

It does this by dampening the high of an opioid while preventing withdrawal symptoms. Basically, methadone is prescribed as a way to neuter the effects of heroin and other opioids, and it is used as a way to help those who struggle with a severe heroin problem and have sought out all other alternatives.

Methadone treatment is not readily available – you have to be eligible for it, and it is typically prescribed in outpatient programs after residential treatment when other types of heroin treatment have failed to leave lasting results.

The point of methadone is not to replace one addiction with another. It is to chemically reduce the effectiveness of opioids so the brain learns to wean itself off the drug, as it no longer produces such a powerful artificial high.

The Pros And Cons Of Methadone As Addiction Treatment

The pros of methadone have been explained: methadone has been used reliably as a way to counter heroin addiction chemically for over 40 years. When administered properly through medical staff in the form of a pill, taken orally and under the tongue, it produces a slow dampening effect that eliminates the rush of an opioid and teaches the brain to stop depending on heroin as a source of pleasure. But it isn’t without its cons.

For one, methadone tablets can turn into a source of addiction. Dependency on methadone is caused by an inability to move past this stage of the treatment process. Methadone is but one step in a continuous recovery effort against drug use – after methadone, recovery continues, but methadone usage should stop. That being said, about 2.5 million people reported to abusing methadone at some point in their lifetime in 2012, and a methadone overdose is possible.

Methadone misuse isn’t due to professionally-administered dosages of methadone. It’s through the illegal overuse of methadone from other sources, either from friends or even through the black market.

Aside from its potential as a source of addiction, methadone does have some side effects to consider. These include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Impotence
  • Bowel movement problems

No drug is free from side effects, and methadone is no exception – but that doesn’t mean its side effects are a common issue or a permanent fixture of heroin treatment. Consult your physician if you’re having problems with your methadone prescription.

Methadone And Sobriety

If your goal is sobriety, and methadone has been recommended as a treatment solution in your case of opioid misuse, then try and consider it as a stepping stone towards a life ultimately free from drugs. Methadone is effective – even if it isn’t a perfect solution, its efficacy as a form of heroin and opioid dependence treatment has led it to become one of the most common ways to pharmaceutically counter the drugs.

However, it is important to beware of misuse. Methadone is still a potentially addictive drug, and what makes it effective as treatment rather than as replacing drug addiction is the fact that it has to be administered in the right way, at the right time, through professionals.

A Long-Term Outlook

Residential treatment, outpatient treatment, group therapy, and methadone – these are all treatments that share one thing: they’re temporary. Recovery, on the other hand, never ends. It’s important to understand that like many great numbers of things in drug recovery, methadone is just a temporary tool meant to induce a certain ineffectiveness in opioids long enough for other treatment methods to leave a lasting effect on a person, enough to cut them off from opioid usage forever.

Methadone alone can’t help someone go through recovery, and without the drug, a person’s chances may be reduced. However, the potential for dependence on methadone is a valid risk and one that has to be considered and understood before using the drug as part of a treatment program for any opioid user.

There are key differences. Methadone and buprenorphine (another opioid treatment drug) are administered professionally and in a way that slows down their introduction into the bloodstream. The result is a marked downturn in the need to take opioids for the analgesic effect and the high – it doesn’t cause a rush like most addictive drugs.

This leads us to the debate that another way to deal with opioid addiction is to make prescription heroin legal, only obtainable through medical facilities and only through a doctor, who must administer the drug personally.

This has been done in other places (like Canada), in order to combat overdose deaths, reduce the risk of HIV spreading through the population, and as a way to treat addiction as a health-based issue rather than simply a problem of criminality. Whatever your opinion on people who struggle to give up drugs, the facts are that making it less risky to use drugs and making treatment more readily available lowers mortality and lowers the total number of drug users.

People don’t want to abuse drugs – they’re trapped in a cycle, and it’s the hopelessness and stigma of their situation that often drives them to lose all motivation to stop. Only by tackling issues like this on a societal level rather than on a negligent level of “personal responsibility” can addiction be reasonably dealt with.