Methadone is a synthetic opiate used to help those addicted to heroin and other narcotics get clean. When used in conjunction with traditional therapy methods, this type of replacement therapy can help people satisfy their physical need for opiates without providing the intoxicating effects of other narcotic drugs. However, even when used as prescribed, individuals may decide they no longer need or want methadone as a part of their treatment plan. When this happens, methadone doses will typically be tapered under medical supervision. While this limits withdrawal symptoms, patients may still experience some side effects.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone isn’t addiction treatment in and of itself, but when used as a part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) it can help individuals access the tools and resources they need to move past opiate addiction and move on with their lives.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains, “Medicated-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of FDA- approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.”1
MAT integrates physical healthcare, therapy and medications so that anyone struggling with addiction can improve their quality of life. Methadone can be used at the beginning of treatment, in the middle or as part of a long-term aftercare program. Any time a patient is ready to stop using methadone, his or her treatment team will set up a tapering schedule and explain what should be expected during methadone withdrawal.
What to Expect During Methadone Withdrawal
Methadone is an opioid. This means methadone withdrawal symptoms can be almost as intense as heroin withdrawal symptoms. Opioids and opiates replace naturally occurring chemicals that manage a variety of psychological effects. As the body adjusts, the presence of opioids becomes “normal.” When the drug leaves a person’s system, the body will take time to return to a drug-free normal.
As it readjusts, individuals will experience symptoms of methadone withdrawal. These can include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and cramping
- Fever, chills and cold sweats
- Intense muscular, bone and head pain
- Flu-like symptoms
- Paranoia and mental obsession
- Nightmares and sleeplessness
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Methadone withdrawal can be dangerous or life-threatening. Quitting cold turkey without the medical supervision and care of doctors can be painful and ineffective. Even after a person successfully moves past physical detox, psychological addiction and withdrawal symptoms can challenge recovery. The psychological aspects of the disease need to be acknowledged, understood and treated for lasting recovery.
The Safe Way to Ease Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
Some individuals may attempt to undergo detox on their own. They may have been self-medicating with methadone or using this drug on its own. No matter the reasons behind the use, quitting without medical supervision is dangerous.
Attempting to quit cold-turkey or use other substances like alcohol to minimize withdrawal symptoms will undermine recovery efforts and may result in accidental overdose or death. P & T explains, “Methadone can cause life-threatening changes in breathing and heart rate.”2 Methadone is a central nervous system depressant like any opioid drug, and using it with other drugs or alcohol increases potential risks.
The only safe way to ease the symptoms of methadone withdrawal is through medically supervised detox services. Medical healthcare professionals and addiction treatment staff will make sure symptoms are addressed as they arise and that patient safety and comfort is always a priority.
Beyond Methadone Withdrawal to Lasting Addiction Recovery
Many people mistakenly believe that the process of withdrawal and the ending of physical addiction are the hardest part of recovery. While detox can be intense or even dangerous, methadone addiction changes thoughts and behavior on a deep and emotional level. Too many people go through the stages of opiate withdrawal only to relapse days, weeks or even months later because the psychological aspects of their disease have never been treated. Lasting recovery requires focused, professional help in a safe, supportive environment. The most effective treatment programs understand addiction is a mental health concern. They develop individualized treatment plans for each patient and make sure he or she gets comprehensive, integrated care for complete wellness.
Find Methadone Withdrawal and Recovery Help Today
If you are struggling with methadone or opiate addiction and withdrawal, please call our toll-free helpline any time of day or night. Our expert staff is ready to help you relieve the symptoms you are facing and put you on the path toward lasting freedom from addiction. Don’t put off a safe, healthy and lasting recovery. Reach out today.
By Alanna Hilbink
1“Medication-Assisted Treatment.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 7 Feb. 2018.
2Grissinger, Matthew. “Keeping Patients Safe from Methadone Overdoses.” P&T: A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management. Aug. 2011.