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Methadone Treatment

Drug addiction can be a difficult cross to bear.

Methadone Treatment

Drug addition is tough to beat. It's more than just a habitdrug abuse can change the function of your body, so that a craving becomes a need.

Each time you experience euphoria from the dose of a drug, you're taking a small step in a process that can eventually remap the pathways of your brain. After years of repeated use, your brain needs the drug in ever greater amounts, and physical addiction has set in.

Opioid Withdrawal

When you're addicted to a drug, withdrawal has unpleasant side effects. If you're addicted to an opioid class of drugs that includes substances like heroin and OxyContin, either made from opium or synthesized in a lab to have a similar chemical structurethe side effects of withdrawal can be severe.

Some of the worst side effects of opioid withdrawal include tremors, abdominal pain or cramps, agitation and sleeplessness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic drug that can alleviate the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. This is because methadone is itself an opioid. But is it really a good idea to quit one drug by starting another?

In this case...yes. Methadone is much safer, more predictable, and more controllable than heroin or other opioids. It can be a critical step on the path to recovery from drug addiction.

How Methadone Works

Methadone binds to the same receptors in the brain that other opioids affect. In this way it reduces the physical craving for drugs like heroin or OxyContin.

It also blocks the euphoric effect of other opioids, without having a euphoric or sedating high of its own at theraputic doses. Your body processes methadone more slowly than heroin, so a single dose can prevent withdrawal symptoms for an entire day.

Even though a person undergoing methadone treatment is still physically dependant on the drug, methadone cuts out the highs and lows, the cravings and the withdrawal symptoms, helping you stabilize your life and begin the process of recovery.

Modes of Treatment: Withdrawal Therapy and MMT

Methadone is used in short-term situations as a part of withdrawal therapy, or detoxification, which is a course of treatment designed to help you completely stop taking the addicting drug as soon as possible.

Most withdrawal therapy programs are thirty days or shorter, although federal guidelines allow for methadone detoxification episodes lasting for up to 180 days. Treatment can be done in a hospital, a residential treatment facility, or on an outpatient basis, depending on the circumstances.

But complete withdrawal can be hard to take, and relapses are common. An alternative is methadone maintenance treatment, or MMTa long-term approach to treating the problem of opioid addiction. This involves stabilizing the addiction and going through a maintenance phase with regular doses of methadoneinstead of aiming for a quick stop to all opioid drug use.

Research has shown that MMT is an effective treatment, but that it works best over a period of at least 12 monthsand for some individuals it can be helpful for a period of years.

People undergoing MMT usually get their treatment from specialized outpatient clinics, under the supervision of doctors and other medical professionals.


Methadone isn't the only option for treating opioid withdrawal. In 2002 the FDA approved two drugs containing buprenorphinesold under the brand names Subutex and Suboxonefor withdrawal treatment.

Like methadone, buprenorphine is itself an opioid drug. It can be used in a similar way to eliminate the cravings and symptoms of withdrawal from more powerful opioids.

It's also safer and less susceptible to abuse than methadone, which is why the FDA classifies it as a Schedule III drug, rather than including it on the more tightly controlled Schedule II (which includes methadone, morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl, among others).

That means that some specially trained doctors can prescribe Subutex and Suboxone for withdrawal treatment, unlike methadone, which must be administered in treatment clinics. For many people this is a definite advantage.

Finding a Treatment Facility

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administrationa part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Servicesmaintains an online database of accredited drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities, with detailed information about the services offered, the forms of payment accepted, and more. It can be found here.

There is a separate database (searchable only by state) of consisting of only facilities that treat opioid addiction. It can be found here.

SAMHSA also maintains a database of physicians and treatment programs that are authorized to treat opioid addiction with buprenorphine. The site is updated with new physicians weekly, and can be found here.

SAMHSA also operates a toll-free national helpline for treatment referrals:
(800) 662-HELP (4357)
(800) 487-4889 (TDD)

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