The synthetic opioid methadone has been used for decades to help individuals in recovery for opioid use disorder. In the 1960s, it was discovered that methadone could help in reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, allowing the individual to reduce the use of illicit drugs or narcotics and move forward in recovery. For some interesting facts about methadone, continue reading.
What is methadone?
Methadone is a man-made opioid agonist drug that binds to the same opioid receptors in the brain as most opioids. Due to its potential for misuse, dependence and addiction, methadone is a tightly regulated controlled substance with a Schedule II designation. Methadone helps block the pleasure response that other opioids or opiates cause in the brain. As helpful as it is, the drug does have some side effects. Some of these include:
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
- Urinary retention
- Difficulty concentrating
- Droopy eyelids
- Decreased blood pressure
What is medication supported recovery?
Medication supported recovery (MSR) is a highly effective treatment intervention for individuals in recovery from a heroin or opioid use disorder. Although MSR isn’t appropriate for everyone, it can and does significantly increase recovery success in those individuals that would likely benefit.
MSR works by replacing the substance with a substitute medication that satisfies the physiological need for the opioid without providing the euphoric effect — basically tricking the brain. Methadone is one such medication, along with others like Suboxone, made from buprenorphine and naltrexone. Each of these medications works in unique ways to block the pleasure response and, therefore, reduce the risk of relapse.
Of the various medications utilized in MSR, methadone is the most stringently regulated. Individuals are required to be physically present at a licensed methadone clinic to receive their daily doses.
Using methadone for addiction treatment
The purpose of methadone maintenance programs is to increase the likelihood that the individual in recovery will be able to pursue employment and enjoy normal daily functioning. As with other drugs used for MSR programs, methadone not only reduces the risk of relapse but also reduces illegal activity and high-risk behaviors.
When methadone is used in addiction treatment, it is prescribed for a minimum of one year, although some patients are on methadone for many years. A doctor will monitor progress regularly, reducing the dosage over time if indicated.
Challenges of methadone treatment
While methadone has a long history as a replacement opioid for individuals in opiate recovery, the drug is not without some challenges. These include:
- Drug interactions: Methadone is known to interact adversely with several medications. These include:
- Antifungal drugs
- Adverse effects: Continued methadone maintenance may result in a wide range of side effects, including:
- Chronic constipation
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Itchy skin
- Slowed breathing
- Heart arrhythmia
- Depressed respiratory function
- Methadone misuse: As with all opioids, methadone is itself a substance with a high potential for misuse and addiction. Some of the signs of methadone misuse include:
- Injecting methadone
- Experiencing increased tolerance
- Increasing dosages
- Acquiring methadone from illicit sources
- Using methadone with other substances, such as benzodiazepines or alcohol
- Dependence: Over time, methadone maintenance may lead to dependency. This might be physical dependence, psychological dependence, or both.
- Cognitive problems: Ongoing methadone maintenance may result in brain changes, which lead to a decline in cognitive function, learning abilities and memory.
Methadone is just one of several MSR medications that may offer many benefits for individuals in recovery when utilized in conjunction with outpatient therapy and other sources of recovery support. Learn more about MSR here.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.