Methadone is a type of synthetic opioid drug used in the treatment of other addictions, mainly heroin addiction. While it is legitimately used for medical and detox purposes, methadone presents a high risk of dependence. This means that methadone treatment needs to be carefully prescribed and supervised by a licensed addiction counsellor or a doctor.

What is Methadone?

Methadone was first developed in the 1930s as an opioid analgesic and meant to be less addictive than heroin or morphine. The drug was used for treating heroin addiction, however, because of its similarities with heroin, namely the fact that it engages the same opioid receptors, it became apparent that some patients were at risk of developing a different, lasting methadone addiction when being treated for heroin or morphine addiction. 

Methadone is used in clinical settings in order to reduce the withdrawal symptoms of patients who are admitted for heroin addiction, without producing the same type of high the patient was accustomed to when using their  drug of choice. It is also used for pain relief as part of the heroin detoxification process however, being a powerful opiate itself, methadone is potentially highly addictive and people who are under treatment for heroin addiction using methadone as a step-down medicine  may be at high risk of abusing methadone as they already have a history of abuse with opioids. 

The Effects of Methadone Use

Methadone does not produce the same high as heroin or morphine because it was synthesised to block the euphoric effect that is provided by opiates/opioids. However, methadone does have sedative effects that may be addictive. In time, people who take methadone as part of a detoxification treatment may become dependent and develop a tolerance to methadone which, requires  a larger dose in order to obtain the same withdrawal effects. The risk of negative events may be even higher when some people who struggle with this addiction combine the drug with alcohol or benzodiazepines. 

Because methadone can only be prescribed by a physician working in a specialised recovery clinic, patients who have become addicted may try to seek the services of more than one clinic in order to receive treatment with methadone or revert back to street heroin. 

A methadone overdose can take place when an individual has been using this drug outside the limits prescribed by the physician or  as an alternative to heroin. A methadone overdose can usually be recognised by the following symptoms: constricted pupils, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, hypertension, loss of consciousness, hypoventilation. In some cases, respiratory depression or hypoventilation (slow and ineffective breathing) can be fatal. 

Methadone Maintenance Therapy

Methadone maintenance treatment has been used to cure opioid addictions since the 1950s. The process is based on the assumption that while methadone is in itself addictive, it will not produce the same effects as illegal opioids. The daily dose is controlled by a doctor and the patient is closely monitored to observe evolution and treat the withdrawal symptoms gradually. 

Specialised methadone maintenance therapy is performed by a team of professionals including doctors and nurses who are qualified to make the treatment decisions. Only a physician is allowed to prescribe its use and this is done following a comprehensive assessment. Nurses are then required to supervise the distribution of methadone as per the doctor’s instructions. 

This treatment does present a number of side effects which are:: nausea, drowsiness, decreased appetite, mood swings, headaches or insomnia. As previously mentioned, when taken in high quantities, this drug can cause difficulty breathing and a number of other potentially fatal complications. 

While methadone is useful for the treatment of heroin addiction in a closed setting, it still holds a high potential for developing addiction and can occur as a side effect of  opioid addiction withdrawal treatments. While in some cases methadone maintenance therapy may provide benefits, the risks associated with developing a different, long-tasting addiction should always be taken into consideration and the drug should only be administered as prescribed by a physician. 

Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms

Being an opioid itself, methadone may be hard to quit and individuals who attempt this will experience a number of withdrawal symptoms. These include fatigue, anxiety, restlessness, sweating, difficulty sleeping, watery eyes, a runny nose. These symptoms can start within the first 30 hours and develop into more flu-like symptoms over the course of the following three days. The patient may experience the following symptoms at the peak of the withdrawal: muscle pain, severe nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, anxiety and depression. 

The unpleasant withdrawal from methadone can cause strong cravings that usually make people relapse when trying to quit the use of methadone on their own. It is important to seek adequate medical attention when attempting methadone detox in order to receive proper care for the withdrawal symptoms and move toward abstinence-based recovery

Methadone Detox & Treatment at Castle Health

Methadone users may find it very hard to manage the addiction and ceasing the treatment may seem impossible. This is why reaching out to a rehab clinic is recommended when trying to overcome methadone addiction. 

At Castle Health inpatient clinic, the methadone detoxification programme will usually include a tapered-down detox  of the drug as opposed to quitting the drug “cold turkey” (instantly), as this approach may aggravate the withdrawal symptoms in some patients. Our residential programme starts with a personalised detoxification phase, established by our doctors according to the length and the severity of the addiction and other personal factors such as the age and the general physical and mental state of the patient. The detox process is medically supervised and regularly reviewed by our medical team in order to achieve a safe, gradual and comfortable detox for all patients.

Methadone detox may last up to several months and it is accompanied by individual and group therapy sessions. Once the methadone detox treatment is complete, all our patients benefit from ongoing support by receiving a personalised, two-year continuing care plan. 

If you or someone you know has developed a methadone addiction, it is strongly recommended to get help through a residential rehab centre such as Castle Health that is properly equipped to medically manage and treat this type of synthetic opioid addiction. 

Contact us for more information about the treatment of methadone addiction at Castle Health.