Methadone Facts and Myths
An addiction to alcohol or drugs can turn your life upside down and result in very serious consequences. Whether you became addicted to painkillers prescribed after an injury or a loved one started abusing heroin, you know the terrible impact addiction has on you and your family. And you know it’s time to get help. However, when it comes to an addiction to heroin and other opiates, there’s one addiction treatment option that is fraught with controversy: methadone treatment.
What is methadone, and why is it so controversial? If you want the best chance at recovery from an opiate addiction, it’s definitely worth the time to learn more about this treatment option and why it may – may not – be the right choice for you.
What is methadone?
Methadone is a man-made (synthetic) drug similar to the painkiller morphine. Available via prescription, methadone suppresses your need for opioid drugs. It also helps reduces painful withdrawal symptoms. It works by acting on the same part of the brain as heroin and other drugs, blocking their effects. For example, if you’re addicted to heroin and inject the drug while on methadone, the heroin won’t produce the same euphoric high as before. Methadone treatment reduces cravings, breaking the addiction cycle and allowing you to rebuild a healthier life.
Along with heroin addiction, methadone is used to treat an addiction to morphine, opium, and opium-derived painkillers such as codeine.
Methadone replacement therapy has two primary uses.
Short-term: Methadone does provide short-term withdrawal relief for people going through detox. Withdrawal from opiates produces flu-like symptoms that range from uncomfortable to downright painful. Those symptoms include shaking, restlessness, diarrhea, pain, anxiety, and insomnia. Short-term treatment timeframes range from a few days to about two weeks.
Long-term: Methadone can also be used to help heroin and other opiate addicts maintain sobriety over months or even years. Some addiction treatment centers recommend that patients use it for at least 12 months to break the addiction cycle.
Misconceptions about Methadone
Medical professionals have been safely prescribing this addiction treatment since the 1940s. But you’ve likely heard some things about methadone that make you wonder if it really is a safe way to treat your addiction. Following are a few of the most common methadone myths:
Methadone gives you a high similar to heroin. Does methadone actually make you high? No. The proper dose doesn’t produce the kind of euphoric effect that addicts get when they use opiate drugs. Methadone treatment works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain – the ones affected by heroin. Methadone does create a physical dependence, but it doesn’t have the mind-altering side effects of heroin and other opiates. This is why methadone treatment allows individuals in recovery to manage other responsibilities, such as attending therapy and holding down a job, while the work on stopping the addiction cycle.
Methadone is no safer than heroin. Like any drug, methadone does have side effects that you should be aware of. For example, it can cause an irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and even confusion in some cases. An improper dose can trigger drowsiness, making it dangerous to drive a car or operate machinery during use.
It’s important to keep in mind that, even with the potential side effects, methadone is a safer alternative to opiate drugs because you take it under the strict guidance of a medical professional. Methadone is produced in a controlled environment, so you don’t need to worry whether the next dose will be “cut” with a dangerous substance. Additionally, when used as an addiction treatment, methadone is taken orally, often in a liquid. This eliminates the dangers associated with using needles. It’s also dispensed by nurses in a medical facility, making it a much safer alternative to cruising parking lots, alleys, or back roads to hunt for a dealer.
Methadone will damage my body. The correct dose will not cause any harm to your body. Methadone doesn’t damage the liver, which metabolizes the drug just like it breaks down any other medication. The treatment will not compromise or damage your immune system either. Some evidence has even suggested that people with HIV, which is an immune system disorder, have a stronger immune system while taking methadone.
Methadone rots your teeth. It’s common for drug addicts to ignore personal hygiene while they’re in the throes of their addiction. That neglect weakens their gums as well as the bones that hold their teeth in place. As a result, many suffer dental problems that linger long after they begin their addiction treatment. That being said, while methadone doesn’t damage your teeth, it can reduce the flow of saliva in some patients. This causes dry mouth, which can contribute to tooth decay. If you experience this side effect, chew sugar-free gum to boost saliva production and see a dentist regularly.
Methadone is too expensive. If you’re concerned about the cost of treatment, you’re not alone. Many addicts struggle with this concern. Check with your health insurance provider to find out whether they’ll cover the cost of methadone treatment. If you don’t have health coverage, some treatment centers offer payment plans to help you access the treatment you need. The most important thing to remember when considering cost, however, is that the cost of an untreated addiction can be extremely high. In fact, some pay the ultimate price: their life.
Once I’m on methadone, I’ll be addicted to it for life. While methadone is a safe addiction treatment for extended periods of time, most people intend to reduce or stop using methadone entirely at some point. It’s possible to come off of methadone, but you’ll need the help of a medical professional with the expertise to gradually taper its use. Even when you stop taking methadone, you may still need ongoing therapy to maintain sobriety. Talk to your recovery specialist to decide on a long-term treatment path that’s well-suited to your unique needs.
So, is methadone treatment right for you?
An opiate addiction affects everything from your relationship with your family to your ability to hold down a job. It’s so powerful that it can cause long-term changes to your brain and even brain damage.
Methadone is one tool – not a magic cure-all – for an addiction to dangerous opiates. While it may not be the right treatment for everyone, it can be a life-saver for many. Methadone has helped many opiate addicts step out of the haze of their addiction and into the world of recovery. Take the time to talk to an addiction treatment specialist. This is one of the best ways to determine if it would be an effective addiction treatment for you.