What are the Long-Term Effects of Methadone?

long-term effects of methadone for heroin addiction

What Are the Long-term Effects of Methadone?

Everyone who faces opioid addiction has a unique story. At the same time, there are some shared elements in many people’s experiences. Dealing with the long-term effects of methadone is one such common thread, and it can change your life.

How does a drug used to manage addiction end up having such an impact on so many families? Here’s what to understand and why knowing the facts could change your outlook on treatment.

Understanding Opioids

Opioid drugs are a broad class of narcotic substances that include chemicals such as heroin, oxycodone, and morphine. Once ingested, they attach to special opioid receptors in your nervous system and send signals to your brain. These chemical messages are very effective at counteracting normal pain, so opioid drugs are commonly used in hospitals and other clinical settings, which can lead to serious problems.

Opioids modify the chemistry of the brain. These properties mean that their use can lead to many lasting side effects, including increased tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and addiction.

What is Heroin?

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid that was first synthesized by doctors for use in Nazi Germany during World War II. After the war, other nations adopted it as a painkiller.

Methadone was originally researched as a less addictive alternative to drugs like morphine. This distinction may have influenced later researchers who came up with the idea of using it to manage heroin addiction. In the 1970s, the U.S. government started promoting laws regulating how health care facilities could administer methadone to help individuals avoid withdrawal and gradually quit using opioids.

Today, methadone is manufactured in multiple forms, such as orally administered fluids, powders, and tablets. Its continued use as an opioid management tool relates to the fact that it can be doled out in periodic doses that last for some time.

Understanding the Effects of Methadone

Like many other opioids, methadone has a broad spectrum of side effects. The fact that these impacts vary depending on the patient and their situation makes it critical for the drug to be administered in carefully controlled settings by medical professionals.

People who take methadone may experience restlessness. Some have gastrointestinal reactions, such as becoming nauseous, vomiting or getting constipated. Many find that the drug slows their breathing or makes them sweat profusely. In some cases, people die.

Long-Term Effects of Methadone

An addiction to any substance can have an incredibly dangerous impact on a person, and addiction to methadone is no different. Long-term methadone use can cause severe damage and can make withdrawal even more difficult. Being under the supervision of a trusted and caring staff can make all the difference in recovery. Any continual use of a drug comes with risks, but the risks of methadone use are often greater than the benefits it may provide.

Long-term Effects of Opioids on the Brain

Fatal Respiratory Effects of Methadone

Other methadone side effects are more prolonged. For instance, the slowed breathing that many users initially experience can persist to a dangerous point. For this reason, the drug isn’t recommended for people who have asthma or other respiratory ailments that might produce fatal breath stoppages.

Methadone fatalities are also a point of concern. In 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that deaths related to the drug were seven times higher than they had been less than a decade earlier.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

Women who take methadone might discover that it throws their menstrual cycles off of their normal schedules or makes them stop menstruating completely. Both men and women may experience sexual performance issues or potentially permanent fertility reductions.

Many sources, such as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, advise methadone treatment for pregnant women as an alternative to subjecting their babies to harsh withdrawals. Such practices aren’t without risks. It’s critical to undergo consistent monitoring and adjust the doses carefully as the pregnancy progresses.

Blood Toxicity

One of the unique risks of methadone-based opioid treatment is that even though it’s one of the oldest and best-studied options, there are still uncertainties. For instance, methadone is toxic enough to cause death if your body doesn’t metabolize, or break down, the drug quickly. As a result, some people can unexpectedly overdose due to having high concentrations of methadone in their blood after taking it for a while.

Researchers haven’t quite figured out what determines how fast this process occurs. They have, however, identified certain genetic factors. African-Americans, for instance, tend to have higher blood concentrations of methadone even after receiving the same dosages as people of Caucasian descent.

Getting Treated for Methadone Addiction in Arizona

A lot of people are surprised to learn that they need to go to rehab to get off methadone. After all, this is a drug that they used to help them stop taking opioids; it is strange to think that it could also be addictive. But the reality is that it is highly addictive and so many people are unaware of that.

Stopping the use of methadone abruptly can be dangerous in some situations. This should always be done in a monitored setting with professionals who understand the risks involved.

What to Expect During Addiction Treatment

Some people will continue to take methadone for years because they simply do not know how to get off it. This is completely unnecessary, and it only serves to keep the individual addicted to a drug for a much longer period of time than is necessary.

Still, going to rehab for the first time can be scary for some people. It helps to know what to expect when getting help for methadone addiction.

Detoxing Off Methadone

When a person stops using methadone, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. This is very similar to what happens when people stop using any type of opioid drug. Withdrawal is typically mild in the beginning and then as time goes on, it becomes more difficult to manage.

Some of the more common signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Feeling agitated.
  • Anxious feelings.
  • Achiness in the muscles.
  • Increased tearing of the eyes.
  • A runny nose.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps

Opioid withdrawal can turn severe very quickly, and people who have quit on their own typically say that it is the worst feeling they have ever had. Fortunately, people can go through detox to help them manage their withdrawal symptoms.

The goal of detoxing off methadone is to ease the severity of withdrawal and avoid potential complications. The right program will use a combination of medications and holistic treatments to get people through this difficult period of time.

Medications like Suboxone and Buprenorphine are typically recommended to people who need to detox off methadone. But some people may find them highly addictive as well, which only makes the situation worse. A fairly new medication called Vivitrol may be a great alternative for the detox period. It is non-addictive and given once per month by injection.

ethics in addiction treatment

Going to Drug Rehab

After detoxing off methadone – which may take about 10 days or so – the next step is for the person to go through drug rehab. This means that they are ready to participate in therapy and other forms of treatment to help them continue in recovery.

Drug rehabilitation is important and this step should not be overlooked under any circumstances. It is so critical because it helps the addict and their treatment team determine what led to their addiction in the first place. Most people who use methadone first used a different type of opioid drug, such as heroin or Oxycodone. The goal is to identify the root cause of that addiction.

Addictions are caused by any number of things. About 50% of the time, they are the direct result of a co-occurring disorder or a mental health condition. This is frequently the case for people who are addicted to methadone. They could be suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD and methadone – at least on a short-term basis – helps them to manage their symptoms.

It is really important for people who are addicted to methadone to get treatment for the physical aspect of their addiction and not just go through detox. This can help to ensure that they have a successful recovery long-term.

Aftercare Planning

Aftercare planning is also an important part of the recovery experience. Methadone is a highly potent and addictive drug, and it is not easy to stop using it. A 28-day stay at an inpatient program and/or a 12-week intensive outpatient program is not enough, although both are probably vital for most people.

As rehab draws to a close, the staff should make an appropriate aftercare plan that indicates the type of treatment that will be needed going forward. This should be personalized according to what the patient or client needs.

For example, many people who are addicted to methadone will need to begin by attending an inpatient rehab first. They will most likely need that higher level of care in order to be successful. But afterward, they can transition into an IOP or a more traditional outpatient rehab setting.

The right aftercare plan is often a critical part of a person’s success when it comes to addiction recovery. It should be well-thought out and implemented.

Quitting Methadone Cold Turkey – Does it Work?

A lot of people are tempted to try to quit using methadone cold turkey before they will agree to professional treatment. In a way, this is understandable because of the costs associated with going to rehab. But quitting cold turkey can be extremely dangerous because of the risk of relapsing and even overdosing.

When a methadone addict stops using the drug cold turkey, it is not long before withdrawal symptoms begin. Most people will start to experience them within 12 hours or so. Once they start, they may be mild, but then as withdrawal progresses, they increase in severity.

The problem with methadone is that most people do not have a supply at home. This is a drug that is typically given out at methadone clinics as a way to control people’s dosages. That means that someone who tries to quit using it cold turkey could be tempted to turn to heroin instead once their cravings and other withdrawal symptoms get to be too much. This could be a fatal decision.

Methadone and Your Addiction Future

Is methadone a good option for your addiction treatment? The key takeaway to remember is that each patient has a unique background, medical status, and drug history to consider. Although methadone has its uses, it’s not a cure-all, and it’s critical to be informed. An important part of recovery from methadone is a safe detox. Being under the supervision of professional staff at Springboard Recovery can prevent life-threatening risks of withdrawal symptoms. 

Alternatives like community support and behavioral therapy may make it easier to face withdrawal without resorting to more opioids. Learn more about whether this treatment tool might be safe for you or someone you love by talking to a compassionate addiction specialist at Springboard Recovery today.

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