What is Methadone Addiction?
Methadone is an opioid medication often used to treat opioid addiction. Unfortunately, many people misuse the drug itself, which can still cause a euphoric high and other dangerous side effects.
Although originally developed as a painkiller and is sometimes still used to treat chronic pain, its principal use today is for treating opioid dependence and addiction. Methadone is generally not the first choice for people who abuse drugs since it doesn’t offer the same feeling of euphoria, like heroin, oxycodone, and other opioids. However, methadone is habit-forming and can lead to problems with dependence and addiction when misused.
Methadone is one of the most commonly abused opioids in the U.S. and is mainly used to help people overcome physical dependence on heroin and morphine. Though methadone doesn’t produce euphoria like other opioids, this Schedule II drug carries its own risk for abuse and dependence and can cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped abruptly.
This drug is only dispensed by drug detox and addiction treatment centers that are individually licensed to use the drug for treating opioid addiction. But sometimes methadone is rerouted to the black market, or recreated in labs using chemicals and ingredients that mimic the effects of methadone. Those who end up becoming addicted to methadone can safely overcome their addiction in full using drug detox and therapy at an addiction treatment center.
Risks of Methadone Addiction
From 1999 to 2014, the rate of methadone overdose deaths in the U.S. increased by over 600%. This trend continued in recent years, as over 3,314 lives were claimed by methadone overdose in 2016 alone. When abused, methadone has been linked to seizures, and other serious health problems including mental illness, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction.
Every year, thousands of Americans are sent to the emergency department because of methadone abuse. Methadone can cause severe effects when abused, including respiratory depression and deadly overdose. However, those who struggle with methadone addiction may not be able to stop using this drug despite knowing they may face these consequences. Without the proper treatment, it can be difficult for someone to fully and safely overcome methadone addiction.
Side Effects of Methadone Addiction
The side effects of methadone use are similar to those caused by other opioid drugs. Drowsiness is common as well as confusion and other issues can ensue, such as:
- Pupil contraction
- Shallow breathing
- Severe sweating
- Sexual dysfunction
Signs of Methadone Addiction
Methadone can lead to physical dependence and addiction when used in ways other than directed. Many individuals start taking the drug to treat withdrawal symptoms and become stabilized during recovery, but if an individual does abuse the drug, it is hazardous. It is easy to become addicted to methadone, especially because the drug is highly available and, while regulated, can be found easily for illicit use.
- Slowed breathing
- Constricted pupils
- Excessive sweating
- Tolerance, or using higher amounts of methadone to achieve effects
- Withdrawal symptoms when methadone is stopped suddenly
- Social isolation
- Lying and secretive behavior
- Financial losses
- A decline in performance at work or school
- Legal problems
- Devoting more time to obtaining and using methadone
- Spending more time recovering from the effects of methadone
- Skipping scheduled methadone doses to save and stockpile the drug
- Inability to stop using methadone despite past attempts to quit
- Failure to stop using methadone despite knowing there may be negative consequences
What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Methadone
Here are some steps to consider if someone you love is abusing methadone:
- Tell your loved one you care about them, and support their sobriety
- Stage an intervention with a doctor, so your loved one understands the importance of getting help for methadone addiction
- Familiarize yourself with steps to take in the event of methadone overdose
- Set boundaries, and stop enabling your loved one’s addiction to methadone
- Look for an addiction treatment center that offers methadone detox and therapy
Treatment Options Available for Methadone Addiction
Methadone dependence is often treated using a tapering schedule to help patients avoid withdrawal symptoms and lower their risk for relapse. Some patients may stay on methadone maintenance therapy for life to avoid relapse, though most treatment centers will continue with methadone tapering until patients are no longer using the medication. A methadone tapering schedule can last anywhere between several weeks and months, depending on a patient’s tolerance level.
Because many methadone abusers are people who started taking the drug as a treatment for opioid addiction, it is essential to take this into account when continuing recovery. Patients might need to be placed in an inpatient program if they were in outpatient care while they were abusing the drug. This can help them avoid the issue of temptation while trying to overcome their addiction.
Also, behavioral therapies can be used to help attack the source of one’s addiction, allowing them to understand why they began abusing opioids in the first place, how this abuse has affected their lives, and how they can avoid further relapse by recognizing triggers and learning to cope with stress and cravings.
Methadone addiction treatment must also cover any co-occurring issues associated with the addiction, including chronic pain or mood disorders. Most rehab programs can treat these simultaneously with addiction or if not, can refer patients to a place where these issues can be treated.
Methadone can be helpful in treating opioid addiction, but when abused, methadone causes its dangerous effects. Therefore, it is essential to seek help if your methadone use has gone beyond your control.