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Methadone is a synthetic, long-acting opioid painkiller. It is usually prescribed to people who are already addicted to other opiates, such as heroin, or prescription drugs like Percocet or Oxycontin. When it is used as directed, methadone can effectively replace other opiates. However, it is itself still an opiate and is, therefore, highly addictive. In fact, many users feel “cheated” in their treatment as they end up feeling they have replaced one addiction with another.
To treat other addictions, prescription methadone and its users are supposed to be supervised closely by medical professionals. However, because methadone is so inexpensive, it has also been prescribed for long-term pain in many patients, causing many new addicts over the years. The end result has been a rising number of methadone addicts, many of whom are advised by doctors to just keep using the drug they wish they could quit.
Methadone works in the brain just like other opiates such as heroin or Oxycontin, but it stays in the body for one to three days, a relatively long time. This allows it to stop both the euphoric effects of other opiates and prevent the painful symptoms of withdrawal that ceasing drug use can cause. Methadone can remain in the bloodstream for quite a while after building up in the body. This is one of the reasons why it is so easy to overdose on methadone.
Methadone Addiction Signs
Although methadone is supposed to be a safe alternative to other opiates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2009, methadone was a factor in one in three prescription painkiller deaths. This is in part because so many long-term users with chronic pain from serious conditions such as cancer or multiple sclerosis develop tolerance to methadone and other painkillers over time, leaving room for addiction to develop.
Methadone addiction signs and the drug’s side effects are much like the side effects seen from use of other opiates:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Impaired balance or coordination
- Impaired cognition or confusion
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of sex drive
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
Methadone is extremely easy to overdose on. Symptoms of a methadone overdose include:
- Blue-tinted lips and fingertips caused by lack of oxygen
- Bluish, clammy skin
- Extreme fatigue, inability to stay awake
- Shallow, slow breathing, called respiratory depression
It is very dangerous to mix methadone with other drugs of any kind, because this can lead to serious heart problems, from arrhythmia to heart attack.
Methadone withdrawal includes several phases. It is a long and unpleasant process with symptoms
- Muscle aches and pains
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stomach cramps
Methadone withdrawal occurs following a methadone addiction. Methadone withdrawal symptoms affect a person’s ability to function properly. Once a person develops a physical dependence on methadone, he or she may experience the following phases during the methadone withdrawal period:
First Stage of Methadone Withdrawal – Early Symptoms
The initial symptoms of methadone withdrawal begin about eight to 30 hours after a person’s last methadone dose. These symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Twitching involuntarily
The early symptoms phase of methadone withdrawal generally lasts about two to three days. Physical symptoms often disappear on their own. However, psychological symptoms may increase or change over time.
Second Stage of Methadone Withdrawal – Peak Symptoms
Methadone withdrawal symptoms reach their peak within about three to four days after a person’s last methadone dose. These symptoms may make a person feel drowsy and tired, and they may include:
- Stomach pain
- Aches and/or cramping
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and/or breathing rate
During the peak phase, methadone withdrawal symptoms tend to be psychological. A person may experience anxiety, depression, restlessness, and other symptoms as he or she detoxes from methadone. At the same time, a person’s body craves methadone, and the feelings that go along with a methadone craving may be intense.
The peak phase of methadone withdrawal usually subsides within a few days. After the brain begins to adjust to a lack of methadone, it will gradually release neurotransmitters. Then, the body will reach a normal level of neurotransmitters once again.
Ultimately, the peak methadone withdrawal phase is critical. People who try to complete the phase on their own often suffer a relapse. As such, it typically helps to work with a medical professional who understands the ins and outs of methadone treatment. In some instances, a medical professional may recommend over-the-counter medications or other treatment options to help a person get through the peak withdrawal phase. Plus, a medical professional can provide positive reinforcement to further minimize an individual’s risk of a methadone relapse.
Third Stage of Methadone Withdrawal – Decrease in Symptoms
The worst methadone withdrawal symptoms may last up to 10 days. During this period, an individual may feel physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Yet methadone withdrawal symptoms will gradually subside.
Remember, methadone is a potent drug, and the symptoms associated with long-term methadone abuse may linger for several weeks. If a person chooses a safe, effective, and dependable methadone treatment program, this individual could keep his or her methadone cravings in check. Best of all, this individual may be better equipped than ever before to curb his or her methadone cravings for an extended period of time.
Fourth Stage of Methadone Withdrawal – Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
PAWS refers to the continuation of withdrawal symptoms following drug treatment. It may affect individuals who abuse methadone or other drugs.
PAWS often results in psychological methadone withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and cravings. The depression linked to PAWS may cause a person to experience suicidal thoughts. Conversely, the anxiety associated with PAWS may lead to ongoing panic attacks.
The symptoms of PAWS may persist for several weeks or a few months after a methadone detox. Although methadone addicts tend to be less prone to PAWS than other drug addicts, it is important to prepare for PAWS.
To address PAWS, an individual must develop and maintain a strong support network. Family members, friends, and other loved ones who can help a person dealing with methadone cravings may enable this individual to avoid a relapse.
Medical support is also paramount to addressing PAWS. Working with a doctor to develop a long-term methadone treatment plan that accounts for PAWS enables an individual to determine how to limit the risk of restarting his or her addictive behaviors.
How Long Do Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
The amount of time those methadone withdrawal symptoms last varies based on the individual, how long he or she has used methadone, and other factors.
A person usually starts to feel methadone withdrawal symptoms within the first 24 hours after his or her last methadone dose. During the next seven to 10 days, an individual may experience the most painful of all methadone withdrawal symptoms. Within about three to six weeks of methadone withdrawal, symptoms may eventually disappear.
Of course, a person may feel the urge to take methadone any time after he or she completes a detox. If a person plans ahead for potential methadone withdrawal challenges, he or she can boost the likelihood of enjoying a full recovery from methadone addiction.
Things to Help with Methadone Withdrawal
Detoxing from methadone is a long-term process that requires hard work and patience. Now, let’s take a look at some things to help with methadone withdrawal:
- Seek medical support. A doctor develops a personalized plan to help an individual beat his or her methadone addiction. This medical professional may try to help a person taper his or her methadone usage or replace the drug with buprenorphine, an outpatient tapering medication.
- Begin addiction treatment therapy. Rehabilitation programs offer therapy, medication, and social support to help a person manage the physical and psychological symptoms of methadone addiction.
- Eat healthily. Stay hydrated, consume fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods, and try to fill a diet with foods that contain lots of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients.
- Learn about methadone and methadone addiction. Learn about methadone, how it works, and its impact on the brain and body. That way, an individual can better understand his or her methadone abuse and treat a methadone addiction accordingly.
A methadone detox program may help a person cleanse his or her body of methadone, too. This program can be completed at a treatment center that provides around-the-clock supervision and support, along with best-in-class equipment and staff.
Methadone Addiction and Withdrawal Treatment
Methadone addiction and withdrawal treatment addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people who are dependent on methadone. Many factors affect the success of methadone addiction treatment, including the individual’s history of use, their current symptoms and problems, and their motivation and commitment to change. It may take several attempts before an individual finds a treatment approach that works for them.
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