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Methadone is an opiate drug that is used both in the treatment of pain, and as a treatment of opiate addiction.

As an addiction treatment medication, methadone serves as a substitute opiate – you take methadone each day instead of the opiate drug you normally abuse (heroin or OxyContin, for example).

As an opiate, methadone fills the opiate receptors in the brain and thus keeps you from feeling opiate withdrawal symptoms or drug cravings – and when you are on an appropriate daily dosage of methadone, you won’t get high either.

On methadone, you get a chance to get your life back together, without having to go through withdrawal symptoms and without having to battle through excessive drug cravings. On methadone, you don’t have to worry about getting enough money each day to get high and on methadone you’re clear-headed enough to work and to take care of yourself and those dependent on you.

Methadone is hardly a miracle drug, and there are some significant drawbacks to its use, but no other drug works better in keeping severely opiate dependent people from abusing drugs.

How Is Methadone Used?

Methadone is a long acting opiate. A single dose of methadone provides a whole day of relief from withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.

At the start of your methadone treatment program, you will need to travel to a methadone clinic each day to receive your day’s dosage. Methadone cannot be taken home at first, as it is an easily abused drug with a street value. In time, if you follow the regulations of the methadone clinic, you can earn up to a month’s take-home supply of methadone between clinic visits.

How Long Does Methadone Treatment Take?

There is no set duration for the use of methadone as an addiction treatment medication. Some people use methadone only very briefly, as they transition off short acting opiates – as a detox aid. Other people may use methadone as a replacement and stabilizing medication for a lifetime.

  • For the best chances of staying in recovery doctors recommend that you use methadone for at least 1 year
  • Methadone, when used as prescribed, does no harm to any of the major organs or bodily systems, and can be used safely, indefinitely
  • People who stay on methadone are less likely to relapse back to illicit drug use than people who end their use of this medication

Although some people may choose to use methadone indefinitely, most people eventually decide they want to break free. After a stabilization period and when you are ready to resist the withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings that are associated with dose reductions, you can start to taper your daily dose downward, to an eventual goal of complete cessation. The National Institute on Drugs and Addiction (NIDA) recommends at least a year of methadone treatment and stabilization prior to attempting a taper.

Methadone treatment is effective and when you take methadone as directed, it is very safe. Through more than 50 years of widespread use, methadone has been intensely studied and it is proven safe for use, even by pregnant women.

The Benefits of Methadone Treatment

Methadone is the gold standard treatment for severe opiate addiction – nothing works as well, and unlike some other forms of addiction treatment, the entry costs to a methadone treatment program are very low – a daily dose of methadone can cost just 10$ or 15$.

If you take methadone you are much less likely to also abuse opiate drugs. Some of the peripheral benefits of a drug free lifestyle include:

  • A reduced risk of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases
  • A reduced risk of criminal activity and imprisonment
  • A reduced risk of death
  • Improved overall health
  • Improved social functioning
  • A higher quality of life

The Drawbacks of Methadone Treatment

Although nothing works better at helping people stop abusing opiates, methadone is not a perfect medication and methadone addiction treatment has some disadvantages, such as:

  • For the first months (or years) of treatment, you will need to take you daily dosage under supervision at a methadone clinic
  • Methadone induces a powerful dependency – some people say that the withdrawal pains of methadone are worse than of heroin
  • Methadone treatment is stigmatized
  • Methadone is a medication with side effects, such as constipation, weight gain and others

Talk to your doctor about whether methadone is right for you and get information on other options, such as Suboxone or detox based treatment before making any decision. If you and your doctor decide on methadone, know that you are taking the most effective medication for the treatment of opiate addiction and that you have an excellent opportunity to get your life back together!

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Page last updated Nov 20, 2015

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