Perhaps it’s confusing, understanding how methadone, an opioid, could be used to help treat addiction to other opioids. People who are addicted to opioids tend to form a physical dependence on drugs. This means they experience adverse physical symptoms, known as withdrawal, when not taking them.
Withdrawal can cause some severe symptoms. Methadone helps opioid-addicted individuals taper off the use of the drugs and manage pain or discomfort caused by withdrawal. With time, the goal of methadone therapy is for individuals to quit the use of it and other opioids and move on to other forms of therapy in addiction recovery.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a narcotic, which means it’s used in treating severe pain, typically for patients with chronic pain or terminal illnesses, such as cancer.
As the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, “methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain.” When used in treating opioid addiction, methadone works by lessening the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, a relief that lasts about four to eight hours.
Methadone is a “full agonist” opioid, which means it works like other full agonist opioids, by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and changing the brain’s response to pain and perception of pleasure. When used correctly, methadone blocks the euphoric effect of opioids, provides comfort and relief from withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and helps addicted individuals taper off use of opioids.
However, methadone may also produce a temporary euphoric effect similar to that of other opioids. For this reason, people undergoing medication-assisted therapy with methadone may abuse the medication.
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Opiates Vs. Opioids: What’s The Difference?
The term “opiates” refers to drugs derived directly from the poppy plant. The National Alliance Of Advocates For Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT) explains, “at one time, ‘opioids’ referred to synthetic opioids only… now the term refers to the entire family of opiates including natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic.”
In other words, while opiates are still classified as natural opioid drugs, opioids include all opioid drugs. Opioids, like methadone, are narcotic drugs, which bind to opioid receptors in the brain, emitting feelings of pleasure through the release of hormones. As you may guess, opioids are highly addictive.
Most opioids produce an immediate rush of euphoria and reduced pain. This rush feeling, followed by an extended “high” of similar side effects, contributes to the addictiveness of the drugs. When people abuse opioids, their brains actually change the way they communicate, which is what causes the uncontrollable urges to seek and continue using the drugs.
Opioid Abuse And Consequences
The U.S. National Library Of Medicine explains, “opioid abuse, addiction, and overdoses are serious public health problems in the United States.” In the last few decades, the number of prescriptions written for opioids has increased dramatically, and with it, the rates of opioid abuse, addiction, and dependence.
The American Society Of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that two million people ages 12 and above had a substance use disorder involving prescription opioids in 2015. Opioids can be addictive after only a few uses—it’s the reason the drugs are prescribed for only a few days of use at a time.
Opioids can have both immediate adverse effects and long-term consequences. Right away, the use of opioids changes your brain chemistry, which can make it hard to deal with pain without the use of opioids (this is how dependence starts). If you develop dependence, withdrawal from opioids can keep you going back to the drugs again and again.
Some methadone withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety or depression
- Cramps, stomach pain
- Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Pupil dilation
In addition to withdrawal symptoms, once you form an addiction, a psychological condition, you will have a harder time overcoming the use of opioids, especially without help.
Some consequences of methadone addiction may include:
- Abdominal distension (outward expansion)
- Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Liver damage
- Tolerance, or needing more of the drug to feel the effects
- Respiratory depression, which can cause hypoxia and result in brain damage
Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of opioid addiction is the tendency of addiction to cause tolerance. With repeated use of opioid drugs, you may develop tolerance, which means your body no longer feels the effects with the same doses. As a result, you may take higher and more frequent doses in an effort to produce the same effects.
Increasing dosage and frequency of abuse greatly contributes to the risk of overdose. This is especially true with opioids bought on the street, which may contain dangerous additives or more than one opioid drug. Though your body may not feel the effects of the drugs, they are still present in your body and will still affect you.
What Are The Signs Of Methadone Abuse?
If you suspect someone you know is abusing their methadone medication, it’s important to seek help right away.
The following are some general signs of methadone abuse:
- Changes to sex drive
- Chronic constipation
- Cravings or strong urges
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Loss of control of the use of the drug
- Reduced pupil size (“pinpoint” pupils)
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
For people abusing methadone who are in treatment for opioid addiction, the damage of abuse can be great. It’s important when you enter addiction recovery to understand what type of treatment you will need, what this treatment will entail, and the risks and benefits associated with any and all medication you may use.
There are many alternatives to medication, such as holistic healing without the use of medication, or use of partial agonists like Suboxone (buprenorphine) which does not produce the same rush as methadone, and presents less risk of addiction and dependence.
At Vertava Health, we know choosing the right type of treatment program for your individual needs is a big decision, and we’d like to help with the process. If you speak to one of our specialists, we can direct you to resources, help you design a treatment plan that’s right for you, and find a rehab center that meets your individual needs.
Finding Treatment For Methadone Abuse And Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with methadone abuse, don’t wait until the problem is too great. Talk with a specialist today, and learn what you can do to help. Learn more by contacting us today at