Methadone is one of the most frequently prescribed medications for opioid use disorders. The drug itself is an opioid, but it is often used for detox purposes because it reduces a patient’s dependence on more powerful opioids and relieves withdrawal symptoms. Methadone serves as an alternative to quitting opioids outright, as ending opioid use abruptly can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone is used to treat many different types of opioid addictions. However, its use in treating heroin addiction is perhaps the most famous. Methadone stays in the system longer than heroin, meaning it satisfies cravings and eases opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Many rehabilitation centers prescribe methadone as part of a tapering program, which involves a slow and steady reduction of the medication. The methadone dose may taper off completely in some cases, but typically, it is tapered to a dose where it is effective at helping the person avoid cravings.
Experts recommend that people struggling with opioid addiction should continue methadone indefinitely. People who overcome addiction with the help of methadone and then stop using it are very likely to return to opioid abuse. According to one study, only 13% of people who ended methadone use remained opioid-free over the long term.
Tapering off Methadone
A methadone taper can refer to two different concepts. One involves using methadone as a tapering tool to end opioid use. The other involves tapering off methadone itself. Tapering off methadone is much rarer, and it is not recommended for people struggling with opioid use. A person who is completely tapering off methadone may be taking opioids for reasons other than addiction, such as pain management.
Methadone helps relieve withdrawal symptoms that occur when ending opioid use. However, because methadone itself is an opioid, ending methadone use can also cause withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of methadone withdrawal are similar to those of withdrawal from other opioids, and effects may include:
- Flu-like symptoms: A patient’s nose may run and their eyes may water profusely.
- Insomnia: Lack of proper sleep is common during withdrawal.
- Joint pain: Aching and throbbing pain can occur throughout the body. As a result, the extremities may feel weaker than usual.
- Sweating: The nervous system will attempt to regulate the body’s temperature, which sometimes results in bouts of sweating.
- Nausea: Upset stomach and even vomiting are common during tapering and detox. This is the symptom that most people associate with withdrawal.
- Cramping: Patients may exhibit varying degrees of abdominal pain. Constipation may also be present.
- Convulsions: The body may make jerky, erratic and uncontrollable movements.
- Psychological side effects: Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, depersonalization and self-doubt may appear. These symptoms typically occur in the mid to late stages of withdrawal.
A methadone taper should only be done under a doctor’s care. Because the medicine isn’t readily available otherwise, this actually may be the only way to do so effectively. Additionally, the doses used in a methadone taper are often individualized for each person’s needs, so it is important to seek a doctor’s assistance.
A safe and effective methadone taper is possible with the right treatment provider. If you’re interested in undergoing a methadone taper as part of a complete rehab program, consider care at The Recovery Village. Our experienced team of detox professionals is able to make the withdrawal process as safe and comfortable as possible. Contact us today to learn more about the addiction treatment programs we offer and how they can help you begin the path to lifelong recovery.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Treatment Improvement Protocol 63: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder.” 2021. Accessed August 14, 2021.
World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed August 14, 2021.
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