Methadone maintenance is a treatment method for opioids that can help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and minimize cravings by using methadone.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a long-acting drug that is used in the heroin detoxification process. During the 1960s, two researchers, Vincent Dole, and Marie Nyswander discovered that methadone relieved the craving for heroin and prevented withdrawal symptoms. Since then, methadone has been used to help people addicted to drugs like heroin, morphine, and codeine.

How does methadone work?

Methadone is an opiate agonist, which means it binds to receptors in your brain, effectively blocking cravings and eliminating withdrawal symptoms. It works by tricking your brain into thinking you’re taking the drugs you’re trying to stop using.

How effective is methadone maintenance?

Methadone maintenance treatment has been shown to be effective in improving daily function, as well as lessening the withdrawal effects of narcotic drugs, like heroin. Methadone maintenance can be more effective than detoxification, receiving no treatment, buprenorphine, LAAM, and heroin plus methadone.

Methadone treatment has been found to be effective in reducing:

  • The use of illicit drugs
  • Criminal activity
  • Needle sharing
  • HIV infection rates and transmission
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Commercial sex work
  • Number of reports of multiple sex partners
  • Suicide
  • Lethal overdose

It’s also been shown to improve social health and productivity, as well as retention in addiction treatment centers.

The second phase of withdrawal is sometimes experienced with methadone maintenance, but usually by fewer patients. Symptoms can include aches, insomnia, and loss of appetite, and are likely attributed to tapering off methadone.

Is methadone safe?

Methadone can be addictive. Taking the proper dose, as prescribed, is essential to successful treatment.

How much methadone will I need?

Methadone dosing on your own is highly discouraged. Because methadone use can itself become an issue of addiction, methadone maintenance should be undertaken in a medical environment and overseen by a professional staff.

There is no single answer to how much methadone you will need. The amount of methadone required for therapeutic effect depends on many factors, including:

  • Body metabolism
  • Body weight
  • Type of drug being used
  • Amount of drug being used

A proper dose of methadone will eliminate cravings without causing a high or euphoric state.

How long do I need to be in treatment?

A treatment counselor will work with you to determine what’s needed for long-term success. Methadone maintenance often occurs over a period of years, with re-evaluation every 60 to 90 days. Counseling and other therapeutic work are essential to your success.

VIDEO: Methadone Maintenance

Methadone maintenance can be a controversial issue. Dr. Zona responds to a caller on the issue on KCAA radio, October 13, 2009.

Questions and Answers

Here are common questions and answers about methadone maintenance, including research on the effectiveness of treatment, implications for HIV, criminal activity, employment and issues for women, pregnant women and infants. For those with concerns that you or a loved one might live with a methadone addiction, you can learn more about the detox process and how you or your loved one can attain sobriety.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.