Tapering off opioid replacement medication such as methadone or Subuxone isn’t easy, and is a process that can require patience and diligence.

Opioids are a class of drugs usually used to treat pain. Legal opioids include morphinemethadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid, but it is an illicit, illegal drug.

Opioid replacement therapy is a type of treatment for those who may be addicted to opioids. In short, the idea behind the therapy is that it replaces dangerous opioids — like heroin — with legal drugs, such as methadone or Suboxone. This is not a permanent option for most people, and a person will eventually have to taper off of the replacement medication.

The reasoning behind this type of treatment is that when a person is addicted to an opioid, their brain chemistry is affected. Because opioids affect the brain and leave it wanting more, it becomes uncomfortable for a person to stop taking a drug like heroin. This is where opioid replacement therapy comes into play. The idea is that by replacing an illicit opioid with a legal one, a person will not be at risk for the uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms that can occur when stopping opioid use cold turkey. Taking part in opioid replacement therapy allows a person to be monitored by a medical professional as they come off of opioids gradually. While this is occurring, they can also take part in other aspects of treatment, like counseling.

What Is Opioid Replacement Therapy?

Though helpful for some, replacement drugs like methadone and Suboxone are not a permanent solution for opioid addiction. Eventually, their use should be stopped, as they can also be addictive. The best way stop use altogether is by tapering, which means lowering the amount of the drug taken over an extended period, rather than all at once. This time may be different for each individual.

For a replacement drug like methadone, the suggested taper time depends on the dose of methadone a person is on, and how long they have been on it. Though tapering should help to avoid serious withdrawals, individuals may still experience some symptoms, including chills, fever, anxiety, muscle aches and pains, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat and stomach cramps.

Tapering off any medication takes patience and diligence.

Tapering is not a fast process, but it is a necessary one to take care of your body and mind. Consult a medical professional before beginning the tapering process. The Recovery Village has medical opioid detox programs at several facilities across the country. Call today to learn more about opioid addiction treatment options and to begin now.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.