It’s a big decision to seek treatment for addiction. It takes courage to admit that there’s a problem, and even more courage to step through the doors of a treatment center. If you’ve done that, we applaud you. If you’re considering seeking treatment, we encourage you. It’ll be one of the best, life-changing decisions of your life.
For those considering treatment, we hope this post will answer some of your questions about what to expect when entering our Path To Recovery program. Be sure to also read our FAQ post. Let’s start at the beginning…
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a schedule II narcotic medication that doctors prescribe to relieve pain and to arrest the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates. It comes in two forms: liquid or tablet. Most of our centers offer both forms. To find out, call the center nearest you. Phone numbers can be found on our Locations Page.
To be prescribed Methadone for an addiction to heroin, you must to seek treatment from a center that dispenses Methadone.
How Methadone Works
At the time you enter treatment, you have virtually no naturally occurring endorphins and a significantly decreased number of opiate receptors. Endorphins are the body’s natural, “feel good” hormone. Opiate receptors are responsible for receiving opiates so they can do the job of pain relief.
Initially, when you took drugs like Heroin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Morphine, OxyContin, Percocet, Lortab, Roxicodone, Fentanyl or others, they enhanced those feelings of being high, euphoric, or just plain feeling good. But the longer and harder you used the drug, the less naturally occurring endorphins and opiate receptors you had. That’s why you had to take more and more of the drug to feel anything and why you no longer enjoy a natural sense of feeling good or normal high in life through exercise or just plain good life experiences. The damage done from the addiction makes it necessary to take some sort of opioid just to feel normal and even more to feel high.
Methadone bonds to the remaining opiate receptors. Without getting all sciency, once the medication bonds, it will eliminate the withdrawal symptoms you feel when you don’t take the drugs you’ve become addicted to. No more nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweats, chills, shaking….
Methadone is a narcotic, but it doesn’t behave in the body the way heroin or other narcotics do. Most prescription opiates that are abused and heroin have a characteristic of being fast acting. They tend to get the user very high very quickly but for a short period of time before crashing.
Methadone is a stabilizing medication. It is not fast acting and does not have the associated euphoric high or devastating crash. When correctly prescribed in a MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment) setting, patients will gradually reach a dose of medication that will pacify the opiate receptors in their brain without making them feel high, while also protecting them from the cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Over time, this allows the brain to heal and patients to begin tapering down off Methadone while under the supervision of a doctor.
Methadone actually blocks the effects of heroin. This is a major positive for heroin users, because not only are the cravings diminished while using Methadone, but if they slip and take heroin, there is no effect.
The Benefits and Risks of Medication-Assisted Treatment
Benefits: The main benefit of methadone is that it works. But here are some specific benefits of this type of treatment and medication:
- You will spend less than you would with other forms of treatment.
- You will feel stable. On methadone, you will be able to drive a car, handle your responsibilities, and pursue an education or career.
- You will be taking a legal treatment medication that is prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored.
- Because methadone will be provided by a treatment clinic you will also have ongoing counseling and support.
- With stable daily dosing, your medication does not produce a drug high or interfere with daily functioning.
- You will have easy access to medical and social services that are important for rebuilding your health and quality of life.
- Your medication eliminates withdrawal symptoms and drug seeking behavior.
- Your medication is slow acting and provides long lasting relief (24-36 hours).
- Your medication, when taken responsibly, causes no harm to tissues or organs and is medically safe.
- If you are pregnant, your participation in a treatment program utilizing methadone gives you a much higher chance of giving birth to a healthy baby.
Potential Risks: Use of any medications has associated risks. Here are some potential risks you should consider
- You can overdose if your medication is not taken as directed by your doctor.
- Other medications can have harmful interactions with methadone. Therefore, it is important that you report all medications to our doctor and staff.
- You should not consume alcohol or mix methadone with illicit drugs. If you are taking benzodiazepines, be sure to discuss this thoroughly with your doctor due to the increased risk of medication interaction and potential overdose.
- You will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop taking your medication. This can be avoided by following a gradual taper off of your medication while under the supervision of your physician.
- Your treatment will likely take a year or more in order for you to experience all the benefits of recovery.
- You must keep methadone in a secure location away from children. Accidental ingestion by a child could result in a medical emergency or death.
Your Personal Dosage Amount
No two people are the same. People have different heights, weights, tolerances to medications and they don’t all become addicted to the same substances at the same rate nor do they abuse the drug for the same amount of time.
For those reasons, we can only speak generally to the question of how much Methadone an individual would take. Generally, the attending physician will start most people at a very low dose (approx. 40 mil). At that dose, withdrawal symptoms are arrested. You should not experience a high nor should you be tired or sick. Typically, patients will feel relief for 24-36 hours before the symptoms of withdrawal begin to sneak up again. This is why it’s critical to take the medication at the same time each day to receive the full benefit.
Each time you meet with the physician, your dose will be adjusted based on the doctor’s assessment of your condition. How long you remain at your stable dose will depend on many factors throughout your time with us at Crossroads.
Some people are able to achieve a healthy, drug free state in one year. Others will remain in treatment for several years before moving on to a fully recovered life. There are people who will use Methadone for the remainder of their lives due to such extensive drug use that the brain simply cannot fully repair itself.
Guidelines for Partnering With Crossroads For Your Recovery
If you become a patient, we consider ourselves your partners in recovery. And we want you to reach your recovery goals! That’s why we set up strict guidelines for becoming a patient with us. We know that our program works when a person commits to it fully.
- You must commit to daily dosing … take home meds are earned over time
- You must commit to our Path To Recovery program … speaking with the counselor at every visit
- You must submit to drug testing … to assure that you are taking the medication properly and not using other illicit drugs
- You must commit to your recovery goals … and allow us to partner with you through the process
When you talk with the physician and your counselor, you will learn the details of earning the privilege of taking medication home so that you don’t have to visit the center daily for your dose. The requirements may vary from center to center or person to person. But across all centers, a lock box is required in which to store your take home medication.
Side effect of Methadone Treatment
Critical to your wellbeing is this: you must take Methadone exactly as prescribed. Methadone is a schedule II narcotic and can be very dangerous. Taking more than prescribed or combining it with other drugs or alcohol can be deadly.
There are common side effects that usually subside as you reach your stable dose. They are:
- Increased sweating
- Diminished sex drive
There can be severe side effects such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Swelling of the face or hands
- Chest pain
- Feeling light-headed or even faint
Contact your doctor or speak with the attending physician if you experience any side effects that cause concern.