Methadone is a drug that is commonly given to people who are receiving treatment for heroin addiction. This process is controversial, as some claim that those who are prescribing methadone are simply swapping one addiction for another. But is methadone addictive? Chemically, methadone is very similar to morphine, a drug which is itself extremely addictive and often abused. Although methadone addiction is not considered to be as serious as heroin addiction, its use does carry with it certain risks. Methadone has steadily grown in popularity as America struggles to deal with the opioid epidemic.
Legitimate Medical Use
When taken as prescribed, methadone can be very useful in treating opiate addiction, but it too can be addictive, as it is still an opiate.
When used as a treatment to wean individuals off other drugs of addiction, methadone prescriptions and use are closely supervised by medical professionals. However, due to the expense of many prescription painkillers and the relatively low cost of methadone, doctors have been prescribing methadone as a long-acting painkiller for chronic pain for years. This has allowed more people exposure to methadone than before, including numerous individuals who have not been exposed to opioid medications in the past. This exposure has fueled a rise in addictions to and withdrawals from methadone, as well as easier access to methadone as a recreationally abused substance.
Signs of Methadone Use
Methadone dependence can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Here are some signs of methadone use:
- Some users may simply take more than the prescribed dose. (From there, they quickly move on to the practice of lying to their doctors about the severity of their symptoms in order to get larger doses. Sadly, many addicts who are dependent on methadone keep taking heroin, too. This happens as an addict build up a tolerance to the methadone and can’t get more of it from the doctor and must turn to the streets.)
- Stomach cramps
- Severe irritability
Since methadone produces effects similar to certain other opiates, it can give the user a sort of euphoria. Along with that comes a feeling of contentment, well-being and happiness. These factors increase the likeliness of dependence.
After awhile, the conditioning causes changes in the brain and the addict will do nearly anything to get his hands on methadone. The addiction then become almost indistinguishable from heroin addiction. Prolonged use of methadone also builds up a tolerance to the drug, causing the addict to hunt for doses of every increasing size. At this point, an overdose can be lethal.
Because methadone is designed to be a long-acting drug, it can build up very quickly in the body, and that can mean that taking even one more dose than prescribed can lead to an overdose. Unless carefully monitored by a medical professional, methadone use is dangerous, and abuse or addiction can lead to very serious consequences.
Fortunately, this is rarely the case when the drug is administered under a doctor’s supervision, according to the Center for Substance Abuse website. Still, we must remember that addicts who are using methadone are at risk for using heroin if they aren’t able to subdue their cravings with methadone.
Methadone’s half-life, depending on dose, ranges anywhere from 8 to 59 hours, while the analgesic, or painkilling, effects last up to 8 hours. The long half-life benefits those in recovery from heroin or prescription painkiller addiction, as it stays in the body to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. However, this means it is less effective for treating chronic pain conditions related to diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or osteoarthritis, because the painkilling effects do not last as long as the drug remains in the body. As a result, individuals who take methadone as a painkiller can put themselves in danger of an overdose if their pain returns before they can safely take their next dose.
Withdrawals From Methadone
Not surprisingly, withdrawal from methadone is similar to that of heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can include constipation, nausea, tooth decay and vomiting. An addict seeking detox will want to check into a facility with medical supervision.
Other, more serious, side effects can include issues like tachycardia, muscle spasms and fever. These withdrawal symptoms last usually depends on how severe the methadone addiction is. While the symptoms may be similar to that of heroin withdrawal, the onset of the symptoms of methadone withdrawal is slower than with heroin. The symptoms can also last longer. While it is possible for individuals to detoxify on their own, an official methadone abuse program organized by medical professionals is likely to prove more effective.
Is Methadone Addictive?
Methadone is an opiate and, like many drugs in this class, its use carries significant, inherent risk for abuse and addiction development.
Because methadone is a longer-acting, but less potent opiate (relatively speaking), it’s doesn’t quite elicit as intense an effect profile as that of heroin and other shorter-acting, more potent opioid receptor agonist substances.
In short, methadone use shouldn’t result in rapid-onset highs and intolerable, crashing lows. Still, if someone is abusing methadone by taking it in doses that exceed those prescribed as part of the maintenance schedule, there are heightened and potentially dangerous effects. Additionally, an addict will increase his chances of experiencing more intense withdrawal symptoms in between scheduled dosing, or if the addict were to stop altogether.
The research isn’t as contested as it once was, and Methadone has proven to be a valuable addiction treatment pharmaceutical. This of course, assumes that the user is taking the medication as prescribed, and under proper supervision. When used in the manner prescribed, the potential for an addictive euphoric rush, the risks of negative side effects, and the risk of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms are minimized.
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