Can I Get Addicted to Methadone?
Negative Effects of Methadone Abuse
Methadone is a medication sometimes used to manage acute opioid withdrawal. It can also be taken as a maintenance medication in the long-term to reduce cravings and the risk of relapse. It can be very beneficial when taken as directed. That being said, some people may abuse methadone for its euphoric and calming effects. As a potent opioid agonist drug, it can elicit dose-dependent effects comparable to those of several prescription opioids, such as Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, or illegal opioids, like heroin.1,2
Methadone abuse is dangerous and can have harmful and even fatal effects. Some negative short-term effects of methadone abuse include:3,4
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Respiratory depression, or slowed breathing.
- Excessive itching.
- Profound sweating.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Mood swings.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Vision problems.
Taking too much methadone can also lead to overdose, which can be life-threatening. Signs of a methadone overdose include:4
- Cold, clammy, bluish skin.
- Shallow breathing.
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Limp muscles.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has overdosed on methadone or any other drug, call 911 immediately and remain with the person until medical personnel arrive. Provide the emergency team with as much information as you can regarding the overdose, including the dose of methadone taken, the method of administration, concurrent use of any other substances, etc.
Continued methadone misuse can lead to the development of tolerance and dependence, both of which can contribute to an escalating cycle of increased dosing, continued use to avoid withdrawal, and eventually, the development of methadone addiction.
Tolerance vs. Dependence
Developing a tolerance to a substance and becoming physically dependent on it are two distinct phenomena that people often confuse. When someone grows tolerant to methadone, it means that they require a higher dose to achieve the desired effects. Tolerance can develop rapidly in someone who is abusing methadone in higher-than-recommended doses. As someone's tolerance to the subjective effects of methadone increase, their risk of overdose increases as well, since they may be more likely to use a dangerously high dose or more frequent dosing that may place them at risk for respiratory arrest.
On the other hand, dependence develops as the body re-adjusts to the persistent presence of a drug and begins to function sub-optimally when continued drug use slows or altogether stops. Dependence is a natural adaptation to the presence of a substance, just as tolerance is. Someone who is taking methadone under clinical guidance may develop some dependence, but that doesn't mean they're addicted—it simply means that their body has adjusted to methadone's presence. Those taking methadone in a maintenance program may experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking their medication, which is why doctors create a gradual tapering schedule for anyone who wishes to discontinue use. Dependence can develop more quickly in someone who is abusing methadone, and once they abruptly stop using, they may experience distressing withdrawal symptoms—these symptoms may be so unpleasant that the user may return to methadone use to alleviate them. This can create a cycle of drug abuse that can be difficult to break, and ultimately, lead to the development of a methadone addiction. Thankfully there are professional rehab facilities available to help you quit abusing methadone.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Clinics
Methadone addiction can be treated in two main settings: inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient treatment provides patients with 24-hour care, support, and treatment. The patients must live at the facility for the length of the rehab program. It is a highly structured environment that allows people to focus solely on their recovery without the distractions, stressors, and triggers associated with their previous environment. These programs are typically more expensive than outpatient programs because they charge for room and board, but the around-the-clock monitoring is often worth it. Plus, many insurance companies provide at least partial coverage of addiction treatment services.
Outpatient treatment allows for some more freedom and opportunity for patients to engage in day-to-day society because the patients still live at home while attending treatment. They attend treatment sessions and are exposed to behavioral therapeutic techniques on a predetermined schedule, which means they must have reliable transportation so there are no gaps in their treatment. Many patients choose this option so that there is relatively little disruption to their daily lives. Outpatient programs range in intensity, from standard outpatient to partial hospitalization programs, which more closely resemble inpatient treatment in their structure and time commitment.
Do I Need Inpatient Treatment?
Inpatient rehab helps addicted individuals obtain sobriety through a variety of therapeutic interventions. If you aren't sure which level of treatment would be best for you, you can always schedule an evaluation with a physician or other treatment professional. They will assess your mental health, physical health, severity of methadone addiction, and risk of severe withdrawal, among other factors. They will then use this information to refer you to the type of care that they believe you will benefit most from.
In general, inpatient methadone programs are appropriate for those:
- With severe methadone addictions.
- With polydrug addictions.
- With a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
- With a serious medical condition that requires treatment.
- Without reliable transportation to an outpatient facility.
- Without a strong and sober support system.
- Who have previously relapsed or dropped out of programs.
- Who are pregnant, or have other special considerations.
If you have an extensive history of methadone abuse or if you have already tried outpatient treatment unsuccessfully, you may benefit from the help offered at an inpatient methadone rehab center.
Are Methadone Rehabs Private?
All methadone rehab centers are legally required to keep medical history, records, the details of treatment and all personal data confidential, only revealing information to people who are approved by the patient prior to treatment. Patients can add or remove people from this list at any time with oral or written approval. Sometimes patients will have a private room but will continue to undergo observation to ensure that no harmful effects occur from methadone withdrawal. Patients may also be assigned a roommate, depending on the facility.
How Long Does Inpatient Methadone Rehabilitation Last?
Full recovery from a methadone addiction does not exist on a set timeline. It could be influenced by the presence of co-occurring mental disorders and other factors that vary from person to person. Methadone rehab programs usually offer treatment plans that last 30, 60 or 90 days. The more severe the addiction or extensive the history of abuse, the longer the individual should consider staying. For those who have unstable living situations, longer durations may be available to help solidify the person's sobriety, coping skills, and relapse prevention strategies. Typically, after people complete treatment, they continue receiving ongoing support in the form of aftercare. Aftercare may include individual therapy, group counseling, 12-step programs, non-12-step programs, alumni programs, and sober living homes.
What Happens During Treatment?
The intake phase consists of physical checkups and a preliminary assessment as well as an orientation to the facility. They also assess your addiction severity and mental health condition as well.
The length of the detox phase varies, depending on the severity of addiction and any need for withdrawal medications. Inpatient detox programs provide you with 24-hour support to ensure your comfort and safety during this distressing phase.
Addiction therapy consists of various types of therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help the patient recognize and cope with drug triggers, as well as group therapy sessions for support and encouragement.
People who are addicted to drugs, such as methadone, often struggle with concurrent mental health issue(s). This situation is referred to as a dual diagnosis, and requires substance abuse treatment that is integrated with psychiatric care to improve the chances of recovery. Inpatient care to treat mental disorders is often necessary because co-occurring conditions could increase the likelihood of substance abuse.
Attending treatment is just the beginning of a lifelong recovery process. Aftercare consists of ongoing support to help prevent relapse. Aftercare may include options such as individual therapy, group counseling, 12-step programs, non-12-step programs, sober living homes, alumni programs, and more.
Paying for Treatment
Although outpatient treatment is on average cheaper, inpatient methadone treatment doesn't have to be expensive. It may cost thousands of dollars out of pocket, but there are ways to mitigate these costs. Insurance typically covers at least a portion of the costs of rehab, depending on the type of program and your individual plan. You'll want to call your insurance company to learn more about what they cover and don't cover, what your out-of-pocket fees may be, and which treatment programs they work with. If you don't have insurance, you should search for an inpatient rehab that offers sliding scale fees or reduced rates based on income. You should also look into programs that are willing to create a payment plan in which you pay off treatment in affordable monthly installments. Occasionally treatment centers or larger organizations, like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer grants or scholarships for people who need treatment but can't reasonably afford it. No matter how daunting paying for treatment may seem, there's always a way to get the help you need.
Should I Travel or Stay Close to Home?
Choosing the right methadone rehab facility also depends on location. Your finances may not allow a lot of travel. Staying near home gives you access to a support network of family and friends, which can be a vital tool for recovery from any addiction. That being said, some people prefer to travel to a different state or city for their treatment so they can be isolated from their old environment, which may include using friends, stressors, triggers, and more.
Are You Ready?
Methadone addiction is a chronic condition that often requires professional help. Everyone is ready for treatment at different stages of their methadone abuse. While some people don't enter treatment until they hit "rock bottom," others recognize that their drug use is problematic early on and seek a recovery program to quit before the condition progresses. Either way, entering a methadone treatment center is a conscious and autonomous decision (with the exception of court-mandated treatment). If you recognize that methadone abuse is causing a problem that you cannot stop on your own and you are ready to make the full commitment to recovery, you are ready for treatment.
You May Want to Learn More About:
People who are addicted to methadone are often in denial at first and refuse to recognize that they have a problem. An intervention is a meeting between the addicted person and his or her loved ones. The object is to get the addict to understand that his or her behavior is out of control and requires outside help.
The intake procedure requires absolute honesty from everyone involved. The treatment center cannot help if they lack necessary information. It may be best to have a relative or friend to act as support and to ensure the person does not decide to back out at the last moment.
There is no single model for methadone rehab. Some programs are religion-based, so you should determine whether a given facility's approach is right for you before going into treatment.
After you complete rehab, it is best to get involved in the community and develop constructive hobbies that keep your mind diverted from cravings. Drug cravings can persist even during aftercare; addiction is oftentimes a lifelong battle.
You should always consult the treatment program to determine the level of aftercare and how much you can expect to pay.
It's Not Too Late
Methadone abuse and addiction can be deadly. In 2011, there were about 67,000 emergency department visits related to the misuse or abuse of methadone.1 Don't allow yourself or your loved one to succumb to a methadone addiction or potential overdose. It's never too late to seek treatment.
1. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2014). Methadone.
2. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Full Prescribing Information.
3. Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2016). Methadone.
4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Methadone.