Opiate Addiction vs. Methadone Dependence: Which is Worse?

One of the most common concerns associated with methadone has to do with the risk of physical dependence that comes with long-term methadone treatment, also known as methadone maintenance treatment or MMT. While methadone dependence may well develop during the course of long-term treatment, those who most benefit from MMT are likely recovering from severe opiate addiction problems.

The risk of methadone dependence does warrant cause for concern; however, the effects of methadone dependence pale in comparison to the devastation that opiate addiction can wreak in a person’s life. That being so, understanding methadone’s overall purpose and therapeutic benefits can go a long way towards making an informed decision when considering methadone as a long-term maintenance treatment.

Opiate Addiction Effects

Most opiates, whether prescription-based or street drugs, can disrupt the brain’s natural chemical balance and overall functioning in harmful ways. Opiate addiction develops out of the chemical imbalances that form as a result of drug abuse.

As pain-relief agents, opiates interfere with dopamine output, a chemical that plays a central role in regulating the brain’s reward system. According to the Journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, opiate effects on dopamine production redirect the reward system’s attentions over time, and in the process redirects a person’s motivations and behaviors towards getting and using more of the drug. By the time there’s a need for methadone maintenance treatment, the brain has taken on a completely different structure and configuration.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Methadone Dependence

Opiate addiction causes severe damage to the brain, making it nearly impossible to function without some sort of support, such as methadone.

As a long-term treatment solution, methadone maintenance treatment acts as a substitute for addictive opiates in terms of meeting the brain’s ongoing need for opiates. Since the brain’s cells and chemical pathways have undergone considerable damage during the course of drug abuse, the brain still requires a certain degree of physical support in order to regulate the body’s processes in a normal fashion.

This overall state of instability accounts for why recovering addicts continue to experience pronounced withdrawal effects and drug cravings for months into recovery. According to the Western Journal of Medicine, methadone maintenance treatment picks up where addictive opiates leave off, providing support for damaged brain chemical pathways.

Methadone Dependence

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, methadone dependence develops in much the same way as dependence to any opiate-type drug develops. While nowhere as addictive or harmful as other opiates, methadone nonetheless has an opiate-based chemical makeup. In effect, this drug’s opiate component accounts for its therapeutic effectiveness as well as its potential for methadone dependence.

Opiate Addiction Treatment Considerations

People struggling with severe opiate addiction not only contend with a psychological need to get and use the drug, but have also developed profound abnormalities within the brain’s chemical workings. These physical abnormalities persist long into the recovery process making it all but impossible for a person to maintain abstinence on an ongoing basis.

While the prospect of methadone dependence can be disheartening, methadone’s stabilizing effects enable a person to abstain from continued drug use while taking the necessary steps towards rebuilding his or her life.

If you or someone you know is considering methadone as a long-term treatment solution and have further questions about methadone dependence, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-891-9360 to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

The Effects of Opiate Addiction on Your Thinking and How Methadone Maintenance Treatment Helps