How Do You Get Off Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that has been associated with treatments for heroin addictions since the 1970’s. In the late 1990’s, methadone’s clinical use as a prescription painkiller increased rapidly and improper use and abuse of this drug continues to raise concerns.

According to the World Health Organization, “The notion that drug dependence could be considered a “self-acquired disease”, based on individual free choice leading to the first experimentation with illicit drugs, has contributed to stigma and discrimination associated with drug dependence. ” Relatively, methadone dependence has been stigmatized over the years as a substitute for heroin dependence, socially feared and regarded as a guilty behavior to be punished when nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, when methadone is prescribed in appropriate doses and used safely in treatments for chronic and severe pain or to help minimize or eliminate the illicit use of other opioids in opioid detox and maintenance programs, it serves valuable and essential purposes. Getting off of methadone is easiest when the doses are gradually reduced under the careful supervision of a qualified physician or OTP clinician, but, for many, this may be easier said than done.

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Reasons to Get Off Methadone

quitting methadone

Talk to your doctor or treatment provider before going off methadone.

Methadone is a powerful opioid that has a long half-life and while this is one of its advantages it is also a major disadvantage. Increasing tolerance can be instrumental in elevating consumptions of methadone and because it builds up and remains stored in bodily tissues, overdose can occur hours after taking the last dose. Thinking that drug is not working to produce the desirable results whether its pain relief or euphoria, overdoses on methadone now, far exceed overdoses on any other opioid drug.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Methadone-associated overdose deaths can occur under several different scenarios, including improper dosing levels by practitioners, misuse by patients who may combine methadone with other drugs, or abuse—using the drug for nontherapeutic purposes.”

Other signs of concern may include:

  • Loss in control over how much methadone you are taking
  • Preoccupations with methadone use, effects, or the behaviors surrounding the use
  • Concerns regarding your physical or mental health
  • You have experienced negative consequences because of your methadone use
  • You find yourself overly anxious or craving your next dose
  • You have tried to quit before unsuccessfully
  • Other people are worried about you or important relationships have been damaged as a result of your use
  • You feel the need to use methadone to feel “normal” (outside of OTP treatment benefits)

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Methadone Use in OTPs

In opioid treatment programs (OTPs), methadone doses are delivered daily where the methadone helps normalize brain functions and reduce the frequent intoxications and withdrawals an opioid dependent might experience multiple times a day with short-acting opioids like heroin, morphine, and other prescription painkillers. Methadone’s long-half life helps to relieve cravings and withdrawals for opioids 24 hours or more and once the person adapts to methadone, a cross-tolerance further deters illicit opioid abuse by blocking the euphoria those drugs are most desirable for.

Getting off methadone when it is used in OTP therapies is a decision that is solely up to the user, but, it is important to understand that ending the methadone therapy too early often results in relapse to the short-acting drugs. Methadone therapy is advocated to be used as long as the relapse potential remains high and the person is obtaining recovery goals that improve their quality of life while remaining compliant within the program.

At an end point, determined between the user and the OTP provider, the methadone dosages can be gradually reduced under the careful supervision of the program providers in order to get you off methadone safely. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, “For methadone the most rapid regimes last 7–21 days, while ‘slow tapering’ regimens can last up to 6 months or longer.”

How Do You Get Off Methadone

Although withdrawals from methadone may be excruciatingly painful, physically and psychologically, remember, the drug remains stored in bodily tissues for a number of days depending on biological factors such as your state of health, metabolism rate, and the amount of methadone in your system at the time you begin your detox. These issues can have a major impact on the symptom logy, severity, and withdrawal duration, including potentially, life-threatening consequences. For these reasons, safe detox under the supervision of a qualified professional who knows your health and methadone use history is best.

You should never attempt to quit using methadone suddenly or try to detox alone and in a “cold turkey” fashion. Another serious danger involves using medications like benzodiazepines or other opiates to mitigate anxiety, insomnia, or other withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is a powerful central nervous system depressant that can fatally depress breathing and when combined with other drugs, the risks for overdose and death increase exponentially.

Taking Care of Yourself

Following a safe detox plan recommended by your physician or OTP provider is just the beginning of knowing how to get off methadone. You must take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Anything short of that can cause you to relapse back to using. This is why long-term methadone detox programs are designed to detox you slowly and in a controlled and safe manner with the provision of psychosocial services to empower you in your self-sufficiency.

Drink lots of fluids, eat right, get plenty of sleep, maintain good hygiene, and seek appropriate support including medical, psychiatric, and social services to increase your chances of a successful outcome. Once the methadone is physically out of your system, you still have to contend with cravings and although they subside over time, will always be in the back of your mind.

Without diligent abstinence and strategic maintenance of your recovery, relapse remains high. Stay away from people, places, and things that remind you of using and occupy yourself with healthy activities, including participating in 12-Step recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. For help finding treatment call 800-678-5931(Paid Advertiser) toll free anytime.

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