Methadone Maintenance Treatment vs. Methadone Detoxification: What’s the Difference?

When people think of methadone as a treatment for opioid abuse, it can sometimes be hard to know the difference between methadone maintenance treatment and methadone detoxification. MMT and methadone detox are two very different treatment types and are used to treat different issues. Once you understand the differences, it will be much easier for you to decide in what capacity you would like to receive methadone as a treatment for your opioid dependence and/or addiction.

What is Methadone Maintenance Treatment?

According to the NIJ, “Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is a medication-assisted treatment for individuals with opioid dependence,” but it is also so much more than this. While methadone is distributed to patients in order to help reduce cravings and to diminish withdrawal symptoms, the treatment also usually includes other elements in addition to the medication itself such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Medical assistance for any physical conditions caused by opioid abuse
  • Vocational counseling
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Resocialization

Methadone maintenance treatment is usually part of a long-term treatment program for addiction to opioids and can be continued for a year or longer or even indefinitely. It is only practiced in facilities that are monitored and regulated by the government and can be a very helpful treatment for those who are unable to stop taking opioids altogether.

What is Methadone Detoxification?

methadone benefits

In some cases methadone is only used during the detox process, rather than for long-term maintenance.

Methadone detox is a treatment method where a person is weaned off their dependence on opioids slowly by taking methadone, the dose of which is slowly tapered off, usually over the course of a week or so. Methadone detox can be practiced by hospitals, doctors in doctors’ offices, and other healthcare professionals for patients who are able to benefit from the treatment.

According to SAMHSA, in methadone detox, the drug “can be given once daily and [is] generally tapered over 3 to 5 days in 5 to 10mg daily reductions.” This is usually a particularly beneficial treatment for those who have not had long-term addictions to opioids and even those who are not addicted at all but merely dependent on them. Methadone detox also treats only the issue of methadone dependence and longer term treatment for addiction is required afterward if this method is used to treat an addicted individual.

What is the Difference Between the Two Treatments?

There are actually many differences between the two treatments, the biggest similarity being that methadone is used in both treatment types. However, methadone maintenance treatment, which still somewhat controversial, helps many long-term opioid addicts stay off illicit opioids and stop abusing them while methadone detox can help patients end their dependence on opioids for whatever reason they have become dependent in the first place (including just regular pain maintenance on opioids that were not abused by the patient).

Methadone maintenance treatment and methadone detox are not the same treatments, and patients should choose carefully when they are trying to decide which one they should attend.

Length of Treatment Time

Detox usually takes about a week or two, as previously stated. Many individuals who detox from opioids do so without the help of medication, but that can be extremely uncomfortable and even painful. Methadone is used in methadone detox to make this time less upsetting for patients and more manageable.

On the other hand, methadone maintenance treatment lasts quite a bit longer. According to the NIDA, “12 months is considered the minimum” for methadone maintenance treatment at its most effective and “some opioid addicted individuals continue to benefit from methadone maintenance for many years.” The time table of the treatment is not as strict and, although some patients do wind up being tapered off the drug eventually, others may stay on methadone indefinitely in methadone maintenance treatment.

Distribution of Medication

Methadone maintenance clinics distribute methadone to patients daily, usually in liquid form, often at the facility as many patients are not ready to take their medication on their own without a doctor’s supervision. According to the CDC, “Most patients require a dose of 60-120 mg/day to achieve optimum therapeutic effects of methadone.” This can sometimes be higher depending on the patient, and the dosage should be decided on based on each individual patient.

When it comes to methadone detox, SAMHSA states, “The initial dose requirements of methadone are determined by estimating the amount of opioid use and gauging the patient’s response to administered methadone.” Then the drug is slowly tapered off over the course of detox treatment. More importantly, methadone can be administered in other types of facilities like hospitals, doctor’s offices, and others as a detox treatment rather than a long-term, opioid addiction treatment. Methadone can only be distributed by methadone clinics in this case and, as stated by the NLM, “the treatment program must be approved by the state and federal governments.”

An Addiction Treatment vs. A Dependency Treatment

Methadone maintenance treatment is a long-term addiction treatment while methadone detox is a dependency treatment. Patients who have been addicted to opioids can use either type of treatment, but it is important for them to understand that methadone detox will not treat their addiction to opioids. They will need to attend some kind of formal addiction treatment afterward.

Many patients finish with opioid detox thinking that they are cured of their addictions and this is not so. It can also be dangerous as these individuals are prone to relapse and, because they have lower tolerances than before, they often overdose and die as a result of these relapses.

Which Treatment is Right for Me?

If you want to stop being dependent on opioids as soon as possible and you are able to attend another kind of formal addiction treatment afterward, methadone detox could be very beneficial to you. This can be the best course of action for someone who hasn’t been abusing opioids for very long.

If you have been abusing opioids in the long-term, however, and you are going to need lots of help and time in order to stop, methadone maintenance treatment is a very good program to help keep long-term addicts off opioids. Make sure that when choosing a treatment you think about your needs and what is best for you.


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