What’s the Difference Between Methadone Detoxification and Methadone Maintenance Treatment?

As one of a handful of opiate addiction treatments, methadone offers a range of therapeutic benefits that can be used in different stages of the recovery process. First developed as an addiction treatment in the 1960s, methadone exists as the most researched and applied medication therapy.

Methadone detoxification and methadone maintenance treatment both utilize the drug’s effects for the same purpose, however the overall goals for these two treatment types differ. Understanding the differences between methadone detoxification and methadone maintenance treatment can help you determine which approach best suits your current treatment needs.

Methadone’s Therapeutic Benefits

The effects of chronic opiate abuse leave the brain in a diminished functional state that can persist long after drug use ends. In this state, recovering addicts struggle with residual withdrawal effects in the form of persistent drug cravings and emotional distress on an ongoing basis. These conditions make it especially difficult to maintain abstinence for any length of time.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, methadone’s role as an addiction treatment works as a type of medication therapy that imitates the effects of addictive opiates in the brain. Methadone itself is a synthetic opiate specifically formulated to relieve cravings and stabilize a person’s emotional state using a once daily dosing regimen. In effect, methadone’s classification as a synthetic opiate enables it to interact with the same brain cell receptor sites as addictive opiates, and in the same ways, without posing a high risk for abuse or addiction.

Methadone Detoxification Treatment Objectives

Methadone Detoxification

Methadone detoxification works to break one’s physical dependence on opiates.

Methadone’s role as a detox treatment drug works to gradually wean the brain off addictive opiates throughout the course of the detox stage, according to the National Academies Press. At the start of methadone detoxification, a person receives a large enough dose to ward off cravings and emotional distress. From there, doses are gradually tapered to zero based on the degree of distress a person experiences along the way.

Ultimately, breaking the body’s physical dependence on addictive opiates becomes the intended goal of methadone detoxification treatment.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Objectives

More often than not, people coming off chronic opiate addictions experience residual withdrawal effects months or even years into the recovery process. Having to deal with intense drug cravings and bouts of depression and anxiety on a day-in, day-out basis leaves those in recovery at high risk for relapse. Methadone maintenance treatment acts as a type of medication therapy or long-term treatment in this regard, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Rather than taper dosage amounts, this approach seeks to find the optimal dosage level capable of eliminating drug cravings and emotional distress. From there, a person remains on methadone until he or she no longer struggles with symptoms of residual withdrawal.

Overall, methadone detoxification addresses the challenges faced during the detox stage, whereas methadone maintenance treatment can be used on an ongoing basis.


While methadone detoxification and methadone maintenance treatment exist as two different treatment approaches, it’s not uncommon for those in recovery to transition from methadone detoxification into methadone maintenance treatment. When all is said and done, ensuring you receive the level of treatment most needed to prevent relapse becomes the overall goal throughout the recovery process.

If you or someone you know are considering methadone treatment and have more questions or concerns, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-678-5931(Paid Advertiser) to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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