Why Opiate Withdrawal is So Difficult & How Methadone Can Help

Opiate abuse can develop out of a treatment need, boredom or as a way to take the edge off of a stressful day. As the most fast and effective pain-relieving agents on the market, prescription opiates appear in most anyone’s medicine cabinet, which makes them easily accessible for non-medicinal uses.

Whether taken for treatment purposes or on one’s own, users can enter into a cycle of diminishing returns over time as far as opiate effects go. Opiate withdrawal develops out of this cycle. Once opiate withdrawal takes shape, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop using the drug.

After so many months or years of outright opiate abuse, brain and body functions cross a point of no return in terms being able to function normally in the absence of opiate effects. Couple this with a developing addiction problem and stopping drug use becomes a losing battle. Methadone’s chemical makeup and therapeutic effects can go a long way towards helping recovering addicts overcome the difficulty of opiate withdrawal.

Opiate Withdrawal Conditions

People trying to stop opiate use after long-term use are left to contend with the physiological brain dysfunction that results from opiate abuse practices. According to Harvard Health Publications, opiates work by taking control of brain neurotransmitter activities and forcing key cells to secrete larger than normal amounts of chemicals.

Opiate Withdrawal

Headaches and restlessness are common during opiate withdrawal.

These interactions not only create chemical imbalances throughout the brain, but also overwork individual cells sites, causing structural damage over time. Under these conditions, stopping opiate use leaves the brain to function in a severely compromised state. Consequently, a person stands to experience highly uncomfortable opiate withdrawal effects, including:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Profuse sweating
  • Confusing thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Drug cravings
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

While these effects can vary in severity form person to person, people coming off chronic drug use histories experience the very worst of these effects. Not surprisingly, the urge to use opiates becomes incredibly overwhelming, which accounts for the high risk of relapse that’s present during an opiate withdrawal period.


According to the University of Maryland, methadone was first developed in the 1930s as an alternative to morphine due to its low abuse and addiction potential. As of the 1960’s, methadone’s therapeutic benefits as an opiate addiction treatment drug came to the forefront.

Methadone, a synthetic opiate compound, affects the brain’s neurotransmitter processes in ways similar to that of addictive opiates. Methadone differs from addictive opiates in that it produces long-acting effects that carry a considerably lower potential for abuse and addiction.

When used for opiate withdrawal purposes, methadone supports opiate dependent brain cells without forcing cells to produce excess amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals. In this respect, methadone not only weans the brain off addictive opiates, but also helps restore a normal chemical imbalance in the brain.

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


During the course of drug use, opiate withdrawal becomes a driving force behind continued drug use. The longer a person keeps abusing opiates, the greater the role opiate withdrawal plays in driving continued drug use. Without the type of physical support that methadone provides, the damage to brain chemical process makes it all but impossible for long-term drug users to maintain abstinence for any length of time.

If you or someone you know struggles with opiate withdrawal effects and have more questions, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-891-9360(Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

How Our Helpline Works

For those seeking addiction treatment for themselves or a loved one, the MethadoneClinic.com helpline is a private and convenient solution.

Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) for your visit will be answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC).

We are standing by 24/7 to discuss your treatment options. Our representatives work solely for AAC and will discuss whether an AAC facility may be an option for you. Our helpline is offered at no cost to you and with no obligation to enter into treatment. Neither MethadoneClinic.com nor AAC receives any commission or other fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a visitor may ultimately choose.

For more information on AAC’s commitment to ethical marketing and treatment practices, or to learn more about how to select a treatment provider, visit our About AAC page. If you wish to explore additional treatment options or connect with a specific rehab center, you can browse top-rated listings or visit SAMHSA.