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Methadone Abuse

What is Methadone Abuse?

The U.S. is in the midst of an opioid crisis, with an average of 46 people per day dying from opioid overdoses.  The opioid crisis has gotten so out-of-control that it is cited as the main reason why life expectancy rates of Americans have decreased in the last few years. 35% of all opioid overdoses involve prescription opioid drugs, and the most common medications involved in overdose deaths are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a prescription opioid drug, and it is used to treat moderate pain. The medication is a schedule two drug. Schedule two drugs are substances used for legitimate medical conditions and are known to have proven therapeutic effects. However, schedule two drugs like methadone are also known to have addictive properties, and it is illegal to abuse methadone to get high. Abusing methadone will lead to tolerance, physical dependency, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction. The prescription medications morphine and Vicodin are also classified as schedule two substances.

In the mid-1960s, methadone was created and originally used to treat opioid addiction. Today, people in recovery from heroin and severe prescription opioid addiction are sometimes prescribed methadone because the medication helps manage painful withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, methadone can be abused.

Why Would Someone Abuse Methadone?

Opioid-derivative drugs like methadone are some of the most addictive substances on earth. These drugs bind to the body’s natural opioid receptors, rewiring the brain’s natural risk and reward pathways. When someone takes an opioid, they will experience an intense euphoria that is highly addictive both physically and emotionally.

Also, the body builds a tolerance to opioid drugs very quickly. Users will need ever-increasing amounts of the drug to get the same euphoric high. But opioid drugs are central nervous system depressants, and as such, they will significantly decrease a person’s respiratory rate. Mixing an opioid drug like methadone with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, is incredibly dangerous.

When someone uses more methadone than prescribed or takes the drug without a prescription, it is considered abuse. Even though methadone is used to reduce opioid cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms from becoming severe, it is still addictive, and as such, it is heavily regulated substance. People who are prescribed methadone in clinical outpatient settings for curbing withdrawal symptoms must go to an outpatient clinic each day for their prescribed dose.

Unlike stronger opioid drugs, methadone does not produce the same euphoric effects or addictive high when taken as prescribed. Originally, methadone was designed to block these euphoric effects. If someone is on methadone and tries to get high with heroin or a stronger opioid drug, methadone will block an opioid high. However, people who are addicted to methadone will sometimes use the pills to create an injectable mix. Injecting methadone can increase the effects of the drug and also produce a high.

What Are the Effects of Methadone?

Even though methadone does not induce euphoria and blocks euphoria from other opioids, it does have several other effects. Most notably, methadone will make someone drowsy. The effects of methadone are also similar to other opioid drugs, including:

  • Delayed reaction times
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased blood pressure and body temperature

What Are the Signs that Someone is Abusing Methadone?

Becoming addicted to a substance like methadone drastically changes a person’s behavior. Addiction takes over a person’s life and alters the way they think and feel. A significant indicator of addiction is when a loved one’s behavior drastically changes in a short period. People in the midst of active addiction will have trouble maintaining their responsibilities, and miss work or school. They will also experience problems in their relationships and even experience legal and financial difficulties as a direct result of their addiction. Other red flags that can indicate a methadone addiction include:

  • Taking more methadone than prescribed
  • Experiencing a tolerance to methadone
  • Being preoccupied with getting more methadone
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Possible withdrawal symptoms from methadone include insomnia, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, depression, and chills and sweating.

Who is Most Likely to Abuse Methadone?

No single factor can accurately predict who will become addicted to any substance. But a combination of genetics and other environmental factors can increase the chances of someone becoming addicted. When it comes to methadone, if a person is prescribed the drug for heroin addiction, they are at a higher risk of abusing the drug than someone who takes methadone for pain management.

  • Having a close relative with a substance use disorder
  • Being from a lower socioeconomic background
  • Having obtained a lower level of education
  • Being diagnosed with a mental health condition

People who have a mental health disorder are at higher risk of abusing drugs than other groups. Drugs or alcohol can be a fast and easy way for someone to get relief from distressing or painful mental health disorder symptoms. It is estimated that half of all people who enter a rehabilitation center are also struggling with a comorbid mental health disorder.

How Can Someone Get Help for Methadone Abuse?

The first step to ending a methadone addiction is to reach out to a substance abuse facility for an evaluation. The most effective addiction treatment methods are customized and tailored to the individual patient. An evaluation helps doctors and therapists determine the best course of action for treatment. Usually, people who are addicted to methadone or other opioid drugs will need a period of detox, then residential rehab or outpatient treatment.

For methadone addiction, a rehab facility may recommend switching patients to a different medication for treating opioid dependencies. Some of the most common prescriptions are Suboxone or Subutex. Once patients have safely detoxed from methadone or opioids, they can begin working closely with a trained drug abuse counselor, attend 12-step recovery programs, and support groups for addiction treatment. Ongoing maintenance is crucial for preventing relapse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to methadone, there is help. Please contact the experienced drug abuse counselors at Windward Way for an evaluation for addiction treatment and recovery.


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