September 5th, 2023
In the complex landscape of addiction recovery, methadone presents a bitter irony. Initially developed and widely used as a solution to opioid addiction, methadone itself has proven to be potentially addictive, trapping some users in a cycle of dependency they were seeking to escape. While this can be a devastating setback and make it seem like sobriety is impossible, it is crucial that you don’t give up hope. With the right knowledge and professional help, overcoming methadone addiction can be achieved, opening the door to a happy, healthy future.
What is methadone?
Methadone is a synthetic opioid developed in Germany during the late 1930s due to a shortage of morphine. It is used primarily for the treatment of people in opioid recovery and comes in various forms, including tablets, liquid and injectable solutions.
Methadone works by interacting with the same receptors in the brain that other opioids bind to and elicits a similar but slower and less intense response. This leads to pain relief and feelings of relaxation and contentment without the intense high or euphoria that other opioids often cause. As a result, methadone can help to alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms in individuals who are addicted to other opioids.
Another key aspect of how methadone works is its long duration of action. Methadone is metabolised slowly, which means its effects can last up to 24 to 36 hours. This makes it suitable for once-daily dosing, allowing individuals in treatment to resume their daily activities without the need for frequent dosing or the cycle of highs and lows associated with the use of other opioids.
Methadone 101: Did you know…?
- Deaths in the UK have increased dramatically in recent years (663 deaths in 2021 compared to 516 deaths in 2020) due to Methadone addiction.
- Methadone is listed on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines, which is concerning considering its addictive nature.
- Methadone has a half-life of 15 to 55 hours, significantly longer than most opioids.
- Despite its benefits, only a fraction of those with opioid addiction ever receive methadone treatment.
- Methadone withdrawal can be more severe and protracted than other opioids due to its long half-life.
What is methadone addiction?
Methadone addiction is a form of prescription drug addiction that involves a compulsive need to use methadone, despite negative consequences. This can affect every aspect of your life and also lead to serious health dangers.
Why is methadone addictive?
Despite its therapeutic uses, methadone can produce a sense of euphoria similar to other opioids, leading to its misuse. The body can also develop a tolerance to methadone, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects, which can lead to dependency and addiction.
Healthcare and addiction treatment providers take several steps to prevent patients from becoming addicted to methadone. These measures are designed to ensure that methadone use remains therapeutic, minimises harm and does not transition into misuse or methadone addiction:
- Patient screening: Prior to starting methadone treatment, providers conduct thorough assessments to determine a person’s suitability.
- Individualised treatment plans: Each person’s methadone treatment plan is tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.
- Regular monitoring: This includes regular check-ins to assess the person’s response to the medication, detect any signs of misuse and adjust treatment as needed.
- Controlled distribution: Recipients usually have to take their methadone dose at a professional clinic or hospital under the supervision of medical staff.
- Patient education: Patients are educated about the potential risks and benefits of methadone treatment, including the risk and signs of methadone addiction.
- Gradual tapering: When it’s time to end methadone treatment, the dose is gradually reduced over time under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Despite these precautions, methadone addiction can and does still occur, and it can be incredibly difficult to overcome without comprehensive treatment.
Am I addicted to methadone?
Recognising methadone addiction symptoms isn’t always straightforward, as you may be blinded by the fact that you have successfully overcome a different addiction. Here are some revealing questions to ask yourself that may point to methadone addiction signs:
- Do I use more methadone than prescribed?
- Do I feel anxious if I don’t have access to methadone?
- Have I tried and failed to cut down or stop using methadone?
- Do I spend a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from methadone?
- Have I neglected responsibilities due to methadone use?
- Has methadone use caused issues in my relationships?
- Do I experience withdrawal symptoms when I try to stop taking methadone?
- Have I used methadone in dangerous situations?
If you recognise any of these signs of methadone addiction, it is crucial to seek professional help.
What causes methadone addiction?
Methadone addiction is a complex issue and can be influenced by a range of interconnected factors. It’s crucial to understand these contributing elements, as they provide insight into the prevention and treatment of methadone addiction:
- Duration of use: Long-term use of methadone can lead to physical dependency. This occurs as your body adapts to the presence of methadone and starts needing it to function normally. Over time, this can evolve into an addiction as the focus becomes maintaining this new normal to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
- High doses: Taking methadone in larger doses than prescribed increases the risk of developing a methadone addiction. Higher doses amplify the euphoric effects and the relief provided by methadone, making it more rewarding and, therefore, more addictive. Taking high doses can also accelerate the process of physical dependency.
- History of substance abuse: People with past addictions are more susceptible to developing a methadone addiction. Past substance misuse can prime the brain for addiction, making it more receptive to the rewarding effects of drugs like methadone. This is especially true for those with a history of opioid misuse, which is the vast majority of methadone users.
- Mental health disorders: Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can contribute to the misuse of methadone. These conditions can make people more prone to self-medicating with substances like methadone, increasing the risk of addiction.
- Environmental factors: Factors such as high-stress environments, peer pressure, and easy access to methadone can also foster addiction. Stress can drive individuals to seek relief through substances like methadone, while peer pressure can normalise and encourage misuse; easy access can further facilitate misuse and potential methadone addiction.
- Genetic predisposition: Genetic factors can also make some people more prone to methadone addiction. These genetic influences can affect how rewarding a person finds drugs like methadone and how quickly they develop a dependency.
What does methadone recovery involve?
Methadone addiction treatment usually involves a two-step process: detoxification and rehabilitation. Detox involves medical supervision to safely manage withdrawal symptoms and break physical dependence. Rehab includes therapy to address the underlying issues contributing to methadone addiction and to develop coping mechanisms to prevent future relapse.
Oasis Runcorn provides both of these important stages at our inpatient recovery centre.
What are the effects of methadone addiction?
The health consequences of methadone addiction are far-reaching, impacting both physical health and mental well-being. These impacts not only compromise the quality of life but can also become life-threatening if left unchecked.
- Respiratory issues: Methadone can slow or even stop breathing, particularly if the dose is too high or during the initiation phase of methadone treatment. This effect is especially pronounced if methadone is combined with other substances that suppress the central nervous system, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. Chronic respiratory issues can lead to conditions like hypoxia, which can result in long-term neurological effects and even death.
- Heart problems: Methadone can cause irregular heart rhythms, a condition known as QT interval prolongation. This can potentially lead to a serious and even fatal heart condition known as Torsades de Pointes. Over time, this strain on the heart can contribute to the development of heart disease.
- Mental health disorders: Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can develop or worsen as a result of methadone addiction. The cyclical nature of methadone addiction often exacerbates feelings of guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, which can lead to or intensify existing mental health disorders. Withdrawal from methadone can also lead to severe anxiety and depression.
- Sexual health problems: Methadone use can lead to sexual health problems in both men and women. In men, it can cause sexual dysfunction, including reduced libido, erectile dysfunction and difficulty achieving orgasm. In women, methadone can lead to irregular menstruation or amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation).
- Liver damage: The liver plays a crucial role in metabolising methadone, but prolonged use or misuse of methadone can overwork and damage the liver, leading to conditions like cirrhosis or liver failure. The risk of liver damage is also heightened if the person has pre-existing liver conditions like hepatitis.
Beyond health effects, methadone addiction can have significant impacts on your life, including:
- Strained relationships
- Financial difficulties
- Legal issues
- Employment problems
- Lost opportunities in work and education
How to get help for methadone addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with methadone addiction, don’t lose hope. Oasis Runcorn offers comprehensive treatment for methadone addiction to help you transform your life. Contact us today to find out more about our methadone addiction programmes.