Methadone has a long history of positive demonstration that methadone treatment can be effective in improving an opiate addict’s physical and psychological health while helping them to recover from the many adverse aspects of opiate addictions.
The duration of methadone treatment will vary by the individual and the decision to discontinue methadone therapy lies solely between the patient and the clinician based on recovery progress and the potential for relapse.
Short Term versus Long Term
When entering a methadone treatment program, one of the first questions asked is, “how long will I be on methadone?” There are, basically, two ways to look at this.
First, opioid dependence is a chronic disease that dramatically alters brain functioning, neurological processes, and the person’s life, in general. Like other diseases such as diabetes, it can be a long term, possibly indefinite, condition that can be treated through pharmacological means, in this case, methadone.
Another way is to look at opioid dependence is as an attempt to resolve emotional problems or deal with other unwanted circumstances in life and methadone treatment is a way to avoid opioids while progressing towards a more stable and satisfying life. Once things are back in balance and there is less reasons to look for drugs, the methadone can be tapered off.
Methadone is a long lasting synthetic opioid that helps to smooth out the ups and downs of opioid dependency by acting as an agonist drug to produce similar effects as opioids but at a much slower pace. Dosages are administered daily to reduce cravings and withdrawals while blocking the effects of other opioids for 24 to 36 hours.
A typical day for an opioid addict is consumed with obtaining the drug, “getting well”, and then suffering adverse withdrawal symptoms within hours of the last dose. The longer they use and the greater their tolerance, the more extreme and frequent these cycles become.
Opioid addicts often revert to intravenous use in chronic cases which increases their risk of contracting and spreading blood diseases such as HIV, AID’s, Hepatitis, and other infections. An appropriate dose of methadone can reduce these behaviors along with the many other maladaptive behaviors by keeping the person physiologically stable.
Importance of Retention
According to the SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, “Studies of patients who left MAT prematurely have determined that length of retention was the most important indicator of treatment outcomes.” Beyond the physiological changes that create the powerful need to use opiates, are many issues that need to be addressed though counseling, medical, and psychosocial interventions.
These, are the issues that take time to heal and for which, it is recommended to remain in methadone treatment as long as there is a perceived risk of relapse or until it is mutually determined, otherwise, by the patient and clinician.