As one of a handful of drugs used in the treatment of chronic opiate addiction, methadone works as a type of replacement therapy, enabling addicts to wean off the effects of addictive opiates over time. Anyone receiving methadone treatment can remain on the drug for as long as needed, but how does a person know when it’s time to stop taking the methadone?
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, opiate addiction works in much the same way as other chronic medical conditions like heart disease and asthma. Under these conditions, it’s important for people in recovery to be especially careful when considering their readiness to discontinue methadone treatment.
How Methadone Works
Methadone works in the same way as other opiate-based drugs and interacts with the same brain cell receptor sites. In effect, the brain responds to methadone in the same way it does to addictive opiates. Methadone’s effects differ in that users don’t experience the “high” that comes from addictive opiates, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Methadone also produces slow-acting effects so a person only requires a daily dose rather than needing multiple “fixes” throughout the day.
Methadone’s Therapeutic Effects
Methadone’s ability to mimic addictive opiates without producing a “high” comes with a range of therapeutic benefits. In the absence of opiates, people coming off chronic opiate addiction may experience uncomfortable withdrawal and drug cravings for months or even years into the recovery process. Methadone treatment effects all but eliminate withdrawal and cravings effects. Likewise, the need to engage in compulsive drug using-behavior is eliminated since methadone doesn’t produce a “high” effect.
When Can I Stop Taking Methadone?
Considering methadone’s overall purpose in opiate addiction treatment, a person can gauge his or her readiness to discontinue methadone based on the degree of progress made in recovery. Recovery progress can be measured by the overall state of a person’s life in terms of his or her ability to function effectively from day-to-day for months at a time, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Overall attitude, outlook and a person’s confidence in his or her ability to maintain abstinence without methadone also have a considerable bearing on his or her readiness.
Rather than stopping methadone treatment altogether, methadone dosage levels must be tapered over a period of time, otherwise, withdrawal and cravings effects can drive a person to resume drug use. The tapering phase also enables a person to better gauge whether he or she is ready to go off methadone as some degree of withdrawal and cravings will be experienced along the way.
A tool known as the tapering readiness inventory lists questions to ask to help gauge your readiness to go off methadone treatment. Questions to consider include:
- Will you be able to cope with stressful situations without having to turn to drugs?
- Do you have a job or attend school?
- Do you still associate with people who use drugs?
- Are you living in a stable home environment?
- Do you have a support system in place?
- Are you in good health, both physically and mentally?
- Are you engaged in some form of long-term treatment, such as 12 Step support groups?
Ultimately, your answers to the above questions provide a good indication of whether you’re ready to discontinue methadone. Considering what’s at risk, it’s especially important to be brutally honest in terms of your ability to maintain abstinence on your own.