Methadone maintenance treatment has a proven track-record in helping people overcome the effects of opiate addiction. Methadone’s ability to mimic opiate effects makes it possible to wean addicts off of opiate drugs while enabling them to function normally in everyday life. Combined with ongoing counseling and rehabilitative treatment, program participants can make productive strides throughout the recovery process.
While methadone maintenance treatment does offer certain benefits not available through other treatment models, it does come with its own set of side effects and potential risks. Ultimately, success or failure in methadone maintenance treatment program depends on the needs of the individual and his or her motivation to get well.
Methadone Maintenance Treatment
The methadone maintenance treatment program approach views opiate addiction more so as a disease than a psychological disorder or personal character flaw. Since opiates alter brain and body functions, once a person becomes addicted, the chemical aspects of addiction actually create a disease-state within a person’s brain.
The “maintenance” aspect of the program refers to methadone’s role in helping recovering addicts maintain abstinence and stay in recovery. Chronic opiate use creates a snowball effect where drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms become progressively worse the longer a person uses. By the time a person seeks treatment, a form of medical maintenance treatment is needed to ward off ongoing cravings and withdrawal effects.
Methadone, as a treatment medication, is also an opiate-type drug that produces some of the same effects as other opiate drugs, according to the University of Maryland. Methadone differs from other opiates in that it’s a long-acting drug that produces gradual, mild effects as opposed to the opiate “rush” or “high” that drives addiction behaviors. As a result, recovering addicts don’t experience a euphoric high when on methadone. In the process, methadone’s effects also cancel out other opiate drug effects, which prevent a person from getting high should he or she attempt to use again.
Common Side Effects
Common side effects associated with methadone maintenance treatment can vary from person to person. While some may experience little to no side effects, others may actually have allergic reactions to the drug.
Some side effects to watch out for include:
- Shallow breathing
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fainting spells
Common side effect indicative of a possible allergic reaction to methadone maintenance treatment include:
- Swelling of the face
- Swelling of the lips, throat or tongue
- Difficulty breathing
While methadone’s long-lasting effects work well at warding off drug cravings, it also poses a potential overdose risk once methadone blood-levels reach a certain point. The risk of overdose is a particular cause of concern during the initial stages of methadone dosing when a person starts receiving treatment doses. As many program participants must undergo multiple dose adjustments before the therapeutic dose is reached, the drug can gradually accumulate in the body. When this happens, the risk of respiratory failure and even death increases considerably.
People who relapse while receiving methadone maintenance treatment are especially at risk of overdose since the body’s tolerance levels for opiates have decreased since entering treatment. This risk of overdose accounts for the majority of opiate-related deaths that occur within any given year.