Data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show as many as 265,000 people were enrolled in methadone treatment programs as of 2010. Most commonly used as a treatment for heroin and/or opiate addictions, the methadone treatment approach has been around for over 50 years.
People who stop using opiates commonly experience ongoing cravings that make it especially difficult to maintain abstinence. This coupled with persistent withdrawal effects inevitably drives many addicts back to drug use.
Methadone’s ability to treat these two main roadblocks recovering addicts face accounts for its ongoing use in the addictions treatment field. Over time, methadone treatment enables a person to take an active role in the recovery process while resuming the everyday responsibilities of a normal lifestyle.
The brain has a natural affinity for the types of effects opiate drugs produce. Individual opiate cell receptors in the brain interact with opiates in the same way they interact with the body’s natural endorphin chemicals. This easy exchange accounts for why a person’s tolerance level for opiates rises so quickly. It also accounts for why someone addicted to opiates constantly craves more drugs.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, methadone, a synthetic opiate agent, is chemically designed to imitate opiate effects on brain cell receptors without producing a “high” effect. In the process, methadone treatment enables recovering addicts to wean off opiate effects gradually, which greatly lessens the likelihood of relapse when compared to a “cold turkey” approach.
Methadone treatment is administered in tablet, oral solution and injection forms. By taking a daily dose, methadone treatment effects suppress withdrawal and drug cravings symptoms for up to 24 to 36 hours. Compared to the number of “hits” or doses an addict must take to remain “high” throughout the day, methadone treatment offers a convenient, effective approach to maintaining abstinence on a long-term basis.
Reduced Cravings & Withdrawal Effects
When a person stops using, brain and body processes are left to function without the effects of opiates. Until the body’s chemical processes reach a state of equilibrium, a person will continue to experience drug cravings and withdrawal effects.
The effects of withdrawal and ongoing drug cravings can wear away at a person’s motivation to break an opiate addiction. Methadone treatment helps make the recovery process more physically comfortable, thereby enabling a person to maintain his or her motivation and focus on the recovery process. Methadone also cancels out the effects of other opiate drugs in the event a person does relapse.
Improved Functional Ability
While most opiate drugs cause sedation and impaired functional ability, methadone enables recovering addicts to function normally and lead productive lives. Methadone treatment follows certain protocols in terms of dosage amounts and dosage adjustments. The ideal dosage amount will effectively reduce drug cravings and minimize withdrawal effects without leaving a person feeling sedated or “high.”
Improved functional ability means a person starts to feel more like him- or herself before addiction took hold. These effects produce ongoing benefits as relationships within a person’s family, work and social life start to see considerable improvements.