Many patients will take methadone for months or even years following a heroin or opiate addiction but at some point, you may start to wonder what you can do to stop methadone maintenance treatment and get on with your life. As life steadies out and you begin to feel “normal” again, it’s perfectly common to begin to start thinking about tapering the drug off and working to eliminate from your daily regimen—but it’s not always as simple as it sounds. Methadone is an addictive drug and, like many drugs, when you are ready to stop taking it you must have a plan of attack.
Tapering Off Methadone
First off, you should know that in order to stop taking methadone you will need to gradually taper the drug off in order to prevent any withdrawal symptoms or complications. This is the most successful strategy to stop taking methadone and the safest strategy that will result in the least risk of subsequent relapse. Gradually tapering off the drug means that you will need to reduce the dosage by several milligrams each week for as long as it takes to reduce the total dose down to nothing. The average daily dose of methadone is 100mg so this process could take some time for most users.
It’s important to gradually taper the medication though because abruptly quitting and eliminating the entire dose at once could lead to severe complications, withdrawal symptoms and potential health risks. Most patients will reduce their dose of methadone by about 2-4mg per week which means that it could take about a year to effectively & gradually reduce the dose of methadone without withdrawal or risk of relapse.
Allowing the Body to Adjust
By gradually reducing the methadone treatment prescribed dose by a very small amount each week, the body is able to adjust to the reduction in medication and there is little chance that withdrawal or other adverse effects will be felt by the user. Some patients find that their body will adjust more regularly and that they are able to taper the methadone off more quickly than others which can reduce the amount of time that it takes to stop taking methadone but this is solely a case by case, patient by patient basis to be determined only by you.
You may have to experiment a little bit in order to find a comfortable fit that works for you. For instance, you may try reducing the dose by 2 mg per week and if this works, you might try doubling that to 4 mg reduction the following week. If reducing by increments of 4mg is too much, try 3mg and see how that goes. Most importantly, be open and honest with your counselor and the doctor or nurse who dispenses your medication to be sure that the best protocol is being devised for your individual needs.
Reaching Your Goal of Freedom from Methadone Dependence
The primary goal here is to reach your goal and become free of methadone dependence without relapsing on opiates. The best way to do this is to stick to a gradual reduction of methadone over an extended period of time. Tapering down the methadone gradually reduces the chance that you will relapse on opiates and allows your body time to adjust slowly to life without (or with less) methadone. It may take some time and persistence to reach your goal of no longer taking methadone but quitting is possible!