What Happens When Methadone Maintenance Treatment Stops
Methadone maintenance treatment offers a reliable method for supporting recovering addicts as they take steps towards building a new life. Once a person reaches a point where drug cravings and withdrawal effects no longer persist, it’s time to consider stopping methadone maintenance treatments.
As a medication therapy, methadone’s effects on the body require a closely-managed tapering period rather than an abrupt cessation of treatment. As everyone responds differently at different stages of the treatment process, it’s especially important to have a support network in place once methadone maintenance treatments stop.
Anyone who’s battled an opiate addiction well knows how opiates take an ongoing toll on the mind and body even after drug use stops. Methadone, itself, is an opiate-type drug that mimics the more addictive opiate drugs. As an opiate-type drug, methadone allows a person to wean off opiate effects while at the same time working through the recovery process.
Compared to other addictive opiates, methadone has a long-lasting effect and an even longer half-life in terms of how long it takes to eliminate the drug from the body. These characteristics make for a long, lingering withdrawal period when methadone use ends.
Much like the withdrawal period associated with opiate addiction treatment, a person becomes highly susceptible to drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms when stopping methadone maintenance treatment. For these reasons, stopping treatment altogether places recovering addicts at considerable risk of relapse and the eventual return to opiate abuse.
Part of the methadone maintenance treatment process includes a tapering period designed to help a person wean off methadone’s effects. The decision on when and how the tapering period takes place ultimately rests on the person in treatment; however, working closely with methadone providers is highly recommended. In effect, what happens after stopping methadone maintenance treatment rests on how a person manages the tapering process.
Tapering periods for stopping methadone maintenance treatment can run anywhere from six months to a year depending on how the body responds. During this time, a person will likely experience some withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Ultimately, the taper rate, or how quickly methadone dosage amounts become smaller, is gauged according to the level of withdrawal effects and cravings a person experiences.
As withdrawal symptoms and cravings can quickly drive a person back to opiate use, dosage adjustments may go back and forth throughout the taper period to reduce the risk of relapse.
Once methadone maintenance treatment ends, a person may still experience residual withdrawal effects, such as problems sleeping and an overall melancholy emotional state. These effects can last for months at a time, even after a person goes through the tapering process. For these reasons, it’s important to have a support network in place to turn to when the urge to use becomes overwhelming.
A support network consists of family and friends (who don’t use drugs) or people you can talk to about your experiences. Counselors or therapists can also be a part of a support network. Twelve-step support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous can prove invaluable during difficult times as many people who attend these meetings are going through similar experiences.