Is Methadone Treatment More Effective Than Quitting Cold Turkey?

Opioid medications have an essential purpose in the treatment of pain conditions and the vast majority of individuals who use them, use them as they are prescribed and cease use once the need for analgesia is resolved. Some progress to a brief period of dependence and some continue to use them occasionally being able to cease use without any treatment, the “cold turkey” way.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are those who engage in the use of opioids outside of a legitimate medical condition, over longer periods of time, developing an ever-increasing tolerance and dependence, and experiencing repeat relapses after attempting to quit. These are the people for whom methadone treatment is intended for.

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What We Know About Opioid Dependence

Opioids are narcotic drugs that produce sedation, relaxation, and euphoria in high enough doses. It is the euphoria and pleasurable effects of opioids that many abusers look for. Anyone who takes opioids, can develop a tolerance to the drug requiring higher doses to feel the desired effects whether it’s euphoria or the relief of pain.

As the brain becomes adapted to the presence of the opioids, a number of physiological changes occur and the person becomes physically dependent on the drug keep the brain’s chemical balances in check, mainly dopamine. The more often the opioids are used and the greater the increase in dopamine and the subsequent disruptions in neurotransmitter activities, the greater the importance the brain elevates the drug use to. When the opioid levels drop from reduction or stopped use, the brain signals neuron messengers to tell the rest of the body that something is wrong and results in opioid withdrawals.

The drug potency, dosage amounts, type, duration, route of administration, and many factors regarding the person themselves has an impact on how many physiological changes will occur and therefore, the dependency and withdrawal potentials.

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Managing Opioid Withdrawals

Opioid withdrawal symptom logy, severity, and duration is different for every individual and with every episode. Some people with a lower level of dependence can successfully handle the cravings and flu-like symptoms that appear and once those physical ailments pass, they can go on with their lives as usual. According to the NIDA,” In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will.”

Opioid addictions are high on the list of desirable drugs as well as those that have unpredictable consequences to the person’s physical and mental health. So, for others, quitting cold turkey becomes a frightening and painful experience that compels them back into the use of opioids before they ever clear the drugs from their system. Still, others make it through the detox process only to relapse within a few short days, weeks, or months later and these individuals are at an extremely higher risk of overdose by resuming normal usage patterns after decreasing their tolerance to opioid drugs.

How Does Methadone Treatment Help?

addiction recovery with methadone

Methadone can help you safely detox from opiates and get off on a strong start with your recovery.

Methadone is an opioid agonist, meaning it produces effects similar to morphine, heroin, and other prescription painkillers, but, because it is slower acting, without the adverse effects such as euphoria and sedation in appropriate doses. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “The longer you’ve been dependent on opioids, the more likely it is that you would benefit from being on methadone.”

It can be taken once a day to reduce the cravings and withdrawals one would experience if they tried to quit using opioid drugs cold turkey and as it builds up in the person’s system, it reduces their dependence on short-acting opioids that compel them to frequent use of those drugs. Methadone also develops a cross-tolerance to other opioids to deter their abuse by blocking their effects and making them less appealing.

Since many opioid users engage in substantial abuse of those drugs and experience many psychiatric, medical, and social problems such as unemployment, homelessness, or engage in risky behaviors such as needle sharing, prostitution, and crime, methadone helps them to remain in treatment long enough and with a certain ease of comfort to improve their quality of life.

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Is Methadone Treatment More Effective Than Quitting Cold Turkey?

Whether the person chooses a short-term detox or long-term detox using methadone it can provide the relief they need over the extensive suffering they will probably go through trying to quit cold turkey. Individuals who elect to detox from the opioids using methadone will use the medication until they feel stable enough to refrain from illicit opioid use without it. According to the SAMHSA, “Patients admitted for detoxification may be treated for up to 180 days in an OTP.”

While they are there, their basic living needs, co-occurring substance abuse and medical disorders can be identified and addressed. They receive education, guidance, support, and referrals for ongoing medical and mental health care and this puts them in a much better position to maintain long-term abstinence than going it alone or cold turkey.

Finding a Methadone Treatment

OTPs are opioid treatment programs that have been certified and accredited by the SAMHSA to dispense methadone or buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, specifically for the treatment of opioid addictions. The SAMHSA monitors the programs and their treatment outcomes, making sure that OTPs “meet specific, nationally-accepted standards regarding organizational functioning and patient care.”

To find a SAMHSA accredited methadone treatment program in your area, Contact the SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or go to: Click on methadone detox and customize your other preferred options when designing your search. For the SAMHSA OTP directory, go to:

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