Opioid addiction, dependence, or withdrawal often require medical treatment, frequently in the form of methadone treatment. If you are researching methadone information for families, you may know someone with an opioid use disorder (OUD) and need guidance regarding this medication. Helping your loved one enter treatment and supporting them on the journey can be difficult but necessary.
In this article:
- Who Needs Methadone Treatment?
- Why Is Methadone Treatment Important?
- Is Methadone Treatment Effective?
- How Families Can Support Treatment
Who Needs Methadone Treatment?
Methadone is a medication that medical professionals may use to treat your loved one who has opioid use disorder (OUD). Because methadone is an opioid agonist and interacts with opioid receptors in the brain, this medication is able to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and block the effects of other opioids, making it easier to refrain from opioid use.1
Methadone may be a good option for anyone who has been diagnosed with an opioid use disorder. Only a healthcare professional can make a formal diagnosis; however, if you begin to see at least two of these signs in your loved one, they may have an opioid addiction and could benefit from methadone treatment:2,3
- Taking more opioids than intended or being unable to decrease the amount used
- Expressing consistent desire to reduce or eliminate opioid use but being unable to do so
- Spending most of their time acquiring or using opioids, or recovering from their effects
- Craving and experiencing urges for opioids
- Not fulfilling work, school, or home responsibilities owing to their opioid use
- Continuing to use the drug despite social and interpersonal issues caused by it
- Persisting in opioid misuse despite negative effects on their health
- Losing interest in social activities or recreation
- Recurring use of opioids in hazardous environments or scenarios
- Building tolerance to opioids, which means they must use more to achieve the desired high or they experience diminished effects from similar use levels
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping heavy or prolonged use—dysphoric moods, nausea and vomiting, dilated pupils, diarrhea, insomnia, muscle aches, lacrimation or rhinorrhea, fever, and yawning
Additionally, persons who are pregnant or breastfeeding can be treated with methadone safely. If your loved one has an OUD and is pregnant, it is best for them to avoid withdrawal symptoms caused by abstaining from the opioid wholesale, opting instead for methadone maintenance, which has been shown to have superior outcomes than continuing opioid use or abstinence.1, 2, 5, 9
Who Does Not Need Methadone Treatment?
Methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) can be used to address such addictions if the user complies with their prescribed use. However, if your loved one with OUD has a history of misusing medications, this may indicate that MMT is not right for them. Certain contraindications would suggest your loved one might not be ideal for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in certified opioid treatment programs (OTP). These contraindications include:4
- Not meeting at least two of the previously listed criteria for diagnosing an OUD
- Individuals who have less than 1 year of OUD and no history of addiction treatment
- Persons who cannot attend treatment sessions regularly (unless clear clinical exception is obtained)
- Any allergic reactions to methadone
- A co-occurring medical diagnosis of alcohol or sedative dependence
Why Is Methadone Treatment Important?
Opioid misuse is a serious problem, with over 2.1 million opioid users in the United States and over 120,000 deaths each year attributed to it.2 Leaving a condition like this untreated can be dangerous and even life threatening for your loved one. Trying to stop opioid use suddenly can produce unwelcome withdrawal symptoms that methadone treatment can help relieve.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has included methadone on its list of essential medicines because of its importance in treating OUD.5 Research on methadone treatment shows that it is vital to the recovery process of your loved one for numerous reasons. Methadone treatment can:5
- Significantly reduce drug injecting, which also reduces HIV transmission
- Significantly lower the death rate associated with OUD
- Reduce the risk of your loved one getting involved in criminal activity alongside their drug use
- Lower the risk of your loved one relapsing into drug use
- Offer symptom relief that enables your loved one to gain the most from other recovery treatments, such as therapy and support groups
Is Methadone Treatment Effective?
Research shows most persons who engage in treatment will experience success in ceasing drug use, decreasing criminal activity, and improving their overall functioning.6
Specifically, studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of methadone treatment for OUD. One study found that those who were taking methadone had 33% fewer opioid-positive drug tests than those who were in recovery but not taking methadone as part of their treatment plan.7 This same study discovered that those in methadone treatment were nearly four and a half times likelier to remain in treatment.7
Long-term methadone treatment even produced significantly positive outcomes for patients regardless of the addition of counseling in their treatment.7 Methadone maintenance therapy also is proven more effective than immediate abstinence for treating opioid dependency.8
Benefits of Methadone Treatment
Methadone treatment offers many benefits to your loved one, including:5
- Reducing their symptoms of withdrawal
- Curbing their drug cravings
- Enabling them to continue everyday life tasks while in recovery
- No euphoric effect that leads to drug dependence
- Medical professional monitoring
How Families Can Support Treatment
You are not responsible for the recovery of your loved one, nor their willingness to adhere to a treatment regimen. Nonetheless, there are several things you can do to provide family support for your loved one during and after methadone treatment. This includes arming yourself with methadone information for families.
Educate Yourself with Methadone Information for Families
There are many misconceptions about methadone treatment. You may worry that your loved one is just replacing one addictive drug with another. This is not the case because methadone does not produce the same euphoric feeling that opioids do, making it far less likely for someone to become addicted to methadone.
Take time to read methadone information for families and research on how methadone treatment is safe and effective to help you counter any instinctual or socially constructed resistance to seeking the treatment. It will help you make the case—both to yourself and to your loved one—for seeking effective modalities along the continuum of care, which may include methadone maintenance.
As an introduction to this methadone information for families, clinical practice guidelines for the safe administration of methadone are available publicly.9 Its safety is attested to in several international approaches, including those in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.10
Learn Your Loved One’s Triggers
Part of the recovery process for your loved one will include identifying things, places, and people that may trigger the urge to use a substance. Find out what these things, places, and people are for your loved one and help by creating an atmosphere free of these triggers. This may include removing certain substances from the home or avoiding specific people, environments, or conversations.
The recovery process can be very long, and your loved one most likely will receive methadone treatments over a long period. Find ways to celebrate their progress along the way with verbal affirmations, thoughtful gifts, and public praise, helping motivate them when they encounter setbacks in treatment.
Find Support for Yourself
Supporting a loved one through recovery can impact your own mental, emotional, and physical health. Find a support group near you where other family members can provide guidance and care for you so that you do not become isolated throughout the recovery process. Make time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
Know the Signs of Relapse
Understanding the nature of addiction and relapse can help you better support your loved one as they go through this life-long journey of recovery. As with all chronic medical illnesses, relapse is expected if you stop following your treatment plan. Signs of relapse may include:11
- Isolating or withdrawing from family and friends
- Agitation or irritability
- Not attending methadone treatment appointments or therapy sessions
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Cravings for the substance they used before treatment
- Remembering or talking about past drug experiences with positive feelings
In the case of a relapse, this does not mean that your loved one’s efforts in recovery are for nothing. If you return to rehab for a repeat of recovery treatment, you are returning with new insights and methadone information for families that you did not have the first time around and will contribute to your continued success. If your loved one does experience a relapse, it is a sign that they need to resume, modify or seek new treatment and this should be discussed with your loved one’s healthcare provider.
If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, please call 800-530-0431Who Answers? to speak to a specialist about available treatment options.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Methadone. United States Department of Health and Human Services.
- Dydyk, A. M., Jain, N. K., & Gupta, M. (2022). Opioid Use Disorder. StatPearls Publishing.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2016). Medication-Assisted Treatment For Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 43. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
- World Health Organization. (2009). Methadone maintenance treatment – Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. National Institute of Health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). How effective is drug addiction treatment? National Institute of Health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. How effective are medications to treat opioid use disorder? National Institute of Health.
- Mattick, R. P., Breen, C., Kimber, J., & Davoli, M. (2009). Methadone maintenance therapy versus no opioid replacement therapy for opioid dependence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
- Chou, R., Cruciani, R. A., Fiellin, D. A., Compton, P., Farrar, J. T., Haigney, M. C., Inturrisi, C., Knight, J. R., Otis-Green, S., Marcus, S. M., Mehta, D., Meyer, M. C., Portenoy, R., Savage, S., Strain, E., Walsh, S., Zeltzer, L. (2014). Methadone Safety: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American Pain Society and College on Problems of Drug Dependence, in Collaboration With the Heart Rhythm Society. The Journal of Pain, 15(4).
- Calcaterra, S. L., Bach, P., Chadi, A., Chadi, N., Kimmel, S. D., Morford, K. L., Roy, P., & Samet, J. H. (2019). Methadone Matters: What the United States Can Learn from the Global Effort to Treat Opioid Addiction. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 34, 1039–1042.
- Melemis, S. M. (2015). Focus: Addiction: Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery (nih.gov). Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325–332.