Relapse Risks during Methadone Maintenance Treatment & How to Avoid Them

Methadone’s use as an opiate addiction treatment remains the standard of care for treating chronic addiction problems. As a synthetic opiate drug, methadone carries many of the same risks as addictive opiates so the potential for relapse can run high during certain stages of the methadone maintenance treatment process.

Understanding the risk factors associated with methadone maintenance treatment can go a long way towards helping to ensure your treatment progresses as intended. Ultimately, methadone maintenance has a long track record of successful treatment outcomes backed by decades of ongoing research and real-world application so anyone who’s willing to work with his or her treatment provider can expect to see ongoing progress in methadone maintenance treatment.

Methadone’s Mechanism of Action

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the overall purpose of methadone maintenance treatment works to reduce illicit drug use and ultimately wean the brain and body off the addictive effects of opiate. Methadone works well in this capacity simply because it too is an opiate drug, synthetically formulated to produce specific therapeutic effects.

With chronic opiate addiction, opiates overstimulate brain chemical production processes and eventually cause structural damage to cells. By the time a person enters treatment, brain cells have reached a point where they can no longer produce needed chemical supplies on their own, causing widespread chemical balances throughout the brain and central nervous system.

Like other opiates, methadone interacts with the same chemical-producing cells. Rather than overexert cells, methadone acts as a type of supportive therapy, enabling cells to produce needed chemical supplies. In the process, a person gains considerable relief from drug cravings and residual withdrawal effects, such as depression and insomnia.

Risk Factors

Relapse Risks during Methadone Maintenance

If a methadone dose is too low, it won’t curb withdrawal symptoms effectively.

Methadone’s therapeutic effectiveness relies heavily on a person receiving the right drug dosage amount. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the right dosage level, a person will experience relief from drug cravings and withdrawal effects without feeling sedated. Too low a dosage amount leaves a person at risk of relapse, while too high a dosage risks causing a “high” effect.

During the start of treatment, also known as the induction phase, it can take several weeks before the right dosage level is met. Not surprisingly, this phase of the treatment process carries a high risk of relapse.

How to Avoid Relapse

More than anything else, it becomes especially important to keep the lines of communication open between you and your treatment providers. This means letting your doctor know when drug cravings become more intense as well as keeping him or her informed about your overall mood state.

Methadone maintenance treatment also includes a psychosocial component made up of a series of behavioral-based interventions designed to help you replace addiction-based thinking and behaviors with healthy coping strategies for managing daily life. Interventions commonly used include psychotherapy, support groups and group therapy. These settings provide ideal environments for discussing any difficulties you may be having while helping you develop relapse prevention strategies.


While methadone’s classification as an opiate-based drug does come with certain treatment risks, methadone maintenance treatment programs operate according certain guidelines that work to reduce the likelihood of relapse. Ultimately, following these guidelines offers you the best chance of a successful treatment outcome.

If you or someone you know have concerns about risks associated with methadone maintenance treatment and have further questions, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-994-1867Who Answers? to speak with one of our addiction counselors.

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