Does methadone help with opiate addiction?

Methadone use for addiction is a controversial issue. More on how methadone work on a physical level in the brain, with a section for your questions at the end.

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Yes, methadone can help addicts live normal lives.

While methadone use (especially methadone maintenance programs) sparks controversy, the scientific evidence has shown methadone to be an effective treatment for opiate and opioid addiction. But what is opiate addiction? How can methadone help with opiate addiction and who can prescribe it?

More here on what happens in the brain as you take methadone. Then, we invite your questions about methadone at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate questions personally and promptly.

Why take methadone at all?

Why do people use methadone? Methadone helps people stop taking or continue not taking hard-core drugs like heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine. Methadone is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. It also works treat pain by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. But methadone also works to treat people who were addicted to opiate drugs by producing similar effects and preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these drugs.

What is opiate addiction?

Opiate drugs act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When they attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain and can produce a sense of well-being. When used to induce a high, opiates can trigger addiction.

Regular (several times a day, for several weeks or more) or longer term use or abuse of opiates can lead to physical dependence and, in some cases, addiction. Physical dependence is a normal adaptation to daily exposure to a drug and is not the same as addiction. Addiction, which can include physical dependence, is distinguished by compulsive drug seeking and use despite sometimes devastating consequences. In either case, withdrawal symptoms may occur if drug use is suddenly reduced or stopped.

How can methadone help with opiate addiction?

Methadone is a synthetic agent that works by “occupying” the brain receptor sites affected by heroin and other opiates. Methadone works to:

  • block the euphoric and sedating effects of opiates
  • help people to work and participate normally in society
  • help relieve symptoms associated with withdrawal from opiates
  • leave the body slowly so it can be taken only once a day
  • prevent euphoria or intoxication itself (with stable dosing)
  • relieve the craving for opiates that is a major factor in relapse

Methadone prescription for opiate addiction treatment

Methadone prescriptions come as a tablet, a dispersible (can be dissolved in liquid) tablet , a solution (liquid), and a concentrated solution to take by mouth. If you take methadone as part of a treatment program, your doctor will prescribe the dosing schedule that is best for you. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take methadone exactly as directed.

Methadone can help opiate addiction or it may not

Methadone maintenance treatment has important benefits for addicted individuals and for society. These benefits include:

  • improved family stability and employment potential
  • improved pregnancy outcomes
  • reduced criminal activity
  • reduced mortality
  • reduced or stopped use of injection drugs
  • reduced risk of overdose and of acquiring or transmitting diseases

Though methadone is primarily used for treating heroin addiction, users can still experience negative physical effects. Careful monitoring and a close relationship between a doctor and the patient are essential to its proper use. Still, reinforcing effects of methadone are limited, as the drug is designed to block the pleasurable effects of opiates, but only when administered in the correct dosage.

Methadone help with opiate addiction questions

Do you still have questions about treating opiate addiction with methadone? Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NIDA: What are possible consequences of opioid use and abuse?
MedlinePlus: Opiate withdrawal
CDC: Methadone maintenance treatment
MedlinePlus: Methadone
NIDA:Testimony to Congress » America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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