Methadone is one of the most commonly used medications in the treatment of opioid use disorder. While it is not nearly as potent as traditional opioids of misuse, it can still become habit-forming if taken outside of the direction of a medical professional. Those who find themselves addicted to methadone can face many challenges, including when it comes to the withdrawal symptoms they may develop when ending their use.
Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
Withdrawal is most intense when a person stops taking an addictive substance all at once, commonly called “going cold turkey.” However, individuals addicted to powerful opioids like heroin, Vicodin, or fentanyl may still experience mild symptoms when their dose of methadone is reduced. Due to the fact that methadone is typically tapered off anyway, someone who obtains methadone illegally and becomes addicted to it will likely be advised to get off the drug in this fashion under the supervision of a medical professional. This process can take a few months up to a year or more depending on the severity of the addiction.
- Runny nose
- Body aches
- Anxiety and depression
- Muscle tension
- Mood swings
- Muscle pain
In some cases, it can be dangerous for someone addicted to methadone to stop taking it all at once. This can produce new, more severe withdrawal symptoms as well as increase the severity of the milder symptoms. This cold-turkey process is also often forced upon people who are arrested and put into jail in spite of the known effects of this withdrawal. One study found that nearly half of all inmates addicted to opioids and on methadone treatment were denied their doses of the medication while behind bars.
When it comes to cold-turkey detox, the length of time that symptoms last often depends on how long the person has been using it, how heavy the use was, and personal factors like overall health and genetics.
In general, methadone withdrawal follows a timeline that looks something like this:
- Day 1: Methadone stays in a person’s system for much longer than most drugs, so an addicted person might not feel anything during the first 24 hours. Once the drug clears the body, individuals can begin to feel achy, develop a fever and get chills, as though they’re coming down with the flu.
- Days 2-10: Peak withdrawal will last for around a week, often spiking at day four after the last dose was taken. Flu-like symptoms will intensify and come to include psychological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, and in severe cases, paranoia and hallucinations. Insomnia frequently also becomes an issue, and afflicted persons often report severe fatigue, restlessness, and a general intense feeling of unease and discomfort. Cravings for the drug also tend to be their strongest at this point.
- Days 11-21: Physical withdrawal symptoms begin to fade and cravings usually start to calm down after the first several days. However, strong cravings may persist or occasionally reappear for the next week or two, and psychological symptoms can continue. Depression is the most common of these, as people feel they can’t achieve any feelings of pleasure without the drug.
- Days 22 and beyond: Some symptoms may linger, but they should be mild at this point. Depression may continue to be a problem but can be treated with medication, daily activities, nutrition, therapy, etc.
In rare cases, emotional symptoms and an inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia) may persist for months or even years. This could point to a serious alteration of the brain caused by long-term methadone misuse that needs a lot of time to correct itself, or it could be permanent. In the vast majority of cases, however, the recovering person can achieve a feeling of normalcy without the drug and go on to live a happy, healthy life.
Because methadone is already a medication used to treat opioid addiction, the only other drug treatment a doctor might recommended for someone addicted to methadone is buprenorphine. This medication is an alternative to methadone. It’s a semisynthetic opioid that produces a lesser high that drugs like heroin but also has a much lower risk of overdose than methadone. However, since a methadone user might still experience a high on buprenorphine, a medical professional is more likely to recommend tapering off the dose of methadone or going off the drug all at once.
Even without a medication that directly treats methadone addiction, withdrawal doesn’t have to be a terrible ordeal. Many treatment centers offer medically assisted detox – a treatment service in which a patient can stay in a hospital setting during the worst of the withdrawal symptoms so that each symptom can be treated by medical professionals. Most or all of the symptoms experienced during methadone withdrawal can be treated with simple medications, making the process much more comfortable.
Inpatient treatment refers to the residential programs typically portrayed in the media in which clients stay for 24 hours per day at the treatment facility, living and sleeping there for a few weeks to several months. The advantage of this is the complete lack of temptation; intoxicants are not allowed unless they are prescribed and administered by a medical professional. It can also be helpful to get away from old environments that may contain stressors and craving triggers.
The downside is that some people cannot afford to miss weeks or months of work, or they may have children to take care of. Sober living or outpatient rehab allows these individuals to stay at home most of the time and come in a few times per week for the same therapy, support, and skill-building available in inpatient rehab.
Addiction Treatment at Oxford Treatment Center in Etta, MS
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to methadone or another opioid, reach out to use right now by calling . Our admissions navigators can help you begin the process of getting the help you or your loved one needs.
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