Methadone Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline & Treatment
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What is Methadone and How is it Used?
Methadone is a opioid narcotic that produces morphine-like effects in the brain. Methadone can be used as a pain reliever but is most commonly prescribed to mitigate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. When methadone is used for this reason, it should be prescribed in decreasing amounts as time goes on, essentially weaning the patient off opiates. Eventually, the patient should be on such a small dose that he or she no longer needs the methadone to feel normal, allowing him or her to also stop taking methadone.
Based on this information, prescribing methadone as a treatment for opiate addiction seems like such a great solution that it almost sounds too good to be true. Well, that’s because it is. The irony of methadone being used as a treatment for opiate addiction is astounding.
Methadone is typically prescribed to help people overcome opioid addiction as a sort of replacement therapy. While methadone can be used to treat opioid addiction, methadone itself is also highly addictive. Methadone is an opiate agonist, which means it tricks the brain into thinking the body has ingested opioids; as a result, it subdues cravings without producing the high one gets from abusing opioids. In addition, if the person takes opioids while methadone is in his or her system, that person does not achieve the same feeling of euphoria that opiates normally would produce.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
What are the physical symptoms of methadone withdrawal?
Physical symptoms of methadone withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Teary eyes
- Runny nose
- Severe nausea
What are the psychological symptoms of methadone withdrawal?
Psychological symptoms of methadone withdrawal include:
- Cravings for the drug
Methadone Withdrawal Timeline
Symptoms of methadone withdrawal typically begin 24-30 hours after the last consumption. Flu-like symptoms will occur for roughly the first three days of withdrawal, and physical symptoms will be worst during the first week. Most symptoms will subside around three weeks in, but certain psychological effects may linger for months.
Because methadone is a long-acting opioid, symptoms of methadone withdrawal typically begin between 24 and 30 hours of the last dose.
However, it can take anywhere between 15 and 60 hours for methadone to get out of someone’s system. During this time, patients will begin to experience teary eyes, runny nose, sweating, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, and conversely, insomnia.
During the first 72 hours of methadone withdrawals, symptoms start to present like a severe flu.
After about 10 days or so, physical symptoms start to fade.
Cravings will still be present, and in fact, may become more intense, along with feelings of depression. The patient may have difficulty experiencing pleasure and may find it difficult to get motivated
About three weeks into methadone withdrawals, many of the symptoms should no longer be present.
Even so, the person may experience depression, anxiety, low energy levels, and difficulty sleeping for some time.
How Long Does Methadone Withdrawal Last?
While the more intense symptoms of methadone withdrawal tend to last seven to 10 days, other, more psychological symptoms may last weeks or even months after the last use.
Detox Options—Getting Through Methadone Withdrawals
Although extremely unpleasant, quitting cold turkey is always the quickest method. Tapering will take longer, of course, but is often the preferred method of detoxing because withdrawal symptoms are not as pronounced. Tapering is not always possible without the strict supervision of a medical professional, as dosages must be closely monitored for this approach to be successful.
Going to a Detox Center to Get Through Methadone Withdrawals
People going through methadone withdrawals are advised to do so under the supervision of a medical professional regardless of the method they use. The purpose of detox centers is to help patients get through the worst parts of the withdrawal process. Detox programs can last three, five, or seven days.
Detoxing from Methadone in an Inpatient Rehab Center
Depending on the severity of the addiction, a methadone user’s best option for recovery may be to attend an inpatient rehab center. Here, a patient will have access to both physicians and therapists as he or she undergoes the detoxification process.
After Methadone Withdrawals—Treatment
Addiction treatment is an important part of recovery after going through methadone withdrawals because while the person may have stopped using methadone, he or she may need help adjusting to life without the drug.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, a methadone user’s best option for recovery may be to attend an inpatient rehabilitation facility. In an inpatient rehab center, a patient has access to physicians and therapists, who will collaborate to develop a specialized treatment plan for the patient that will help him or her find new ways to cope with pain, cravings, and other issues that stem from long-term methadone use. Inpatient rehab facilities provide a safe, controlled environment in which patients can detox and recover from their methadone addiction.
Outpatient rehabilitation programs can be another good option for treating methadone addictions that are milder in nature. Patients who choose an outpatient addiction treatment program learn many of the same things people learn in inpatient rehab centers; the difference with these programs is that patients can continue to live at home while attending meetings, therapy sessions, or other activities multiple times per week.
- Gossop M., Griffiths P., Bradley B., Strang J. Opiate withdrawal symptoms in response to 10-day and 21-day methadone withdrawal programmes. British Journal of Psychiatry. 1989; 154: 360-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2688778.
- Institute of Medicine. 1995. Federal Regulation of Methadone Treatment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/4899/federal-regulation-of-methadone-treatment.
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