A Guide to Methadone Addiction & Abuse
Methadone is a slow-acting opioid medication originally prescribed for extreme pain relief from injury, surgery, or a long-term illness. It is more commonly used today in addiction treatment as an opioid substitute – but is not a CURE for addiction.
Methadone effectively blocks the ‘high’ from medications or drugs like codeine, heroin, morphine, oxycodone, whilst giving a similar feeling and in doing so keeps you from experiencing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Even though it is a ‘safer’ medication, close medical supervision is needed as there is still a risk of addiction or abuse.
What is Methadone Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease, that manifests as an intense need to use a substance (in this case Methadone) to the point where your ability to function is impaired, there is an uncontrollable use despite any negative consequences, be it financial, breakdown in relationships, or even health. Other symptoms of methadone addiction are:
- Heightened tolerance to methadone
- Changes in your hygiene, appearance, and behaviour
- Inability to stop despite an intense want to.
- Constantly trying to find a source for methadone supply and thinking about how to get it, and when your next ‘hit’ will be.
- Needing to borrow or steal money to afford more methadone.
(Diagnosis, identification and risk populations)
Although you may have tried to quit using methadone before and been unable to, there is always hope, recovery is possible, please reach out to our team for advice and support on 0800 955 0945
Methadone Addiction VS. Abuse
Whilst the line between abuse and addiction is blurred when socially discussed, there are differences, not everyone who abuses methadone will go on to develop an addiction, however, both abuse and addiction have detrimental effects on your life.
If you find yourself taking methadone more regularly than prescribed, in doses higher than recommended or in a manner other than intended, then you are abusing the medication. Other signs that of methadone abuse include:
- Denial of use
- Missing work, school, family events
- Failing to meet your responsibilities
- Feeling moody or irritable when not able to take methadone
(Drug Abuse & Addiction: Effects on Brain, Risk Factors, Signs)
What Makes Methadone Addictive?
Methadone, like other opioids, interacts with receptors in your nerve cells, so in addition to pain relief, feelings of euphoria may be produced (Opioids) along with a reduction in anxiety and stress. Self-medicating whilst having a predisposition to addiction or while suffering from a mental health issue can increase the risk of dependence or addiction to Methadone developing.
When used as an opioid substitute, there is still a risk of addiction developing. This is more prevalent in treatment plans where failure is found during the following 4 processes:
- prescribing opioid substitution,
- supervised dispensing,
- non-supervised dispensing
- monitoring and communication.
(A mixed-methods analysis of patient safety incidents involving opioid substitution treatment with methadone or buprenorphine in community-based care in England and Wales)
Reaching a place of abstinence from medication and substitute medications like methadone is better achieved through a focused, supportive treatment facility that offers well-rounded programmes.
A Family History of Drug Use
If you are receiving methadone as a prescribed pain reliever, your doctor will enquire if there is a history of anyone in your family:
- drinking large amounts of alcohol,
- currently using or ever having used street drugs,
- Have overused prescription medications,
This is because there is a higher risk that you could also overuse, abuse or become addicted to methadone due to genetics and the environment you grew up in if there is a history of addiction.
As with other opiates, tolerance and physical dependence of the effects of methadone gradually build up following repeated use, as part of a pain management programme or opioid substitute treatment, the dosage should be tapered in a supervised environment to prevent withdrawal.
(Medicine Cabinet: Use of methadone)
Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions
With prescribed medication addiction, there is a close correlation between poorly managed prescriptions with no clear plan of how to stop, unavailability of information or lack of access to affordable alternative addiction treatment options and the existence of mental health issues including:
- past or current substance misuse disorders,
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in childhood,
- major depression,
- bipolar disorder which can lead to substance abuse in teens and young adults.
- dual diagnosis (mix of mental health issues and existing substance use disorders (Terminology and prevalence)
(Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population)
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Signs & Symptoms of Methadone Addiction
Although methadone is used to help ease the withdrawal from other opioids like Heroin, there is still a risk of addiction, you may have one or more of these warning signs:
- An urge to use the drug every day, or many times a day
- Taking more drugs than you want to and for longer than you thought you would
- Always having the drug with you, and buying it even if you can’t afford it
- Using drugs even if they cause you trouble at work or make you lash out at family and friends
- Spending more time alone.
- Not taking care of yourself or caring how you look
- Stealing, lying, driving while high, or having unsafe sex
- Spending most of your time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the drug
- Feeling sick when you try to quit
(Drug Abuse & Addiction: Effects on Brain, Risk Factors, Signs)
Diagnosing Methadone Addiction
If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s use of methadone, you can speak to your GP or a treatment centre that will be able to assess and go about diagnosing your addiction:
The NHS recommends that the DAST-10 (Drug Abuse Screening Test) assessment (Policy for alcohol referral pathway/clarify services between CAT & DAS services) and CAGE questionnaire (CAGE Questionnaire: Questions, Scoring, Variations, and Accuracy) be used by your medical provider or chosen treatment centre
You will be asked the following questions:
- What substance(s) are you using? Including other drugs or medications
- In what quantities?
- How frequently?
- By what route (smoking, injecting, swallowing)?
- How long have you been using for?
- Do you recognise this use as problematic?
The Dangers of Methadone Addiction
Methadone has been known to cause a rare heart problem called prolonged QT interval that causes an irregular pounding heartbeat, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.
As well as:
- hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist),
- severe muscle stiffness or twitching,
- loss of coordination,
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
Methadone Use in Teens
Methadone abuse and addiction are fairly uncommon but not impossible, if used to treat addiction, the same supervision needs to be extended as with an adult.
- Doses taken
- Regularity of use
If you are concerned about your teen’s use of methadone please contact us, the earlier treatment for dependency and addiction are initiated the better the outcome in recovery.
Methadone Use in Pregnancy
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your doctor will bear this in mind when prescribing methadone. The risks with methadone are lower than with heroin or other opioid medications but can still cause withdrawal in a newborn or when weaning your baby off of breastmilk. (Methadone: Purpose, Uses, Side Effects, and Risks)
Mixing Methadone with Other Drugs
Drinking alcohol, taking prescription or nonprescription medications that contain alcohol, or using street drugs during your treatment with methadone increases the risk that you will experience serious side effects.
Do not drink alcohol, take prescription or nonprescription medications that contain alcohol, or use street drugs during your treatment.
You’ll usually have a urine or saliva test every few weeks during addiction treatment. This is to check for heroin, heroin substitutes, and other drugs.
Getting Help for Methadone Addiction
Private rehabilitation is beneficial to the treatment of methadone addiction, in private care, you will receive:
- 24/7 medical supervision
- structured treatment plan around your needs
- A combination of medical care, psychiatric services, counselling, behavioural therapy (CBT), vocational training, and other services to best support the whole of you throughout recovery.
Participating in other twelve-step groups, or non-twelve-step recovery programs such as SMART Recovery. (Self-Help Addiction Recovery | UK Smart Recovery)
The NHS also offers outpatient care for the treatment of addiction. But there can be waiting lists before you may start treatment, if you require urgent admission, contact us and we will help you find the right private treatment centre for your needs.
There are also counselling groups available for yourself and support groups for your loved ones if needed.
NA – Narcotics Anonymous UK Narconon Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation Programme in the UK