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Methadone Withdrawal

Methadone withdrawal is the term used to describe a wide range of symptoms that occur after someone who is using methadone suddenly stops using the drug or dramatically reduces their use. Methadone is a narcotic pain reliever, similar to morphine, which is used as a pain reliever in medical settings to relieve severe pain, often in individuals with cancer or other terminal illnesses. It is also used as part of an opiate addiction maintenance program. Methadone chemically blocks the craving and high of heroin and other opiates, and if the individual uses heroin while in methadone treatment they will experience little or no effect from the heroin or other opiate.

Methadone acts as an addictive central nervous system depressant. It is a long-acting opioid which causes analgesia or insensitivity to pain, sedation, slowing of respiration, lowering of blood pressure, constipation, slowing of pulse and, in some individuals, nausea. The drug's effects can last anywhere from 24-36 hours and can remain in the body for several days. Some of the effects are similar to those experienced after morphine or heroin use, such as feelings of well-being, drowsiness and euphoria. Due to these similarities, it is quite common for someone using methadone to quickly become addicted to the drug.

Methadone creates an addiction so strong that if the individual does take the drug each day, they will experience very painful withdrawals. Because of these withdrawals, it is generally thought that someone who is addicted to the drug will be on it for the rest of their lives, or at least for many years. If the individual uses methadone regularly they will soon find themselves needing more of the drug more often, and if they do not satiate these cravings are at risk of experiencing methadone withdrawal.

Most methadone users continue taking the drug not because of the high they get from using it, but because of the painful withdrawal symptoms they choose not to experience. Methadone withdrawal pain can been compared to the worst case of the flu, but only ten times worse. Almost no one is able to complete a methadone withdrawal on their own or at a methadone clinic, and many individuals give up on ever being able to withdraw from the drug. Not only is methadone withdrawal painful and difficult, but can be up to twice as severe as morphine or heroin and is significantly more prolonged, lasting for several weeks or more. At high doses, sudden cessation of methadone can result in withdrawal symptoms described as "the worst withdrawal imaginable," and can last from weeks to months.

Methadone withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Hypertension
  • Irritability
  • Chills
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Sore joints
  • Sore muscles
  • Aching joints
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • General malaise

Methadone withdrawal symptoms appear 24-48 hours after the last dose and escalate in severity for six days. Symptoms may begin to subside at this point, and most major symptoms are minimal by the 14th day. However, general discomfort, loss of appetite and insomnia may be experienced for as long as six months. These symptoms can be drastically reduced and often eliminated by undergoing a supervised detoxification process and withdrawal at a long-term inpatient drug treatment or rehab facility.

Methadone can be a deadly killer when combined with other prescription medications or alcohol, as it does not block the effects of non-opiate drugs such as sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants, alcohol, etc. This is why some individuals die from accidental overdose when using methadone along with other drugs. Most overdoses are a result of the individual supplementing their prescribed methadone with other central nervous system depressants such as placidyl, valium, methaqualone, illicit methadone and large amounts of alcohol.

In a March 26, 2009 it was reported that methadone prescriptions for pain management grew from about 531,000 in 1998 to about 4.1 million in 2006. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the growing use of methadone for pain relief is a large reason for the 700% increase in methadone deaths, making methadone one of the most deadly drugs.

As you can see, methadone is an extremely dangerous drug when abused that causes dependence and addiction. It makes no sense to treat one form of opiate addiction with another opiate, just to find oneself faced with more risks, an even more painful and prolonged withdrawal, and possible lifetime addiction to the drug. A long-term inpatient drug treatment facility is the best answer to methadone addiction, as individuals who are attempting to get off of the drug will inevitably need help through the methadone withdrawal process if they want to succeed in kicking their habit. Get help today before it is too late.

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