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Overcoming Methadone Withdrawal

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid that’s prescribed both to treat severe pain and to treat opioid use disorder, but how about methadone withdrawal?

Well, unfortunately it is possible to become addicted to methadone if it is used as a substitute for heroin or another opioid painkiller.

If you have been taking this medication for some time, discontinuing use is likely to trigger methadone withdrawal symptoms. This experience can be uncomfortable and painful, and you should always discuss the pros and cons of methadone treatment with your healthcare provider before deciding upon long-term methadone therapy.

While there are drug and alcohol treatment programs and California rehabs in place to help all those who are struggling with addiction, let’s first get a better understanding of methadone and withdrawal.

Overcoming Methadone Withdrawal

Methadone withdrawal is challenging, and it’s inadvisable to attempt detox without medical assistance. At minimum, inform your doctor of your intention to stop taking methadone so they will be better placed to help treat any withdrawal symptoms you encounter.

It’s also worth reaching out to local support groups. This will allow you to take advantage of the powerful peer support of others undergoing a broadly similar experience.

Your healthcare provider can provide medication-assisted treatment, easing the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, minimizing cravings, and reducing the chance of relapse. Some of the most common medications used to streamline methadone withdrawal include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Clonidine
  • Naloxone

The significant risks associated with the misuse of methadone, as well as methadone overdoses, means that methadone therapy is only available through treatment programs with government approval. A doctor will monitor your intake of methadone and your response to the medication, with therapy continued until your body no longer needs any methadone at all.

Methadone Addiction

Over the past two decades, the opioid epidemic has fueled a blizzard of prescriptions for strong opioid painkillers. While the rate is now mercifully declining, CDC data shows that over 153 million prescriptions were filled in the United States for opioid painkillers in 2019.

While these medications can be effective when used short-term and as prescribed, for many people opioid use ends in dependence and addiction.

Regulators and lawmakers are now in broad agreement that prescription painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet are over-prescribed for a range of problems that may not even be suitable for treating – chronic back pain, for instance.

The FDA does not recommend the use of methadone as a prescription painkiller for chronic pain, but this has not stopped doctors writing millions of prescriptions for the medication, possibly due to the cheap nature of methadone compared to other opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Insurance companies will often cover methadone treatment while refusing to meet the bill for other and more expensive opioids.

The long-acting properties of methadone means it builds rapidly in your system. Taking even a little more than prescribed can result in overdose.

If methadone therapy is not very closely monitored, abuse and addiction can easily occur.

The half-life of methadone depends on dose, but it will vary from 8 hours to 60 hours. Its pain-killing effects, by contrast, last for as long as 8 hours.

This lengthy half-life is especially beneficial for those recovering from addiction to both heroin and prescription painkillers. Methadone will linger in the body, helping to counter cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

This long half-life is disadvantageous when it comes to treating chronic pain like MS, osteoarthritis, or cancer. The painkilling effects of methadone are gone even if it remains in your body. This means you will risk overdosing if you take more methadone to deal with pain while some of the medication is still in your system.

Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms

Originally designed to treat heroin addiction, methadone can be used to treat all kinds of opioid use disorder.

While you can expect to encounter methadone withdrawal symptoms, they don’t kick in as quickly or as severely as with other opiates due to the length of time methadone stays in your body.

Despite the reduced intensity of withdrawal symptoms, they mirror the classic opioid withdrawal symptoms. Expect any or all of the following upon discontinuing use of methadone:

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Tachycardia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Shaking
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea

Methadone Withdrawal Timeline

Methadone withdrawal symptoms unfold during methadone detox. The first symptoms typically manifest from 24 to 36 hours after the last dose. Withdrawal should be supervised by a medical professional.

You are likely experiencing methadone withdrawal if you experience any of the following during the first 30 hours of abstinence from the medication:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Tiredness
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Yawning
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

How Long Does Methadone Withdrawal Last?

There is no fixed timeline for methadone withdrawal, but as a rough benchmark, expect withdrawal symptoms to last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months.

Methadone Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

Whether you have been abusing methadone for recreational purposes or you have been prescribed the medication as part of an opioid use disorder treatment program, if you find yourself addicted to methadone, you’ll need to undergo medical detox followed by a comprehensive and integrated treatment program for the best chance of sustained recovery. 

Here at Renaissance Recovery, we can help you to safely detox from this opioid, using either a taper or substitution medication. Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic medication that’s approved by the FDA with less potential for abuse than methadone. 

As well as providing medication-assisted treatment, you’ll also have access to psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to help you explore your triggers for substance abuse and to create healthier coping strategies so you can more readily deal with life’s stressors.

If you need more structure and time commitment than a regular outpatient treatment program, we also offer IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs), so you can get the right level of care to streamline detox and minimize the symptoms of methadone withdrawal.

All you need to do to get started is call the friendly admissions team at 866.330.9449.

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Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

Paige R

“Renaissance Recovery truly changed my life.”

Courtney S

” I’m grateful for my experience at Renaissance, the staff are very experienced, they gave me the hope I needed in early sobriety, and a variety of coping mechanisms that I can use on a daily basis.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country