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There are a number of medications we hear about through a variety of sources, such as news broadcasts, TV advertisements, TikTok videos, and social media posts regarding addiction recovery. Each has their own merits and uses, but which works best? The answer depends on what type of substance you are attempting to recover from as well as a slew of other factors, including how long you’ve been using substances, which ones, and which treatments you have tried before. 

Ultimately, your medical health professional will gather the necessary data to make an informed and safe decision on what will be most beneficial for your unique needs. However, in recent years, there has been more coverage of opioid agonists, which are drugs that reduce the impact and effect of opioids on the system. One of these agonists is called methadone.

Methadone is a type of medication used in the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) of opioid use disorders. It can also be used for pain management. Research shows methadone is an effective medical treatment for opioid use disorders because it reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms while also blocking the effects of opioids in the body. For these reasons, methadone is a powerful player in opioid addiction recovery.

What Is Medication-Assisted Therapy?

Methadone is used in medication-assisted treatment to help break the relationship between opioid use and the person struggling with opioid use. Medication-assisted treatment utilizes medications combined with behavioral therapies to treat drug or alcohol addiction holistically. The medications prescribed in MAT must first be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). MAT is used to make recovery sustainable and can reduce or treat drug overdose. It is proven to be an effective means of assisting the achievement of addiction recovery.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is an FDA-approved opioid agonist, meaning it works against the impact of opioids on the body. As mentioned above, methadone reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms while also blocking the effects of opioids in the body. It is used in MAT and in conjunction with behavioral therapies to discourage opioid use and encourage recovery from opioid use.

Understanding Opioid Use

So, what are opioids? The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that opioids are a “class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.” They are best known for their use as prescription pain relievers. Limited prescription use is generally safe when used only as prescribed by a medical doctor. However, opioids also cause an effect of euphoria, which leads to misuse and the dangers of overdose.

Since popular media descriptions of drug use focus mainly on stimulants, it is important to know the signs of opioid abuse. For example, aggressive energy is most often understood to be related to drug use; however, opioids create a state of reduced energy and focus in those that use them, often including periods of lost consciousness or lethargy. 

Other signs of opioid use include:

  • Constricted pupils: Unlike stimulants, which cause pupils to dilate, opioids are more likely to cause pupils to constrict, causing one of the most recognizable signs of use.
  • Slowed breathing: Impaired breathing is to be expected when under the influence of opioids. While an overdose can cause respiratory failure, you do not have to overdose to experience restricted breathing.
  • Constipation: With regular opioid use, it is not uncommon — although it is not talked about enough — to experience constipation, even for extended periods. 
  • Difficulty staying awake: Sudden or intermittent loss of consciousness, dozing off, and lethargy are hallmarks of opioid use. The sudden “sleep” is typically caused by drops in blood pressure, which is why prescription opioids come with a warning not to use heavy machinery while under their influence.

Signs of an overdose include any combination of the above, such as slowed breathing and periodic “blacking out.” If you witness these symptoms, stop what you are doing and call 911 immediately.

Methadone’s Role in Opioid Addiction Recovery

Methadone supports both detox and recovery because it can reduce the symptoms of withdrawal as well as opioid cravings. Disengaging from the regular use of substances is challenging, so this dual impact makes methadone a powerful tool in MAT. While it works to help normalize brain function, other forms of treatment, such as traditional psychotherapy, can be employed to determine the psychological root of substance abuse. This means those in treatment have multiple paths for growth. 

Additionally, it is also possible to continue the use of methadone for longer periods. It is recommended for therapeutic use for at least 12 months to reduce the risk of relapse and overdose in clients. Ultimately, a medical health professional will decide whether methadone is the proper medical intervention to aid in opioid substance abuse and addiction recovery.

When used as prescribed, methadone is a safe and effective component of recovery from opioid addiction. Since it reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms and blocks the effects of opioids in the body, it is a powerful player in opioid addiction recovery. Methadone is prescribed under the supervision of a medical professional. Clients may only take methadone on their own after a period of observed stability. It has shorter and longer-term positive outcomes, making it an encouraging choice for addiction recovery. If you or someone you love is exhibiting symptoms of opioid abuse, contact our health professionals at West Coast Recovery Centers (WCRC) to discuss methadone as an option for care. WCRC can be reached at (760) 492-6509.

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