How Long Can You Be on Methadone?

For many people dealing with opioid addiction, methadone is a life-saving treatment. This medication can be a very effective way of managing cravings and preventing withdrawal. However, it’s still a fairly misunderstood substance. Many people who hear about methadone wonder things like, “Will I have to use it forever?” and “Can it trigger another lengthy bout of addiction?”

We’re here to help address some common questions about methadone and explain how treatment works. Keep reading to learn how long the average methadone treatment lasts and whether or not long-term use comes with any side effects.

Understanding Methadone Treatment

Methadone is a type of medication known as a long-acting opioid agonist. This means that it binds to opioid receptors in the brain for several hours at a time. Methadone is most commonly prescribed as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program designed to help manage an opioid use disorder.

The Effects of Methadone

Due to the way it impacts the brain, methadone helps to reduce opioid cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms. It also causes your body to develop a tolerance, so taking other opioids like heroin will not have as noticeable of an effect. Despite being related to opioids, methadone does not cause a rush of euphoria or other intensely mind-altering substances. Instead, it just has a mildly sedative effect.

Methadone Withdrawal Treatment

In some cases, methadone is a short-term treatment used to temporarily help patients detox. People can use it to avoid the vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, and mood swings that are common when they quit abusing opioids.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment

During methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), patients are given regular doses of methadone to help them fight cravings for other opioids. After starting off with a very low dose to test their reaction, their doctor will gradually increase the dose until it’s at a level that helps patients manage their symptoms. Once you find your ideal dosage, you take methadone every day or two indefinitely.

How Long Does Methadone Treatment Last?

Since MMT needs to be individualized for each patient, there is no strict rule for how long it lasts. Some people only take methadone for four weeks. Others may continue to take a daily dose of methadone for the rest of their life.

There are many different factors that go into determining the duration of methadone treatment. A healthcare provider will need to consider a patient’s overall health, duration of addiction, and severity of addiction before making a recommendation. They will also monitor patients during treatment to consider whether the patient is responding well to treatment or not.

2003 research on the subject of treatment duration suggests that risks of relapse are lower if patients take at least two years of MMT once they decide to get sober. However, some data suggests even longer periods provide even more benefits. The longer patients are on MMT, the lower their risk of getting needle-related diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and the lower their risk of being arrested for crimes.

Risks and Considerations for Long-Term Methadone Use

While research shows longer periods of MMT are very useful for managing addiction, it’s still understandable to be wary of committing to taking a medication for long periods of time. Here are some things you should know if you’re thinking about long-term MMT.

Is Long-Term Methadone Use Safe?

Doctors started prescribing methadone for addiction in the 1960s, so there are decades of data suggesting it can be used safely. Some research shows people can use it for at least a decade without any damage to their heart, lungs, liver, or kidneys. However, 2006 research suggests that taking higher doses for long periods of time can lead to higher risks of heart arrhythmias. There is also data suggesting methadone can decrease fertility.

Other Considerations of Extended Use

In addition to health concerns, there are also a few other things people will need to think about before they try MMT:

  • Methadone is only legal with a prescription, so it requires a willingness to see a doctor regularly.
  • Since methadone reacts poorly with many other medications, you might need to discontinue MMT while treating allergies, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, or some other health conditions.
  • There is some stigma associated with MMT, so using it may disqualify you from certain professions and licenses.
  • Methadone does have a potential for misuse, so some people may find that taking it makes other drug addictions worse.
  • It may be hard to find insurance companies that will cover ongoing MMT.
  • Some locations will not give you a prescription you can take at home, so you might need to regularly travel to a clinic to receive your doses.
methadone treatment

Choosing Between Short-Term and Long-Term Treatment

When you’re considering methadone therapy duration, it’s important to take your individual needs into consideration. Some patients do better with a long-term treatment plan while others do better with a short-term treatment plan. Here are some things to think about as you make your decision.

Pros and Cons of Short-Term Treatment

Short-term treatment can be very useful for people with mild opioid addiction who are worried about withdrawal. By taking methadone for a few weeks, they can safely taper down usage until it’s safe to stop.

However, keep in mind that short-term treatment has a higher risk of relapse. It might not give you enough time to address the mental side of addiction before you quit using methadone.

Pros and Cons of Long-Term Treatment

Long-term MMT has been proven to be very successful at helping people overcome opioid addiction. It gives you space to recover and heal your mental health without dealing with constant cravings. Studies have shown long-term treatment is safe and greatly lowers risks of relapse.

However, the logistics of managing and paying for long-term treatment can be challenging. Furthermore, many people who are tired of dealing with addiction don’t like the idea of being reliant on any medication no matter how benign it is.

Explore Your Options at Recreate Life Counseling

Ultimately, methadone is a very effective and versatile way of managing opioid addiction. Some patients prefer to keep using it for years while others only need it for a few weeks. At Recreate Life Counseling, we can help you find the perfect methadone treatment duration for your needs. Our personalized opioid addiction treatment programs provide custom care that addresses your unique challenges.

We also provide a variety of other inpatient, outpatient, detox, and sober living services in Florida. To learn more about your treatment options, contact Recreate Life Counseling now.

References

  • https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682134.html
  • https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/methadone
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310658/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526012/
  • https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/182898