Safe, Comfortable, Reliable Methadone Detox Schedule
Methadone is one of three FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid dependence, and was used by over 350,000 people recovering from opioid use disorder in 2015. However, methadone itself is a habit-forming synthetic opioid that can be difficult to stop using due to the way it produces severe drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. A methadone detox schedule can take anywhere between several weeks and months, and is safest when conducted at an inpatient medical detox center where you can be monitored by trained nurses and doctors intent on helping you experience the safest, most comfortable recovery possible.
How long does it take to detox from methadone, and what does a methadone detox schedule look like?
Here’s everything you need to know about the methadone detox timeline, and how you or a loved one can find methadone withdrawal help.
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Common Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
Methadone is a full opioid agonist — meaning the drug binds to opioid receptors in the brain in the same way as morphine and other painkillers. However, methadone does not produce any euphoric effects like those produced by other opioids. Methadone works to treat opioid dependence by reducing withdrawal symptoms, and helping patients experience a more gradual, comfortable detox from opioids.
Since methadone works the same way as other opioids but without euphoric effects, people who use this drug regularly can become tolerant and physically dependent. Those who become dependent on methadone will experience opioid withdrawal symptoms when abruptly stopping the drug, or when using drugs like naloxone that block the effects of opioids. Quitting methadone abruptly is dangerous and not recommended, since this increases the risk for relapse and overdose.
Those who have gone through methadone withdrawal have compared the experience to having a bad case of the flu. When methadone is stopped, the body immediately starts to adapt to the absence of the drug and tries to function normally on its own. Withdrawal symptoms will occur as the body tries to heal itself and correct imbalances in brain chemicals and hormones that were disrupted by long-term methadone use. Many of these changes affect the nervous system.
Here are common methadone withdrawal symptoms:
- Runny nose and eyes. You may have to blow your nose constantly, and may experience excessive tearing of the eyes.
- Nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are among the most normal and common for those withdrawing from drugs and alcohol, including methadone.
- Excessive sweating. You may sweat excessively throughout the day and night as your nervous system tries to regulate body temperature.
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhea. You may experience mild to severe bouts of abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea, since bowel function is controlled by the nervous system.
- Yawning. You may find yourself yawning excessively even if you don’t feel tired.
- Insomnia. You may experience insomnia and sleep disturbances as your brain chemicals try to regulate, and due to other withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and sweating.
- Muscle aches and pains. Since opioids reduce and numb pain, you may feel the onset of aching, throbbing muscle and joint aches as your body adjusts to the absence of methadone.
- Restlessness. You may feel far more restless than usual after quitting methadone, since methadone works like opioids in that they produce feelings of relaxation and mild drowsiness.
- Convulsions and trembling. You may experience tremors, shivering, and jerky, erratic movements as your brain chemicals and central nervous system try to regulate. These symptoms may be accompanied by goosebumps.
- Irritability. You may feel crankier and more irritable than usual as a result of mood-regulating brain chemicals trying to rebalance.
- Anxiety and depression. Brain chemicals including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine are commonly affected by long-term, repeated use of drugs like methadone. An imbalance in these neurotransmitters can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms are not fatal in themselves, but can increase the risk for more dangerous complications. For instance, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration and death. But getting methadone withdrawal help at an inpatient medical detox center can help you avoid these types of complications, and even allow you to bypass some of the more painful and severe symptoms of methadone withdrawal.
Methadone Detox Risks
Just like with any other medical treatment, there are some risks to undergoing a methadone detox. Fortunately, many of these risks can be avoided or reduced if you find a reliable methadone detox center that can put you on a safe detox schedule, and guide you every step of the way through overcoming methadone dependence.
Here are common risks associated with methadone detox.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Long-term use of methadone can change a person’s brain chemistry so drastically that it may take their bodies months or years to fully recover from drug dependence. This condition is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, and affects roughly 90% of people recovering from opioid dependence. The majority of PAWS symptoms are emotional and psychological, though some symptoms may be physical.
Common symptoms of PAWS caused by methadone dependence:
- Vivid dreams and nightmares
- Problems with making decisions
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure
- Increased impulsivity
- Sensitivity to stress
- Decline in sexual libido
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Opioid cravings
PAWS can be treated using therapies that teach you how to navigate through daily life while coping with certain symptoms until they’re no longer problematic or existent. For instance, stress management classes can help you cope with increased sensitivity to stress, while behavioral therapy can help you manage anxiety, depression, and other co-occurring disorders. Therapies for PAWS are commonly offered as part of detox aftercare programs, which are ongoing programs aimed at helping you stay sober and on track with recovery.
Anyone who goes through detox to fight dependence on habit-forming drugs like methadone is at risk for relapse due to the way substances like these can hijack the brain and interact with brain chemicals. Like other opioids, methadone can lead to imbalances in brain chemicals that control drug cravings and feelings of reward. Those who have difficulty managing their urges to use methadone may relapse during detox. However, the risk for relapse extends to nearly anyone overcoming drug and alcohol dependence — not just those coming off methadone.
Relapse can also happen to those who continue experiencing withdrawal symptoms even after being put on a methadone detox schedule. If methadone withdrawal symptoms persist after starting the detox schedule, your doses of methadone may not be high enough, or your doctor may be tapering you off methadone too quickly. Talk to your doctor immediately if you continue experiencing severe methadone withdrawal symptoms after starting your detox schedule. Evidence reveals that roughly 66% of patients who stop their methadone tapering schedules do so due to experiencing unpleasant and unstable withdrawal symptoms.
A methadone overdose can happen to those who relapse back to methadone while going through methadone detox, or to those who abuse their medication during treatment. Given the abuse potential of methadone, accessibility to this drug for use in treating opioid dependence is restricted to doctors, clinics, and pharmacies licensed by the FDA. People who use methadone can only receive their daily dose of the drug at outpatient methadone clinics and at inpatient or residential drug detox centers. While this may help reduce the likelihood of methadone abuse, this does not completely eliminate the risk for abuse.
People who suddenly start using higher amounts of methadone are putting themselves at great risk for an overdose since their bodies may no longer be tolerant to high doses. Methadone was linked to 3,314 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, and is one of the three most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths next to oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The Safest Methadone Detox Schedule
A methadone detox schedule is also commonly referred to as a methadone tapering schedule. With this type of detox, your doctor will gradually reduce your doses of methadone on a schedule that allows you to overcome methadone dependence without experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, if any at all.
After each time your dose of methadone is reduced, your doctor will wait for you to become stabilized on that dose before reducing it again. A methadone detox schedule involves your having to communicate with your doctor regularly in regards to any withdrawal symptoms you may be experiencing. This gives your doctor insight into whether your doses need to be increased or reduced accordingly.
How long does it take to detox from methadone? Research shows that methadone detox schedules can last anywhere between weeks and years depending on the individual, and on factors such as the length of time they were using methadone, and the amount they were using. For instance, patients at high risk for relapsing on methadone may be put on slower tapering schedules until their bodies become more adjusted and are ready for lower doses.
Inpatient Medical Detox
An inpatient medical detox center offers patients one of the safest environments in which to taper off methadone. Recovering at an inpatient center allows you to benefit from 24/7 medical care, and gain instant access to trained nurses and doctors in the event certain withdrawal symptoms become difficult to bear. Another benefit to an inpatient medical detox is being able to recover in a safe environment away from daily stressors and bad influences that would otherwise interfere with your ability to become sober.
Treatment Doses for Methadone Detox
The goal of a methadone detox is to continue gradually reducing doses over time until you’re no longer having to use methadone at all. Treatment doses for methadone detox usually start at between 10 to 20 mg and are increased in 10-mg increments until your withdrawal symptoms are controlled. Once you arrive at this particular dose, your doctor may keep you on that dose for between two and three days. This is because methadone is a long-acting drug that doesn’t produce withdrawal symptoms until between 48 and 72 hours following the last dose.
Starting on the third day, your dose may be reduced by between 10 and 20% either daily or every other day, depending on how your body handles withdrawal. Some patients have their doses reduced as little as once per week or once per month, or less frequently. But staying on track with the initial, faster detox schedule can help you overcome methadone dependence that much sooner.
Symptoms at 48-72 Hours
Methadone has a long half-life, which means it takes relatively longer for your body to metabolize this drug and for the effects to wear off compared to other drugs. Methadone withdrawal symptoms usually start setting in within 48 to 72 hours of the last dose. Many of these symptoms are similar to those produced by the flu and common cold, and include runny nose, tearing eyes, yawning, sweating, and restlessness. These symptoms usually last for two to three days.
Symptoms at 72-96 Hours
While on a methadone detox schedule, you will not likely suffer from some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms since a top benefit to tapering is experiencing mild and fewer symptoms throughout detox. But if for some reason your withdrawal symptoms extend to the fourth or fifth day, you may also experience diarrhea, vomiting, muscle aches, and insomnia.
Nearing the End of Your Methadone Detox Schedule
As you near the end of methadone detox, your doctor may prescribe maintenance medications that help you stay sober and avoid relapse. These medications may include buprenorphine, Suboxone, and/or naltrexone, and work by helping relieve any remaining mild withdrawal symptoms, and by preventing methadone from binding to opioid receptors in the brain.
Clonidine may also be used to help reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms associated with the complete stopping of methadone. One study found that 80% of patients who used clonidine to help with methadone withdrawal were able to completely withdraw from the drug in fewer than 14 days. Recovering methadone patients who suffer from PAWS or mental health disorders may be prescribed antidepressants or antianxiety medications to treat symptoms.
Finding Reliable Methadone Detox Centers
Use our drug detox center directory to locate the nearest opiate detox center in your area. Choose your city and state to explore nearby treatment options, and to find reliable, top-rated treatment centers that offer methadone detox.
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