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How Long Does It Take To Get Off Of Methadone?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 23, 2019

Prescribed during detox and as a maintenance medication, methadone is best utilized as a therapy within medication-assisted treatment. Treatment needs are dependent on a person’s specific situation and could last several years. The decision to cease methadone treatment should only be made under the advisement of a doctor.

Opioid drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, include some of the most addictive drugs known to man. Once addicted, an individual most typically requires intensive treatment and support to overcome these drug’s toxic hold. Treatment encompasses a variety of methods, including inpatient drug rehab, therapy, and the use of certain medications. Methadone has long been used as a treatment to successfully treat severe opioid addictions.

What Are Opioids?

The opioid drug class includes heroin and a variety of prescription painkillers. Each drug within this class shares certain characteristics, including their ability to reduce pain and to depress the central nervous system (CNS). The impact on the CNS is also responsible for many of the risks associated with opioid abuse, including fatal overdose.

When a person abuses any of these substances, the drug goes to work on their brain. Here, it fits into a receptor site designed especially for opioid substances. This is because our body actually has naturally occurring opioids within it. When the abused opioids fills this spot, our body’s own versions cannot. Over time, with chronic use, our brain begins to rely on the abused drug to fulfill its needs. This is called a dependence.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone works for opioid treatment due to the fact it’s actually an opioid drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains further, writing that “Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid agonist medication that can prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce craving in opioid-addicted individuals. It can also block the effects of illicit opioids.”

Because of this, it can be used during detox, treatment, and within a person’s recovery as a maintenance medication. It is administered three ways, as either a pill, liquid, or as a wafer. Regardless of the form, methadone can only be administered at a specialty licensed treatment center or methadone maintenance program. When dispensed this way, the drug works towards helping patients either quit or reduce their illicit drug use, as explained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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How Does Methadone Treatment Work?

As a drug within the opioid class, methadone works within a person’s brain very much like illicit opioids, but in a way which grants it great therapeutic value, while reducing drug misuse. According to SAMHSA, “It lessens the painful symptoms of opiate withdrawal and blocks the euphoric effects of opiate drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.”

Like other pharmacotherapies (medications used for substance abuse treatment) both NIDA and SAMHSA note that methadone has the best measure of success if used within medication-assisted treatment. This form of treatment supports pharmacotherapies with behavioral therapies, counseling, and social support programs. Beginning during detox, this approach can carry through to treatment and beyond into recovery.

After treatment, as a person works towards maintaining abstinence from their drug of abuse, methadone works to prevent relapse. Without the pleasurable effect from these drugs, a person’s desire to compulsively use them decreases. Behavioral counseling and therapies are important here too, because drug abuse is largely tied to emotional, mental, and behavioral patterns as well. During treatment and recovery, MAT can greatly help to reduce instances of relapse.

Can People Successfully Stop Taking Methadone?

Many people are intimidated by methadone because of its similarity to illicit opioids and the potential for abuse. Because of this, they may wonder if they’ll get addicted or ever be able to stop taking it, even when used properly.

Taken as prescribed, methadone can be a safe and effective treatment. Again, this is why it’s only dispensed by licensed programs. As NIDA asserts, using methadone does not mean you’re replacing one addiction for another. However, as it is an opioid, it does have potential for abuse. Its mechanism of action is such, that the potential for misuse and abuse is decreased, as explained by NIDA. Beyond concerns of abuse, the length of methadone maintenance therapies vary for each person within a program.

This is not a process to be rushed. Used correctly, methadone maintenance can grant you the stability you need to build a better life. To back this up, NIDA asserts that “Maintenance treatments save lives—they help to stabilize individuals, allowing treatment of their medical, psychological, and other problems so they can contribute effectively as members of families and of society.”

How Long Does It Take Before You’re Methadone Free?

Because everyone’s life and bodies are different, the duration of methadone maintenance does not have a set length. But, as recommended by NIDA’s Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment “For methadone maintenance, 12 months is considered the minimum, and some opioid-addicted individuals continue to benefit from methadone maintenance for many years.”

How is this determined? Methadone maintenance is closely supervised. The use of this medication is based on multiple factors within a person’s life. Just as addiction and the circumstances that preceded it were complicated, so can be a person’s recovery.

Over time, a person’s life within recovery changes. New pressures, challenges, and complications may arise that influences a person’s state of mind or vulnerability to relapse. For these and other reasons, it may be determined that some people need treatment for a longer period.

What Factors Influence Treatment Length?

Prolonged opioid drug abuse can change a person’s brain chemistry. After a heavy addiction, this imbalance may become fairly severe. Utilizing a drug such as methadone for maintenance helps to address these changes. Some people who face more serious addictions along with greater life concerns may need to use methadone longer than others. As we’ve mentioned, therapy is an important part of recovery. In order to truly conquer addiction and to prevent relapse, a person should continuously be learning and nurturing life and coping skills to help them maintain sobriety.

Deciding to quit taking methadone should never be a decision you make on your own. While it’s important that you articulate your thoughts and experiences within recovery to your doctor, remember, it’s important to heed their guidance on maintenance therapy. Like other opioids, methadone does create a dependence. This dependence can lead to severe withdrawal if methadone is abruptly stopped. To avoid this risk, the prescribing doctor will gradually taper you off of the medication.

Build And Protect A Sober Life

The path to sobriety is different for each person. We understand this and want to help you develop the most successful and individualized approach to treatment that’s possible. If you’re battling an opioid addiction and are interested in learning more about MAT or about treatment programs which use it, we can help. can give you information on these things and all the different opioid drugs of abuse. Contact us today.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Trends in the Use of Methadone and Buprenorphine at Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities: 2003 to 2011

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