It’s not unusual for people in opioid addiction treatment to use methadone for months, years, or even decades. If you’re one of them, know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Learning how to get off methadone the right way can help you make a lasting recovery from opioid dependence.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to stop taking methadone safely and effectively, as well as what you should avoid doing to maximize your chances of making a successful recovery.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a synthetic, long-acting opioid medication used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), typically as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It can also be prescribed to soothe pain that requires around-the-clock treatment and doesn’t respond to non-opioid medications.
Sold as a generic or brand-name (Methadose®, Dolophine®) drug, methadone is most commonly available in the form of:
- Oral solution
- Injectable solution
Methadone attaches to the same opioid receptors located in the central nervous system (CNS) that other opioids do. When taken to treat opioid addiction, it activates them more slowly than short-acting opioids, alleviating withdrawal symptoms. It can also ease pain by disrupting the transmission of pain signals between the body and the brain.
Risks and Dangers of Methadone Dependence
Methadone carries a high risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction despite being approved for opioid addiction treatment. Classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, it has a similar abuse and dependence potential to oxycodone, fentanyl, and other opioids in this category.
Anyone taking methadone as a painkiller or substitute for other opioids risks becoming dependent on it or even swapping one addiction for another. Taking methadone in higher doses than prescribed, mixing it with other substances, etc., can also put you at an increased risk of methadone overdose.
Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline
If you’re taking methadone long enough to develop a dependence on it, you’ll experience a set of physical and psychological methadone withdrawal symptoms upon quitting it.
Over time, methadone alters your brain chemistry. Not only does it suppress the natural production of endorphins, but it also stimulates the creation of opioid receptors. This chemical imbalance leads to tolerance. Like withdrawal symptoms, tolerance is a sign of opioid dependence.
In other words, people dependent on methadone need to take it to maintain normal functioning, as the absence of the drug causes uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Opioid cravings
- Watery eyes, runny nose, and other flu-like symptoms
Methadone withdrawal symptoms typically set in within 30 hours after the last dose and peak toward the end of the first week of the withdrawal. While physical symptoms often subside within the first ten days, it may take a month for cravings and other psychological symptoms to fade away.
Some people continue to suffer from these symptoms for several months or even years, which is known as methadone post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
Opioid withdrawal shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if you have any health problems. To minimize the risk of complications and relapse, seek professional help.
How to Get Off Methadone
The answer to the question “How to get off methadone?” isn’t clear-cut, as there are different ways to do it. However, they vary significantly in terms of safety and effectiveness, which is something you should take into consideration.
On that note, let’s explore three methods of getting off methadone: quitting it “cold turkey,” tapering off methadone, and ANR.
#1. Quitting Taking Methadone
For some people, quitting “cold turkey”—or abruptly stopping medication use—may seem like the easiest way to get off methadone, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Quitting “cold turkey” isn’t recommended under any circumstances because it increases the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone withdrawal makes you very vulnerable to relapse. The more intense your withdrawal symptoms are, the more likely you are to take opioids just to alleviate your suffering.
The biggest problem with relapse isn’t that it derails your progress toward a sober, healthy life. Since your tolerance to opioids decreases when you don’t take them, relapse significantly increases the risk of an opioid overdose. Without immediate medical help, it can lead to coma, brain injury, or even death.
Therefore, it’s in your best interest to reduce the risk of relapse as much as possible. One way to do this is not to quit methadone suddenly or without medical supervision.
While you may be able to relieve some withdrawal symptoms with home remedies, others may require medical treatment. Vomiting and diarrhea, for example, are particularly dangerous due to the possibility of severe dehydration. Abruptly discontinuing methadone use also increases the risk of adverse events like seizures, heart failure, etc.
#2. Tapering Off Methadone
Tapering off methadone allows you to wean off the medication as opposed to quitting it suddenly. Even though this puts less stress on your body than quitting “cold turkey,” you shouldn’t attempt to do it by yourself. Instead, your doctor will evaluate your health and opioid usage to create a tapering schedule suited to your needs.
Tapering off methadone can be a very slow process. Your doctor will lower your medication dosage little by little for a specific period until you can safely stop taking it. Typically, it takes at least several months to taper off methadone.
Even though tapering can help reduce the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms by allowing your body to slowly get used to lower doses of methadone, studies show that patients rarely complete the methadone tapering process.
Another study suggests that interspersing gradual dose reductions with methadone stabilization periods enhances the chances of success. Still, success stories from tapering off methadone are few and far between, as this method doesn’t address the root cause of opioid dependence. Therefore, relapse is very common.
#3. ANR Treatment
Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) is a groundbreaking opioid dependence treatment that can help you get off methadone safely, quickly, and effectively.
The ANR treatment stands out due to its comprehensive approach to healing opioid dependence. Unlike other methods, it focuses on treating the root cause of the issue rather than its symptoms.
ANR addresses the neurobiological causes of opioid dependence by bringing your brain to its pre-dependence state. This is achieved through the modulation and re-regulation of the endorphin-receptor system. By attacking opioid dependence at its core, ANR eliminates cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. As a result, it negates the risk of relapse.
A 2023 study on the safety profile of ANR shows that it is a safe, low-risk treatment, as patients maintain hemodynamic and pulmonary stability during and after it. Also, while most other treatments are performed in clinics, ANR is carried out in an ICU setting of accredited hospitals by experienced medical professionals, ensuring patient safety.
The ANR procedure is performed in 4–6 hours under heavy sedation, which prevents you from feeling any discomfort. On average, patients spend just 36 hours hospitalized and are typically discharged the next day after treatment.
How Long Does it Take to Get Off Methadone?
How long it takes to get off methadone depends on various individual factors, such as the extent of your methadone use, previous medical history, and whether or not you’re undergoing any opioid dependence treatments.
If you aren’t getting any treatment for opioid dependence and withdrawal, you’ll likely struggle with physical withdrawal symptoms for more or less ten days. After that, you may still have to deal with cravings, depression, and other psychological symptoms that often worsen once the physical symptoms subside.
On the other hand, the ANR treatment can help you get off methadone in just a few days. By treating the root of opioid dependence, this treatment eliminates the risk of persistent withdrawal symptoms and relapse, facilitating lifelong recovery.
Break Free From Methadone Dependence with ANR Treatment
No matter how long you’ve been battling methadone dependence, the ANR treatment can help you conquer it within a matter of days!
ANR is the first and only treatment for opioid dependence that reverses the changes in the brain resulting from prolonged opioid exposure, which makes it highly effective.
ANR isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment; it is tailored to each person individually based on their medical history, needs, etc. Therefore, it can be safely performed on even on those with complex health problems.
Take your first step toward an opioid-free life by contacting us today!
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of how to get off methadone safely.
Before you leave, let’s summarize what we’ve learned today:
- Methadone is a long-acting medication with addictive properties that can be prescribed for pain relief or opioid addiction treatment.
- Methadone withdrawal symptoms usually begin during the first 30 hours after the last dose and last about ten days, but psychological symptoms like cravings might last longer.
- How long it takes for you to get off methadone largely depends on the opioid dependence treatment you choose.
- Never quit methadone “cold turkey” or without medical supervision, as this may lead to painful withdrawal symptoms, relapse, and other adverse effects.
- The ANR treatment can help you get off methadone safely and leave the fear of relapse in the past by restoring normal brain function.
How to Get Off Methadone FAQ
Tapering off methadone isn’t very effective. While it can help prevent painful withdrawal symptoms, it doesn’t eliminate them. Since this method doesn’t address the underlying cause of opioid dependence, it often leads to relapse.
Tapering off methadone is generally safe when done under medical supervision, though it doesn’t come without risk. Research shows that patients may face a greater risk of developing psychosis during the methadone taper period. Those with pre-existing mental health and CNS illnesses should be particularly careful when tapering off methadone.
Some home remedies, like over-the-counter medications, may help relieve specific methadone withdrawal symptoms. For example, ibuprofen may help with headaches. If your withdrawal symptoms are severe, seek medical attention to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.
Yes, relapse while tapering off methadone is a common occurrence. People dependent on methadone often struggle with cravings and other withdrawal symptoms while tapering off, increasing the risk of relapse.
Never stop taking methadone without professional help, as this dramatically increases the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, complications, relapse, or even death. If you aren’t sure how to get off methadone safely, book a free consultation with us—we’ll be glad to help!