Nature vs. Nurture: What Makes a Methadone Addict?

Nature vs. Nurture: What Makes a Methadone Addict?Traditionally methadone has been used to help heroin addicts detox and recover from heroin addiction. Methadone is effective in this capacity because it will reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms but it does not produce the euphoria or the cognitive and physical impairment that heroin does. Most heroin addicts are not seeking a high but simply “maintaining,” or continuing to use heroin on a regular basis to avoid the misery of withdrawal, the dreaded “junkie flu.” Of course being on heroin makes it extremely difficult to function; a recovering heroin addict on methadone replacement therapy will be able to work and function relatively normally while avoiding withdrawal symptoms.

The down side of this is that, while methadone can help a heroin addict get off of heroin, he will then be addicted to methadone. In many ways this is preferable to being addicted to heroin; again methadone is not incapacitating the way that heroin is, and a methadone addict can have a legal prescription that comes from a safe source. Unfortunately, however, the withdrawal symptoms last much longer and it can take up to six months to fully taper off of methadone, compared to three to ten days for most other short acting opiates like heroin or oxycodone.

So, traditionally, a methadone addict is someone who is trying to stop using heroin.

Increasing Use of Methadone as a Pain Killer

Since the 1990s opioid pain killers like oxycodone have become popular recreational drugs. The trend toward abusing prescription opioids qualified as a public health crisis and received a great deal of attention in the popular media and among health care workers and law enforcement officials. One of the results of this is that doctors have become more exclusive about prescribing potent opioids such as oxycodone, and will often look for alternatives when treating pain. Methadone seemed like a viable alternative to many, since it was regarded as having a low likelihood of abuse. The last ten years have witnessed a significant increase in the prescribing of methadone for the treatment of pain.

The Increase in Abuse of Methadone

In the last few years hospitals, poison control centers, drug rehab centers, and law enforcement personnel have all witnessed a huge increase in the abuse of methadone as a recreational drug in its own right. This comes as a great surprise, since conventional wisdom maintains that methadone should not be attractive as a recreational drug. There is still speculation as to the causes of this, but it is likely that increased numbers of prescriptions for methadone have resulted in more methadone being diverted to the illicit drug market. Law enforcement has cracked down on heroin and prescription opioids; many addicts will be forced to go without their “fix” and will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms as a result. It is likely that many turn to methadone to avoid withdrawal when their first drug of choice is unavailable.

Treatment for Methadone Addiction

Detoxing safely from methadone involves a gradual tapering of the drug. This should be done under professional supervision to ensure the patient’s safety. Treatment also involves counseling to address any underlying issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place.

If you need help finding treatment for methadone addiction, or if you have any questions about methadone, addiction, treatment, or recovery, please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline today.