Experimenting with methadone use does not instantly create an addiction. The physical and psychological dependence that characterizes addiction can only develop with repeated use of methadone. The changes which mark the transition from experimentation to addiction can be subtle.
The first physical sign of addiction that a user notices might be tolerance. Tolerance means that a larger dose of the drug is needed to feel the desired effect. This change indicates that the body has begun to physically adjust. The neurotransmitters that methadone mimics are being produced in lower amounts to compensate for the constant presence of methadone.
A user may not notice the second important physical sign of addiction – withdrawal – until dependence on methadone is well established. Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, anxiety, and pain, appear when an established routine of drug dosage is suddenly interrupted.
Physical dependence, by itself, does not mean that a methadone addiction has developed. People who use methadone under the direction of a doctor to control chronic pain, for instance, can also become physically dependent on it. But any decision to stop using methadone must be backed by a sound medical plan to deal with the withdrawal symptoms and a psychological resolve to follow through with the plan despite the pain.
The psychological side of addiction can be more difficult to notice and also more difficult to deal with once it has taken hold. The following behaviors are some of the indications that psychological ties to methadone have developed:
- Not following directions (if methadone has been prescribed)
- Scheduling use based on psychologically difficult events
- Using in combination with other psychoactive drugs
- Resolving to limit or stop use but then using again anyway
Each of these behaviors can quickly become a habit. The mind learns over time that methadone is necessary in order to face certain kinds of situations, relax, sleep, have fun, or feel good. Once these things are learned, they can stay in place and form the psychological basis of a methadone addiction.
Methadone’s primary medical use is to help treat people who are addicted to other opiates. When administered at the right dose, it keeps away withdrawal symptoms while creating only minimal psychoactive effects. With counseling and a gradual medically directed reduction in daily doses, methadone can help people overcome their opiate addictions.
But because of cost, availability, or a simple unwillingness to commit to a formal program, some opiate addicts experiment with methadone in an attempt to treat their addictions on their own. Unfortunately, this kind of self-treatment is not as effective as many would hope. The dosing must be done very precisely to a stave off withdrawal but avoid a high. Opiate addicts using methadone on their own tend to use high doses. While it lacks the rush associated with heroin, taking high doses of methadone does create happy and relaxed feelings that addicts depend on. In this way, an opiate addict begins his methadone addiction as soon as he begins experimenting with it.
If you or someone you know has been experimenting with methadone, now is the time to get help. Call our 24 hour helpline to learn about treatment options. The call is toll-free.