Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
It may seem a bit counterintuitive to treat heroin addiction with another opioid-based drug, but this treatment method has gained some traction in the fight against opioid addiction. In fact, Methadone Maintenance Treatment, or MMT, has been a heroin treatment approach since the 1960s. Many treatment facilities here in the United States have adopted methadone, an opioid pain suppressor, as their go-to method for combating short-term opioid withdrawal symptoms in patients recovering from addiction.
How Does Methadone Work For Opioid Withdrawal
While methadone itself is a synthetic opioid, it has unique properties which can counter uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and make the detox period a bit more bearable. Unlike heroin, methadone is a long-acting opioid drug, which means that users won’t experience the same narcotic effects immediately after consumption. Because of this, methadone will help to satisfy an addict’s craving for opioids without rewarding the user with the intense euphoria caused by rapid dopamine release. This allows treatment facilities and medical providers a method for gradually tapering recovering addicts off of opioids, rather than inducing the brutal onslaught of withdrawal symptoms that occur when the brain is suddenly deprived of opioids.
Even with some controversy, methadone has proven its worth by restoring daily functionality in recovering addicts and allowing them to care for their families and return to work again. By supplementing the presence of opioids throughout the detox process, methadone can alleviate many of the most uncomfortable heroin withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Cold Sweats
- Muscle Spasms
Is Methadone Addictive?
Of course, using methadone to aid in the detox process requires accurate dosing and medical supervision. As an opioid, there’s still a risk of abuse and addiction if not used properly. Those who are prescribed methadone can develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning that a higher dosage would be needed to achieve the same results. If this happens, it can actually further an addiction problem by leading to a methadone dependency, which comes with some undesirable withdrawal symptoms of its own.
It’s because of this that methadone is typically prescribed as a short-term remedy to opioid withdrawal symptoms, which should be just long enough to help recovering addicts through the most uncomfortable period of heroin withdrawal.
It’s also important to note that methadone alone is not a complete form of addiction treatment, and is certainly not a cure. Methadone Maintenance Treatment is only effective when used in conjunction with other programs and treatment methods, such as counseling and 12-step programs.
As with any opioid-based drug, there is always a risk of addiction, which is why the US Drug Enforcement Agency still deems methadone to be dangerous enough to be classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. Using methadone to treat heroin addiction should only be attempted when specifically supervised by a team of qualified, medical professionals and never as an attempt to self-medicate.