Nothing cultivates greater controversy in the online recovery community than medicine assisted treatment (MAT) – namely, Suboxone and Methadone. Naltrexone, which comes in the form of a monthly injection called Vivtrol and in the form of a daily oral tablet called ReVia isn’t as controversial because it’s not a narcotic and doesn’t contain the same kind of dependency that accompanies the other two. But given the surrounding controversy and stigma associated with Suboxone and Methadone in particular, we have to ask – why? Are Methadone and Suboxone legitimate treatments for heroin addiction or just another drug, replacing one addiction with another? What’s the brutal truth related to medicine assisted treatment?
To answer the above questions, we need to look at the advantages and disadvantages of both Methadone and Suboxone and whether or not following the program takes on characteristics of addiction or the traits of recovery. Learn more about the “Characteristics of Addiction Vs. Recovery – Heroin Addiction“.
Characteristics of Addiction Vs. Recovery
Addiction is a disease that changes the brain chemically and structurally. See “Proof that Addiction is a Disease and How it Affects the Brain“. Addiction can’t be cured but it can be treated. In order for addiction to survive and thrive, it has to be fed. We feed our addiction by indulging and/or engaging in the “object of our addiction”. Thus, if we become addicted to heroin, using heroin regularly will feed our addiction and make it stronger. For this article, we will use heroin as the “object of addiction”.
Those living in active addiction will take on certain characteristics. These include actively chasing the “high”, the object of addiction creates; loss of interest in activities that don’t involve using heroin; doing just about anything to acquire or use heroin (including lying, cheating, manipulating, stealing, etc.); always asking for money; getting in trouble with the law; aren’t able to function to maximum capacity; making excuses; making promises and failing to deliver on them; changes in physical appearance such as weight loss, sunken in cheeks and eyes pale skin, sickly looking; etc..
Those in recovery experience the reverse of many of the above characteristics. This includes truth telling; interest in and pursuing other activities non-related to heroin (including finding employment); developing an interest in bettering ones self, working on establishing a routine; making money rather than relying on handouts; self-awareness; taking responsibility for one’s actions; taking interest in rebuilding damaged relationships or starting new ones; a healthy looking appearance; etc.
Suboxone and Methadone: Characteristics of Recovery or Addiction?
Those who stop engaging in heroin use (the object of addiction) enter into one of two places 1) another addiction or 2) recovery. Now, if medicine assisted treatment is replacing one addiction with another, those who use Suboxone and/or Methadone will exhibit characteristics of addiction rather than recovery.
Having interviewed over a dozen Suboxone and Methadone patients who have claimed they’ve followed the program and didn’t abuse either substance (nor did they combine it with other drugs) for at least 6 moths without relapse, this is what we learned. Those on Suboxone and/or Methadone weren’t experiencing a high although those on higher doses of methadone admitted to feeling a little tired or relaxed later in the day. Many had developed routines, engaged in hobbies, became healthier looking, were able to function normally, thought about heroin at times, but didn’t engage, didn’t feel any compulsion or urge to continually use Methadone or Suboxone beyond it’s prescribed dose, etc.
Why Are People Drawn to Medicine Assisted Treatment?
Methadone and Suboxone are appealing to heroin and opiate users, dependents and addicts for several reasons. Those truly interested in recovery are drawn to them because they promise to reduce cravings and minimize or even eliminate the horrible withdrawal symptoms heroin dependency creates. Moreover, at the right dose, they can block the effects of heroin and opiates which ultimately discourages relapse. Those using Methadone and/or Suboxone feel physically comfortable and can then work with a counselor or another program like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) in order to develop the necessary coping and life skills necessary to deal with daily living, stress, trauma and hardship.
It’s true that some people abuse both Suboxone and Methadone and those that do are sometimes looking to use either drug on days they can’t afford heroin to avoid getting sick or use Methadone coupled with benzodiazepines in order to create a similar elated feeling that heroin provides. But the ones abusing these drugs/medications are not the ones we are focusing on in this article.
Why Medicine Assisted Treatment Works and Isn’t Just Replacing One Drug (or Addiction) with Another?
Above we’ve shown that those using Methadone and Suboxone as intended exude the characteristics of recovery rather than addiction. It is very rare that anyone becomes addicted to these two medications, though those who confuse the words “addiction” and “dependence” often argue that people become addicted to them. But this isn’t true.
People who use Suboxone and Methadone do typically become dependent on them, which is the body’s physical reliance on the medication so that if they stop cold turkey, they will experience withdrawal, some say worse than heroin withdrawal. That’s why tapering slowly off of these medications under the direct care and supervision of a licensed medical professional is key to success.
Going cold turkey off of Methadone or Suboxone is not recommended and defeats one of the primary reasons why people choose MAT as a treatment option. Addiction is something entirely different….it’s the chemical and structural changes to the brain that take place upon its onset that create a ubiquitous connection and strong compulsion/urges to continue using heroin without stopping. To learn more about addiction vs. dependency and the distinction visit the article “Addition Vs. Using Drugs: Why Addicts Can’t Just Stop Using Drugs”
Now that we’ve explained that it’s dependency, not addiction to Suboxone and Methadone that’s the problem, let’s make another comparison. While admittedly, it would be better if these medications didn’t contain dependency properties, a lot of other medications are similar in this respect. Those who take Zoloft or even other medications for depression become physically dependent on them and have to slowly taper off if they ever decide they don’t want or need them anymore. But this dependency doesn’t make depressed people Zoloft addicts nor do people criticize individuals who use Zoloft and call them “junkies”.
Handling Differences of Opinions
Despite all the evidence above, we expect that some will never agree with our view of medicine assisted treatment. What we do know is that Suboxone and Methadone has worked for a large number of people and without it, many individuals claim they would be dead now. So for all intensive purposes, MAT has saved many lives. However, people may still disagree and that’s ok. What we don’t understand however, is why people get so hostile and angry towards anyone who says medicine assisted treatment has worked for them.
Everyone has a unique experience and for some, Suboxone and Methadone may not have worked. There could be several reasons for this, but regardless, we know that no heroin treatment solution is perfect and ideal for everyone. The key is finding what works for you and celebrating your recovery. But we should also celebrate other’s recovery even if their chosen method of treatment differs from our own.
We truly hope this article helps to educate and enlighten people about both Suboxone and Methadone and perhaps helps them see that MAT is indeed a legitimate heroin treatment option for some, even if you don’t feel that it’s right for you.
Written and Published By,
William – Publisher and Founder of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™
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