Is Methadone Addictive? What MMT Patients Are Saying

Methadone is just replacing one drug and addiction with another…right?  Wrong!  This very misunderstood and misleading statement implies that methadone in a clinical setting is as dangerous as using and abusing the illicit drug heroin and/or other more potent opioids.  Guess what?  It’s not.  Methadone operates on the principle of harm reduction, a legitimate addiction treatment strategy that includes replacing an illicit, harmful drug with medication used in a clinical setting.  Risks still exist, but they are significantly reduced, hence the term “harm reduction”. But is methadone addictive?  What are MMT (methadone maintenance therapy) patients saying about methadone?

Drugs Are Not Addictive

Is Methadone AddictiveNeither a drug nor a medication can be “addictive”.  This is one of the most commonly misused words and phrases expressed by recovering advocates, counselors and medication professionals.  Allow me to explain.  Addiction is a disease of the brain characterized by a ubiquitous connection and cognitive compulsion to engage or indulge in a mind-altering substance (such as heroin, cocaine, etc.) and/or activity (such as gambling, risky sex, etc.). If addition is a disease, then a mind altering substance cannot be “addictive”.  Calling a drug “addictive” implies that it has a brain that possesses a disease.

People commonly and mistakenly use the words “addiction” and “dependence” interchangeably.  Dependence refers to the body’s physical reliance on a substance, so much so that without it, your body would go into shock creating withdrawal. Learn more about Addiction Vs. Dependence.  Most people who make the misguided statement “methadone is addictive”, they are either confusing the words addiction and dependence or because the disease of addiction is always accompanied by an “object of addiction”, they actually mean that that you can develop an addiction to methadone.  But a drug cannot be “addictive” because it doesn’t posses a brain. I know it sounds like the same thing and you can argue with me that I’m being too technical, but it really does matter.

Can You Become Addicted to Methadone?

Yes, it’s possible to become addicted to methadone, especially if methadone is being used recreationally and no other more potent opioid was ever used.  But in a clinical setting, addiction to methadone is very uncommon.

Someone who never used opiates before who starts using methadone recreationally can easily become addicted to it. That’s because it can touch the pleasure center of the brain in such a way that those with a genetic predisposition and susceptibility to the disease of addiction can become addicted to it. However, when people ask “Can you become addicted to methadone?”, they’re typically referring to methadone in a clinical setting.

Those who undergo methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) have already used more potent opioids and when they’re given their first very low dose of methadone, they usually won’t feel it. In a clinical setting, your methadone dose is gradually increased under the guidance of a licensed physician and counselor. And because you’ve already experienced a “high” from a stronger opioid and are addicted to it, the probability and possibility of becoming addicted to methadone is very slim.

Can You Become Physically Dependent On Methadone?

Methadone patients do become dependent on the medication and as a result, a lot of people are very anti-MAT (medicine assisted treatment). However, depressed people using Zoloft become dependent to that as well yet nobody seems to be anti-Zoloft.  Because of its properties of dependence, a slow and gradual taper is highly recommended when making a decision to come off methadone.

Comments From a Methadone Patient and Forum Member “Lolleedee”

Suboxone and methadone is it worth it?Forum member “Lolleedee” is a methadone patient and feels strongly that methadone, when used right, is a valuable tool to fight against heroin addiction.  Read her comments below.  This topic has also been discussed on our heroin addiction and recovery discussion forum.  Visit “Is Methadone Addictive” to discuss this topic with Lolleedee and others.

The point I think most people miss is the very difference between physical dependence and addiction. Physical dependence is when the body is reliant on the substance and when the substance is stopped the body will experience withdrawal symptoms. You can be dependent on a medication but not addicted.

Addiction has very little to do with the substance that is ingested and everything to do with an individuals behaviors surrounding the substance. Addiction to a substance includes obsession with using, cravings, making obtaining the substance more important than work, family, sleep etc. It involves manipulation, deceit, and often breaking the law. It makes us irresponsible, angry and depressed.

Pure physical dependence on a medication possesses none of the behaviors of addiction. Methadone treatment, when done properly (without using other substances on top, especially benzodiazepines, alcohol, cocaine or other opiates) does not have any of the characteristics of addiction. It is simply a medication taken once a day and then happily forgotten about as we move on with our lives and recovery. The behaviors of addiction are no longer part of the life of someone in a successful methadone recovery program.

Dependence is a purely physical state of being and many medications including blood pressure meds, psychiatric meds, insulin etc will have a type of “withdrawal” when abruptly removed from the body. Even prednisone, which is a corticosteroid needs to be gradually weaned from to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction, which withdrawal may be a part of, is a cluster of maladaptive behaviors, thoughts and coping skills.

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Written by William Charles, Owner / Publisher of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)

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