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There are many substances to which a person could become addicted. Of course, the most problematic of these substances are most of the ones that immediately come to mind: alcohol, cocaine, heroin, prescription painkillers, cocaine. Each of these substances have, at times, been described as an epidemic and been at the center of cultural upheaval. However, these represent only a few of the many substances to which millions and millions of Americans have become addicted. Some of the addicted substances were actually created for the purpose of helping rather than harming people, but they were found to have recreational value to drug users. A prime example of such a substance is methadone. But what, exactly, is methadone? What are its effects? And how does a person who’s addicted to methadone overcome his or her addiction?


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Fully understanding methadone requires us to take a brief detour. First, we need to review opiates, which were made possible by a substance called opium. As you’re probably aware, opium is a narcotic substance that’s obtained from the seeds of the opium poppy. Historically, opium use dates back thousands of years to the Mediterranean area. Initially, opium was used for spiritual practices as well as for primitive surgical procedures, but it was eventually used for recreational enjoyment, too. Over time, use of opium spread throughout the region, including populations in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia until opium finally made its way into China.
More than almost any other country, China is most often associated with opium use. The most likely reason for this is because it was largely the Chinese that introduced opium use to most of the western world. In the early-nineteenth century, Chinese emigrants — many of whom were relocating to the United States to work on the new railroad system — brought opium into North America, quickly triggering opium use and a number of so-called opium dens that emerged across the country. It didn’t take long to realize just how addictive and dangerous a substance opium was, so research commenced in the hope of finding alternatives to opium that offered many of the same effects without the addictive potential.

It was around this time that opium was found to achieve its effects due to two key alkaloids: morphine and codeine. Morphine would go on to become one of the most widely-used substances in surgical and medical settings; in fact, morphine was used to treat wounded soldiers during the American Civil War. Soon enough, opium derivatives were used to create heroin, which was initially marketed as a cure-all medication available on a wide scale; however, heroin was soon found to be even more powerful and addictive, leading to more research for an alternative opiate. It was then that opiates like hydrocodone and oxycodone were developed, becoming approved and released to market over the course of the twentieth century.
On the cusp of the twenty-first century, the release of OxyContin triggered a mass opiate addiction epidemic that we still deal with to this day. With so many people becoming addicted to opiates, we began looking for treatment options everywhere we could. This led to the use of methadone as a treatment for opiate addiction. Methadone was actually developed in 1939 in Germany. Within a few decades, methadone made its way to the United States and was used as a painkiller; however, the drug’s properties and effects were poorly understood until research on its efficacy as a maintenance drug. In fact, it was the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City that began dosing heroin addicts with methadone in an attempt to keep them sober in the 1960s. Sure enough, methadone was found to be effective for this use and it continues to be one of the main maintenance drugs in use.
Even though it’s used as a treatment for opiate addiction, there’s still some methadone that’s diverted to unauthorized channels. In other words, users are able to obtain methadone on the street for the purposes of abuse. This is an unfortunate situation because, while methadone has proven to be effective as a maintenance drug, it can be quite dangerous and even more addictive than opiates when misused.


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When a person abuses methadone, he or she is trying to achieve the euphoric and intoxicating effects. Many of methadone’s effects parallel those of other opiates, including the warmth and tingling-like sensation throughout the body, drowsiness, and relaxation. However, there are a number of adverse effects associated with methadone use; these effects are most common among those who abuse the drug rather than take it daily as a maintenance drug. The side effects most commonly attributed to methadone include respiratory depression, nausea, twitching muscles, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness.


When a person who has taken methadone consistently for a period of time is unable to obtain or take methadone, he or she is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms that are commonly attributed to methadone withdrawal include intermittent hot flashes and cold chills, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, sweating, racing heartbeat, high blood pressure, aches in the joints and throughout the body, stomach cramps, restlessness, anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, depression, paranoia, and even hallucinations.


As mentioned previously, methadone is often considered even more addictive than many of the opiates it’s used to treat. The powerful withdrawal symptoms that methadone addicts experience often discourage them from seeking treatment; however, there are many resources available to help. Methadone addicts will almost always begin the recovery process with detox treatment, which will ensure that they’ve overcome the physical aspect of addiction so that he or she is no longer experiencing withdrawals when beginning treatment. In the treatment phase, the individual will participate in psychotherapy, group counseling, relapse prevention education, and various other components. The goal is to help him or her achieve lasting sobriety by meeting his or her unique recovery needs.