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Choosing Methadone or Suboxone in Treating Heroin Addiction

When it comes to heroin addiction recovery, therapy can work wonders. A trained therapist can help people with addictions to understand their cravings and work through trauma and underlying mental illnesses, which can make addiction cravings worse. When that work is complete, a person with a heroin addiction can understand how to build up a healthy and productive life, and that can allow heroin cravings to fade.

But heroin is also a remarkably powerful drug. It can change the way people think about their bodies, their communities, and their lives. It can change everything. Sometimes, people need more than therapy to get better; sometimes, medications help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, for example, that medications can help people with addictions to stay engaged in their treatment programs. Medications can also help to reduce both drug use and drug crimes.

Two types of medications treatment teams can use to help people with heroin addictions are methadone and Suboxone.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is technically classified as a narcotic medication. It has the ability to quell the sensation of pain and discomfort, particularly in people who have not responded to other forms of pain control. It does that work by tapping into receptors in the brain and altering the release of the brain chemical dopamine. That is the same pathway heroin uses to deliver drug euphoria, so methadone is a perfect replacement for that very powerful drug.

The National Drug Intelligence Center says that methadone has the ability to suppress cravings for heroin for 24-36 hours. That means people who take this drug for heroin addiction need to take a dose of medication each and every day, and they may need to take that medication even if they are feeling fine and free of cravings.

Methadone comes in a pill form, but the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) reports that accurate dosing is vital for addiction control. People who need this medication to suppress cravings may only need a tiny bit of the drug, and a dose that is too large or too small could cause side effects. Supplying the drug in a drink format allows clinicians to get the dosing down to 1 milligram of accuracy, CESAR says. As a result, people who use methadone might need to go to a clinic every day to get it. Those drinks are usually not premeasured and sent home for people in need.

Daily trips to a clinic for medications might not be right for everyone, but they are part of life for some people who use methadone therapy. There is an upside to this treatment, however. Methadone is a powerful replacement medication that is capable of quelling powerful cravings. People using other medications might not get enough control. Methadone might be the only solution for real relief.

What Is Suboxone?

This prescription medication also contains a narcotic agent, but it also contains something called an agonist.

An agonist works against the overwhelming euphoria a narcotic can cause. It ensures that the brain is not overwhelmed by sensation, so that some of the power of the narcotic comes through, but some is also blocked. That means Suboxone can be quite difficult to abuse, according to Psych Central. If people take too much of the medication in an attempt to get high, the agonist kicks in and blocks the high.

Since Suboxone comes with these built-in protections, it is considered a safer drug. That means more doctors can prescribe it, without going through a great deal of extra education and licensing. Some community doctors and family doctors have the ability to prescribe Suboxone, which could mean that addicted people could get this medication in their communities, rather than driving miles to a methadone clinic.

Similarly, since Suboxone comes with an agonist, it is a medication that can be sold in an at-home prescription format. People can fill a prescription in a pharmacy and walk home with pills or strips that are filled with Suboxone. They can take those medications on their dosing schedule, without worrying about when a methadone clinic is open and available.

It should be noted that some people who take these medications live with people who experiment with drugs. Those people might be tempted to steal and abuse doses. If they do, those doses can be hard to replace. As a result, it is not a good choice for people without sober and secure housing.

How a Person Feels on Methadone

Methadone is a narcotic, and it does work on the same receptors used by heroin. According to The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, people who are taking the proper dose of methadone do not feel a sense of euphoria. They do not feel joyful, overly happy, or ecstatic. They simply feel normal.

That means people taking the proper dose of methadone could do all sorts of things they might not be able to do while taking heroin. These people might be able to:

  • Drive
  • Operate heavy machinery
  • Cook
  • Clean
  • Care for children

They should not be impaired, and they should not be under some sort of compulsion. At the proper dose, people should be able to simply go about life.

Methadone must be taken at the same time every day or symptoms of withdrawal might appear. Those withdrawal symptoms are similar to the symptoms a person might feel while weaning off heroin, and they are typically described as “flu-like.” Nausea, pain, and shaking are common. A dose can make those symptoms fade.

How a Person Feels on Suboxone

Proper Suboxone dosing should allow people taking this medication to feel completely healthy, happy, and normal. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, people new to the drug can sometimes feel drowsy and like they are moving slowly. When the treatment is new, or when doses are rising, those feelings are more common. They may go away as treatment continues and the same doses are used each time.

An article in CNN also suggests that Suboxone does not cause personality shifts or aggression. In fact, experts in this article say that it can help with feelings of violence. People taking heroin might feel upset, jittery, and on edge, and that might make those people more likely to commit a violent act. But Suboxone can soothe those feelings, allowing a person to think through an impulse before acting on it. That could keep violence from occurring.

Work with a Doctor

A doctor can be your key ally when you are in recovery from heroin. This professional can help you to determine which medication is right for you and what dose will be most effective in keeping your cravings under control. Your doctor can also direct you to the facilities and organizations that can provide both the medications and the counseling you need in order to get well.

This is not the sort of journey you can undertake alone. It is a journey you will need to take with the help and support of a doctor and a team of mental health and medical health professionals. Medical detox can start the process, and counseling can make those lessons persist and grow. The key is to start the conversation as soon as possible and get the healing process started. The sooner you do that, the better your life will be.