Is Methadone Alone Enough?

By Rose Bae

Over the past 30 years, methadone has proven to be a safe and effective medication for treating heroin addiction, primarily because it reduces the cravings associated with heroin use and blocks the "high." 

Taken orally daily, methadone suppresses narcotic withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methadone treatment also significantly decreases the rate of HIV infection and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Since heroin users are known to share needles and participate in risky behavior, using methadone in lieu of heroin decreases criminal behavior and increases full-time employment by 24 percent. 

Although methadone has been proven effective, in most cases taking methadone alone is not enough. When supplemented with individual counseling, group therapy, transitional living arrangements and support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, former addicts have a higher rate of sustained sobriety.

Individual Counseling and Group Therapy

Many methadone clinics offer individual counseling and group therapy to augment the positive effects of methadone. Regarding individual dosage and options for therapy, Dr. Frank Vocci, the director of the Division of Pharmacotherapies at the National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that "doctors have to work with each patient on an individual basis and see what works for them."

Because underlying emotional and psychological issues are often catalysts for continued substance abuse, individual and/or group counseling aid in long-term sobriety. 

  • Individual counseling is generally the best setting for those dealing with confidential issues.  Private sessions with a psychiatrist are strongly recommended for those patients being treated for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
  • Group therapy helps many patients because it provides a support network that they would otherwise lack.  During group therapy sessions, patients receive peer acceptance and support, positive feedback for improved self-image, tangible examples of people in the process of recovery and a familial environment.

Transitional Living

Because of the nature of heroin addiction, recovering addicts lose touch with healthy behaviors and coping mechanisms for everyday situations. Addiction creates behavioral patterns that supersede normal coping mechanisms. For many addicts, methadone treatment programs begin the process of recovery successfully but need to be supplemented with the next natural step: entering a transitional living program for more nurturing before completely reintegrating to society. 

Transitional living, also referred to as "sober living," offers recovering addicts several necessary tools to have a successful long-term recovery:

  • Support from other like-minded people and staff members living with the residents.
  • Random drug testing and room checks for drugs, paraphernalia and alcohol.  (This practice discourages relapse and maintains the safety of the residents.)
  • Part-time employment and/or return to school for continued education to ensure that residents have constructive activities to occupy their time.
  • Participation in NA meetings every week to continue the recovery process.

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous, commonly referred to as NA, has a high effectiveness rate among those who supplement their methadone treatment with counseling and transitional living. This self-help group is well-established and employs the 12 Steps as a recovery tool. Some of these steps include admitting to having a problem, searching for help, engaging in a thorough self-examination, making amends for harm done to others and helping other drug addicts to recover. 

NA is helpful for several reasons, but the most prominent reason is a change of social network. Participants gain new abstinent friends and learn new coping strategies. When you help others, you help yourself by increasing involvement in your own recovery, establishing healthy social ties and building self-esteem. 

Successful Long-Term Recovery

For many sober individuals, the key to long-term recovery is a seamless continuum of care. The combination of medications such as methadone, therapy, sober living and self-help groups like NA offers the best chance for long-term sobriety.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug addiction, there are several organizations you can reach out to for help. CRC Health Group offers comprehensive personalized treatment services at every stage of the recovery process, including methadone clinics, primary addiction treatment programs, extended care and transitional living programs. Although the road to recovery can be difficult, with treatment there is always hope. 


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