How Does Heroin Use Lead to Methadone Abuse?”

Contributor: Highland Ridge clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC

The Addictive Nature of Heroin

Bayer_Heroin_bottleHeroin is a highly addictive and rapidly acting substance that is derived from the prescription pain medication, morphine. Heroin works to depress the central nervous system, leaving the user with feelings of euphoria by minimizing the brain’s ability to feel pain, while also increasing feelings of pleasure and well-being.

People can become addicted to heroin after a single use, and for those who do become addicted, they will likely find that their lives have quickly begun to spiral out of control.

Heroin’s Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

In addition to the fact that it is extremely addictive in nature, users experience difficulty quitting their use of the substance in large part due to the severity of the withdrawal symptoms that result from the sudden ceasing of use. Heroin withdrawal is not only extremely uncomfortable for the person going through it, but it can also be extremely dangerous if not monitored in a medical setting.

Withdrawal symptoms will range in severity and can set in anywhere from six to 24 hours after a person’s last use. Some of the most commonly identified symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Compulsive itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme agitation
  • Cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cold sweats
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fever

In many cases, as soon as an individual begins experiencing these symptoms, he or she seeks out the drug again in order to ease their discomfort.

Prescribing Methadone to Help with Withdrawal

When people are able to make the decision to quit using and seek out professional treatment in order to help them do so, they are often prescribed methadone as part of their detoxification process in order to help alleviate their symptoms.

Methadone is supposed to work by acting to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal without resulting in the “high” that is associated with heroin use [1].

The Drawbacks of Methadone

brain on Methadone The problem with this, however, is that methadone itself is a synthetic opiate and can cause addiction. People can become addicted to methadone as their bodies come to depend on it for comfort in order to consistently ward off the impending drug withdrawal symptoms. When taken in large dosages, methadone has the potential to occasionally cause feelings of euphoria and mood changes, but not as severe as those associated with the use of heroin.

When individuals take methadone as prescribed by their doctors, they are less likely to feel these pleasurable effects. However, regardless of the lack of the “high,” a person’s body may begin to consistently crave the drug so that it does not have to go through withdrawal.

In an attempt to receive psychoactive effects from methadone, some people will continue to increase the amount that they are taking, potentially leading to an overdose. And, sadly, many overdoses result in death [2].

Using Methadone Properly

When methadone is administered as part of an addiction treatment plan, and is supervised by a doctor, it can be helpful. In many cases, in order for this to work as it should, the drug should be administered in an inpatient setting where the individual has around-the-clock monitoring.

Not only will this allow individuals the comfort of knowing that they can receive immediate care if their body has a negative reaction to the drug, but it also ensures that the drug will be administered properly, taking away the risk of a person taking too much of the drug in an attempt to experience a “high” and overdosing.

Support Is Available for Addiction

Recovering from an addiction to heroin can be difficult and frightening, but people do not have to go through it alone. Substance abuse treatment centers will not only provide individuals with medical care and supervision as they detox from the drug, but they also provide them with the emotional support from mental health professionals and addiction specialists.


About the Author:

This blog was written by Highland Ridge clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology.

Located in Midvale, Utah, Highland Ridge Hospital is an addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment center that is renowned for its unparalleled quality of support, compassion, and care. We are dedicated to providing superior services to adolescents, adults, and senior adults who are struggling with behavioral health issues and chemical dependency concerns. Our experienced team of highly trained and qualified professionals make it their sole goal to treat our patients as the unique individuals that they are, focusing on treating the whole person and not just his or her symptoms. Using evidence-based treatment interventions, we are proud to be one of the most distinguished and respected treatment centers in the state of Utah.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on September 20, 2014
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 5, 2021
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