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How to quit pain pills…Methadone or drug rehab?

Updated on June 30, 2008

An addiction to pain pills can so easily sneak up on you.

Whether prescribed the medications for a legitimate reason initially, or whether experimenting with recreational use, the seductive nature of these pills proves too much for a great many of us, and with more than 6 million Americans currently addicted to pain pills, if you do get overwhelmed with abuse and addiction, you are certainly not alone.

Some of these pills are as addictive as heroin, but since they come from the pharmacist, and are legitimately recommended by doctors and other medical staff, we underestimate the warnings, and when the pills fell so good, and take all the pain away, it can be very easy to take just a bit more than recommended, and just a bit more frequently than prescribed.

Once addicted, the way in which it happened is irrelevant, and even if you were prescribed the drugs for a legitimate reason, your situation with dependency is no different from any other drug addict. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and there should be no morality assigned to the use and abuse of drugs anyway, but it does mean that you likely need professional help to get sober.

The most commonly abused pills are opiate type narcotics, and whether vicodin, Demerol, oxycontin or morphine, they all share a commonality of physical addiction, and a very long and painful period of withdrawal. When you make the decision to get off of the drugs, you have three basic options for your cessation of use.

3 ways to get off pain pills

1) You can try a long and gradual tapering of the dosage, until ultimately you are down to none a day.

2) You can try an opiate substitution program, such as methadone maintenance, where intoxicating opiates are switched for non intoxicating methadone, and then the dosage of methadone is gradually reduced.

3) You can enter into a rehab or drug treatment program, and detox quickly yet painfully off of the opiates, and then undergo therapies and counseling to ensure that you stay off of the pills for good.

Try it on your own first, then get help

Obviously, if you can do it on your own, this is preferable, and as such the gradual tapering off is the optimal way to get off of opiates. A gradual tapering of the dosage is safe, does not require a lengthy commitment to treatment, and also saves you the expense of therapy. Unfortunately, a lot of people who try this method find the cravings and pulls back to heavy use overwhelming, and find that they cannot significantly cut their dosage.

Most people with a serious addiction to opiate type pain killers will require some form of professional therapy, and as such there are two general options for consideration; and they both have some advantages and disadvantages.

Methadone maintenance

The largest single advantage of methadone maintenance as a way to get off of opiates is the avoidance of a long and painful cold turkey detox. Methadone, (and now also buprenorphine) is not very intoxicating, and at the doses given addicts will feel no particular high, be able to participate safely and actively in society, and will also avoid the pains of complete detox. Methadone programs are popular with addicts, and not least because they spare people from a very uncomfortable week or so of withdrawal.

The disadvantages to methadone are that it can take a long time, you are still addicted to an opiate, and you still need to invest considerable time and energy into your addiction.

Some doctors argue that methadone addiction is actually more potent and entrenching than for drugs like heroin, and that although we do get people off of intoxicating substances, we do them no favors when substituting for a drug that makes eventual detox, longer and more arduous than the drug originally addicted to.

Because the process is so long, and because methadone must be taken under supervision in a clinic, the continual time and energy investment in your drug habit remains substantial, and many addicts will need to visit methadone clinics several times a week for years, if they can ever even completely wean themselves off of the drug.

Drug rehab

While methadone is relatively painless, but long and slow, the intense period of detox as in a drug rehab can be very uncomfortable, and addicts can expect several days of very painful withdrawal. Medical management can ease the worst of the symptoms and ensure safety during the process, but those days of detox will be tough, and the medications given to ease the pains can only do so much.

The advantage though, is that once those few days of withdrawal are completed, patients are no longer physically addicted to opiates, and they are ready to really benefit from the offered therapies and programming of drug rehab, and ready to learn how to stay drug free for ever. Although they will probably need to retain some participation in aftercare therapies, they do not need to continue taking any other drugs.

Which is right for you?

If you have not yet tried to gradually reduce your dosage on your own, then this is very likely a good place to start your battle with addiction, but if you are like so many of us and find that you just can’t quit without help, you need to consider the relative advantages of either long and painless methadone maintenance, or short, uncomfortable, but effective drug treatment and detox.

Price is always a consideration, and although methadone maintenance is likely cheaper in the short term, the time commitment required for a painless detox can stretch into the years, and some people never mange to get completely off methadone. In some ways, even though rehab will cost more at first, it is the cheaper option over the long term.

Either way is far better than nothing, and either way can help you to get off of the drugs, and get back to a happier and healthier future of sobriety. Speak with your doctor or therapist about the relative advantages of the two types of programming as related to your individual situation, and start the road to recovery soon. Life is far too short to squander ever more time to addiction, especially when the answer to your problems is only as far as the nearest drug treatment center or methadone maintenance clinic.

There is no point wishing an addiction away, and it makes no real difference how that addiction came to be. You need to get serious, get help, and get better.

Recovery is always possible, and no other goal makes much sense.


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