Methadone rehabilitation: How long?

A review of methadone as a possible drug of abuse and the timeline for withdrawal and treatment. More on the process of getting of methadone here.

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Methadone rehab helps people who have become dependent (both physically or psychologically) to safely stop using this drug. Duration of stay can last from 30 days to 6 months+ for residential rehab. But is methadone really an “addictive drug”?

Quite honestly, methadone is a tricky drug to consider as a “drug of abuse”. On the one hand, its prescription and use can significantly help people with addiction to stronger opiates. On the other hand, how long should “long-term use of methadone” last? And what can you do when you want to get off methadone?

Methadone: Drug of abuse?

Some say that methadone is an effective treatment to be used for heroin addiction for years. But although methadone can reduce the craving for heroin, morphine, and synthetic opioids – there is a real potential for diversion for oral or IV abuse.

In such cases, can methadone specific rehabilitation help? And are you wondering how a methadone treatment program looks and how long it lasts? Here, we take a look at the main types of methadone rehab and their duration. If you have any additional question(s) after reading, we invite you to write to us directly at the end of the article. We’ll be sure to try to provide you with a personal and prompt response.

Methadone as rehabilitation from stronger drug use

Methadone maintenance programs have been set up all over the country to help drug addicts quit stronger opiate/opioid based drugs-of-choice. And generally, methadone is an effective treatment for both addiction and related outcomes. In fact, methadone programs have been shown to reduce:

  • commercial sex work
  • criminal activity
  • lethal overdoses
  • negative social health and productivity outcomes
  • physical health issues
  • suicide

However, methadone can produce physiological and psychological drug dependence of the morphine type, and has the potential for being abused. Withdrawal symptoms from methadone are similar to those of other opioids but are less severe, slower in onset, and last longer. Symptoms of this kind of dependence can include:

  • anxiety
  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • dysphoria
  • hills
  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches
  • nausea
  • piloerection
  • pupillary dilation
  • restlessness
  • runny nose
  • sweating
  • tachycardia
  • tremors
  • watery eyes

How long should you be taking methadone?

Studies of the long-term administration of methadone confirm that it is a medically safe drug. Long-term methadone maintenance treatment at doses of 80 to 120 mg per day is not toxic or dangerous to any organ system after continuous treatment for 10 to 14 years in adults and 5 to 7 years in adolescents.

Furthermore, methadone has few adverse biological effects. There appear to be no dangerous or troubling psychological effects from long-term administration. In fact, the most common and enduring complaints after 6 months to 3 years of continuous methadone treatment are usually minor side effects of methadone on the body which can be medically managed and can include:

  • abnormalities in libido and sexual functioning
  • altered appetite
  • constipation
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • sweating

When is methadone a problem?

Methadone abuse, while possible, is not considered significant enough to make methadone illegal. In fact, most experts agree that the benefits of providing the treatment outweigh the risks associated with abuse. Firstly, while methadone may be detected in drug-related deaths, it is often not the causative agent. Furthermore, with the increased use of methadone as a treatment for chronic pain, the majority of methadone-related deaths in the United States are believed to be associated with the use of this medication for pain treatment instead of treatment of opioid dependence.

Methadone addiction becomes a problem when you:

  1. Continue using methadone despite negative consequences.
  2. Lose control over use, frequency, and amount of dosing.
  3. Experience drug craving and spend excessive time, money, or energy in its use.

What to expect during methadone rehab

Your need to enter a methadone or drug rehabilitation program and its duration should be determined and scheduled by you (the patient) and your addiction professional. Methadone rehabilitation is a serious process and requires great deal of commitment from both sides.

Methadone treatment shares the same elements as the other drug and addiction recovery processes, such as:

1. Intake

The intake process usually starts with a phone call to a rehab facility. You should ask questions about the overall rehabilitation process and methods used in the rehab process. At the same time, the addiction specialists collect information about your duration of methadone use, how/why you abuse methadone, expectations from the treatment program, treatment goals or what your are trying to accomplish. Then, the treatment program will be customized to your individual needs, based on the intake information.

2. Detoxification

The duration of methadone detox can vary and depends on the severity of addiction and the use of any other withdrawal medications. Generally, there are 2 types of methadone detox:

Gradual methadone detox

This type of detoxification is used in an outpatient treatment facility. However, the gradual methadone detox approach has been labeled as not the most effective type. In lieu of a slow taper, some clinicians may recommend that you attend an inpatient clinic, where medical professionals can monitor and treat the patient’s health 24-7.

Rapid methadone detox

This type of detox is a procedure practiced in certified detox clinics. During the rapid methadone detox treatment, a doctor will use an aesthetic to cause sedation in the first hours of detox. The sedation usually lasts for one hour and can significantly reduce the severity of methadone withdrawal symptoms. Rapid methadone detox may even effectively eliminate the withdrawal effects and make the process more comfortable.

3. Rehabilitation

During methadone rehabilitation, patients are given the opportunity to discover the main reasons which caused their methadone addiction in the first place. Methadone rehabilitation features several therapies, including:


During a course of individual therapy sessions, you may work on:

  • building new and creative hobbies or interests
  • identifying when and why you began using methadone
  • learning how to deal with drug use triggers
  • managing time skills to prevent the opportunity to think about relapse


This kind of therapy includes group sessions that build support and trust. During group therapy you will be sharing and listening to other people’s similar methadone difficulties. Building a community of support while in recovery is very important, and this type of therapy can help introduce you to people who’ve walked in the same shoes. Most importantly, you will be surrounded by people who understand you, but also will be given a chance to support others within the group.


Some rehab programs include family members as participants in the family therapy sessions. The family members can be very helpful for emotional support and motivation during a persons the recovery treatment.

4. Ongoing Recovery

You should know that the time you invest in your recovery after methadone rehab is equally important and challenging as the time spent in the program.

Before leaving any treatment program you should meet with your counselors to discuss about an aftercare plan. The combination of different methods is the most effective treatment for methadone addiction with great influences on the quality of life and mental health of methadone addicted persons.

Methadone duration of treatment

Residential settings

Most residential rehabs include treatment programs that last from 30, 60 and up to 90 days. The shortest 30 day programs usually focus on detoxification, but the 60 and 90-day methadone treatment plans usually offer extensive psychotherapy treatments.

Some residential rehabilitation center may offer a methadone treatment stay of more than 6 months, which is considered more effective than all other shorter treatment programs. In fact, long term inpatient methadone treatment can last anywhere from 120 up to 180 days. Some highly structured methadone rehabilitation programs can last from 6 to 12 months. These longer programs are intended to help chronic methadone addicts.

Outpatient settings

Most outpatient rehabs offer basic or intensive programs. Many programs last for a minimum of 12-16 weeks, with a 12 month program recommended for ongoing recovery. Outpatient programs require 3-9 hours+ per week of attendance and have been shown to be as effective as residential rehab for people who are highly motivated and willing to change.

Outpatient methadone treatment is adjusted to the patients’ daily life, their obligations and activities such as work, school and family. In this type of methadone treatments the addiction specialists usually use individualized treatment based on the 12-step program. Individuals who will most benefit from this type of methadone treatment are those who do not require 24-hour care, who have support for recovery in the home environment, and those who need to continue home, work, or school responsibilities during treatment.

Methadone treatment: Short term vs. long term

When choosing the length of treatment it is important for the patient to understand that tackling methadone addiction can’t be done overnight. Methadone rehabilitation is a process that requires intensive devotion and following recommendations.

Generally, results from longer term methadone rehabilitation programs of 3 months and longer show better outcomes in helping people get and stay sober. This is due to the intensive medical care that patients receive, as well as the proper expertise programs residential treatments provide for methadone addicts.

Duration of methadone rehabilitation questions

If you still have any questions or comments about the duration of rehabilitation programs, feel free to post them in the comment section below. We’ll make sure to respond personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NHTSA: Methadone
NIDA: 20 Q&A’s regarding methadone
NCBI: Comparing the Effects of Methadone Maintenance Treatment, Therapeutic Community, and Residential Rehabilitation on Quality of Life and Mental Health of Drug Addicts
NCBI: Outpatient methadone maintenance treatment program
NCBI: ntegrating the methadone patient in the traditional addiction inpatient rehabilitation program
NIH: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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