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Abstinence-Based Treatments vs Methadone-Based: Why Does One Fail While The Other Succeeds?


methadone treatment program

The methadone treatment program has been proven to be the most effective treatment for opiate addiction for more than 50 years. However, some treatment centers continue to treat individuals suffering from opiate addiction with abstinence-based treatments and psychotherapy.

Abstinence-based treatments for opiate addiction have proven to fail remarkably with a success rate of only 5% to 10%. But what causes abstinence-based treatments to fail and methadone treatments to succeed? And what causes patients to continue to seek opiate treatment and heroin treatment through these failing programs?

The Failure of Abstinence-Based Treatment
Abstinence-based treatment for opiate and heroin addiction have a high rate of failure because they treat the use of the drug, not the cause of the addiction. An addiction develops because a dependency has been created by the addict's body in response to the effects of the drug. Opiates and heroin release artificial endorphins in the brain, which results in the body's failure to produce natural endorphins in order to sustain internal chemical balance.

Therefore, when a person using opiates ceases to use them, it creates a withdrawal stage consisting of flu symptoms and depressive episodes awful enough for the individual to resume using the drug in order to feel normal. It's the body's inability to create natural endorphins and the individual's inability to cope with the withdrawal stage that results in the addiction.

Abstinence-based treatments for addiction fail to take this into account and attempt to treat the patient's depressive feelings using psychotherapy as their only discourse. However, patients with mental disorders (specifically depression) with a natural imbalance of chemicals in the brain often use medication in addition to their therapy sessions.

This is because, while a patient may have low self-esteem (where therapy may help) due to their depression, their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and cannot be treated with therapy alone. Thus it shouldn't be expected of addiction patients to expect a successful treatment without the use of medication.

The Success of Methadone-Based Treatment
Methadone-based treatment takes all of this into account by treating patients in the methadone treatment program with both medication and therapy. A psychiatrist will prescribe patients with a controlled dosage of methadone as a means of blocking the pain receptors in the brain while they go through the withdrawal stage. Methadone also keeps the effects of heroin and opiates from feeling pleasurable, therefore reducing the pleasure-seeking urge of the drugs.

A methadone clinic will additionally treat their patients with therapy, helping them understand what caused them to use opiates or heroin in the first place and how they can better themselves once their treatment succeeds. Each treatment differs depending on the patient, but the methadone treatment program overall is customarily designed to help each patient succeed in order to return to their lives feeling confident and secure that their addiction has been cured.

Abstinence-based treatment alone is not a viable option for those addicted to opiates and heroin as it only treats a small part of the problem. An addict is an addict because they depend on the drug, not because they want to use it; therefore, by removing the drug they simply increase the intensity of the addict's need. Methadone treatment programs treat both the need and the want for the drug simultaneously, effectively treating the patient's addiction successfully.

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