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Methadone Withdrawal

What Causes Methadone Withdrawal?

Other than the most obvious scenario -- that is, a person suddenly stops taking methadone -- there may be a few other instances when symptoms of withdrawal might occur. Certain medications can decrease the level of methadone in the blood (see Methadone Drug Interactions), possibly causing symptoms of methadone withdrawal, even if you have faithfully taken your usual dosage.
Pregnancy changes the way the body handles methadone, and most pregnant women will need higher doses of the drug as their pregnancies progress. If the methadone dosage is not increased, withdrawal symptoms may occur.
In a related circumstance, newborns that have been exposed to methadone before they were born (because the mother was taking it) may experience withdrawal. Although breastfeeding may partially protect infants from this, if the mother continues to take methadone, this may not completely protect all infants.
In addition, if a mother taking methadone suddenly stops breastfeeding, the child may experience withdrawal symptoms (see Methadone and Breastfeeding for more information).

Limiting Symptoms of Withdrawal

The symptoms of methadone withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant. They can be so uncomfortable that people start taking the drug again (or even heroin or other illicit substances) in order to relieve these symptoms.
It is important to understand that methadone is slowly eliminated from the body. If circumstances arise in which you have to miss a day or two of treatment (such as if you missed your visit to your methadone clinic), there is a good chance that only mild withdrawal symptoms might occur.
In order to limit withdrawal, you should not stop taking methadone "cold turkey." If you want to stop maintenance methadone treatment, you should do so slowly and only with the help and supervision of a healthcare provider. The dosage should not be reduced by less than 10 percent at a time, with at least 10 to 14 days between reductions.
It is important to understand that addiction relapse is common during or after withdrawal from methadone maintenance treatment.
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