Myths and Facts about Medically Assisted Addiction Treatment


By Hugh C. McBride

Finally, you’ve had enough.

What started as an experiment quickly morphed into dependence – an addiction to heroin that has cost you more that you ever imagined.

But that’s all in the past now – or will be soon enough. Because you’ve decided that you’ve suffered enough, that you deserve better, that heroin isn’t going to rule your life any more.

Admitting that you have a problem and realizing that you need help are two of the most important steps you may ever take. But they’re not the only steps you need to take.

As you’ve probably already discovered, there’s no one “right way” to recover from an addiction to heroin. Some people have found success by enrolling in a residential recovery program, while others have kicked their habit with outpatient treatment, a 12-Step support group or a combination of various techniques.

But as you research your options, you continue to come across a common (and, to some, controversial) term: medically assisted recovery.

Usually involving methadone maintenance or suboxone treatments, medically assisted recovery programs offer an enticing opportunity – the chance to end your dependence upon heroin without having to experience the intense withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings that have made it so difficult for so many others to quit for good.

Medically assisted recovery sounds like a fantastic way to get your life back. But you’ve read some rumors, and you understandably don’t want to commit yourself to a course of treatment until you’re sure it’s right for you.

With that thought in mind, let’s take a closer look at five common myths about medically assisted addiction recovery:

Myth #1: Medically assisted addiction recovery is simply substituting one addiction for another.

FACT: Addiction is a chronic condition (as, for example, is diabetes). A person who is taking methadone as part of a professionally supervised medically assisted recovery program is no more an “addict” than is a diabetic whose disorder is kept under control with regular doses of insulin.

Some people are able to overcome their addictions with therapy, while others find success via programs that incorporate methadone or suboxone. In either case, their addictions and compulsions are controlled via medically sound, supervised treatments. Insulin-dependent diabetics aren’t addicts, individuals who take antidepressant medications for long periods of time aren’t addicts, and people who participate in methadone maintenance programs aren’t addicts, either.

Myth #2: Methadone is actually more dangerous than heroin.

FACT: Like myriad other medications that are employed by physicians and other health care professionals, methadone can be dangerous when used improperly. But implying that methadone is equally as dangerous as heroin is to ignore both the specific properties of each substance and the manner in which both drugs are usually taken.

As far as the safety of methadone is concerned, consider the following information from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP):

  • Methadone is a legal medication produced by licensed and approved pharmaceutical companies using quality control standards.
  • Under a physician’s supervision, administered orally on a daily basis with strict program conditions and guidelines, methadone does not impair cognitive functions.
  • Methadone has no adverse effects on mental capability, intelligence or employability.
  • Methadone is not sedating or intoxicating, nor does it interfere with ordinary activities such as driving a car or operating machinery. Patients are able to feel pain and experience emotional reactions.
  • Most importantly, methadone relieves the craving associated with opiate addiction.

To summarize: Methadone has been rigorously evaluated, and produces effects that are nowhere near as debilitating or dangerous as the effects of heroin. Also, methadone is taken orally in a safe environment, while heroin is often injected in environments and circumstances that are far from sanitary.

In other words, taking methadone as part of a medically supervised addiction treatment program is exponentially safer than abusing heroin.

Myth #3: When you enter a medically assisted treatment program, you’re committing yourself to lifelong dependence upon the drugs you’ll be given there.

FACT: When you enter a medically assisted addiction treatment program, you are taking the first steps toward a happier and healthier life in which you are freed from the chains of addiction. You are not exchanging one addiction for another, you are not “admitting defeat” and you are certainly not committing yourself to lifelong use of methadone, suboxone or any other medication.

Methadone, suboxone and other addiction-fighting medications allow you to clear your head, rid yourself of the toxins that have been poisoning your mind and body, and begin your walk on the path toward long-term sobriety. While taking methadone or suboxone under proper supervision, you will be able to sort out the other aspects of your life (work, relationships, finances, legal matters and the rest) without suffering from withdrawal sickness or drug cravings. As you progress in your recovery, you may opt to remain on methadone or suboxone for an extended period, or you may decide to be weaned from these substances.

Whatever you decide, the good news is that you will be doing what you want to do – not what any drug or addiction is forcing you to do.

Myth #4: If you take methadone or suboxone, you won’t be able to drive a car or get a job.

FACT: Taking methadone or suboxone as part of a legitimate addiction treatment program will not disqualify you from driving a car or getting a job.

Methadone, suboxone and other medications that are used in addiction treatment are used precisely because they allow you to function in a healthy and capable manner. When you are participating in a medically assisted recovery program, you will be freed from the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that might otherwise be affecting you, while at the same time avoiding the altered consciousness that accompanies the abuse of illicit substances.

In other words, your mind will be clearer and your body will be healthier.

Myth #5: If you take methadone or suboxone, you’re still an addict. The only way to get clean is to quit cold turkey.

FACT: Regardless of continued efforts to educate the general public about the true nature of addiction, many misconceptions persist. Among the more common incorrect beliefs is the idea that addiction is merely a moral shortcoming or failure of willpower, with the underlying assumption that ending an addiction is simply a matter of being “tough enough.”

Addiction is not a matter of choice. It is a chronic disease. And chronic diseases aren’t overcome by virtue of dedication or desire alone – if that was the case, there would be far fewer cases of depression, diabetes, addiction and countless other chronic conditions.

If you have become addicted to heroin or another opiate, your body (including your brain) has undergone significant changes as a result of your drug use. Attempting to suddenly stop using drugs without proper supervision isn’t only foolish, but dangerous. Depending upon the nature and severity of your addiction, quitting “cold turkey” can be even more damaging to your body than continuing to use. The safest way to overcome addiction is under the supervision of qualified medical personnel.

For some people, methadone or suboxone are essential components of a treatment plan designed to take them from the depths of addiction to the greatest heights they are capable of reaching. They’re not magic, they’re not foolproof, and they’re not to be taken lightly. But as part of a legitimate and effective medically supervised addiction treatment program, they can make all the difference in the world.

Click here to locate a facility near you »