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There is no one answer to this question--it will be different for each individual.
There is a common misconception that methadone treatment is supposed to be a quick detox aid for those addicted to heroin or other opiates--something to help them quickly become "drug free". This is NOT the case at all. The purpose of MMT is to enable the patient to become free of drug ABUSE and to have a functional, productive life while controlling the symptoms of their illness.
Long term abuse of opiate drugs shuts down the brain's ability to produce endorphins--our "natural" opiates. One the patient becomes abstinent from opiates, it can be some time before the brain recognizes this fact and begins producing endorphins again. During this time period the patient may suffer severe depression, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), exhaustion, anxiety and extreme irritability.
For some, this will gradually begin to lift as the brain resumes production of endorphins. However, for many others, the damage done to the brain chemistry may be permanent. It may never resume producing endorphins normally, no matter how many meetings they attend, steps they work, or counseling sessions they have. These folks may require long term---even life long--supplementation with an outside source of endorphins/opiates, and methadone is particularly well suited to this task, as it does not produce a high in stable patients and remains at a steady level in the blood for a full 24 hours without the highs and lows of short acting opiates.
Many doctors and scientists believe that some opiate addicted patients may have had low endorphin production even BEFORE they began abusing opiates, and that this may have made them especially vulnerable to the effects of opiate drugs. Whereas most people taking opiates simply feel somewhat sedated and perhaps a little nauseated, these folks usually felt energized, motivated and their mood improved--often for the first time--in fact, many say they felt "normal" for the first time in their lives when they took opiate drugs. Unfortunately, standard antidepressants are not usually effective against this form of depression, as they target serotonin rather than endorphins, so many of these folks may have gone from doctor to doctor looking for help with their problem, and ended up self-medicating with opiates.
Those with lighter, short-term addictions, and those who had normally functioning endorphin output to begin with, have the best chance of tapering off methadone and doing well. Those with long term, heavy addictions and a history of relapses have a much smaller chance. The relapse rate for those leaving methadone treatment is 90% within the first year--however for those who remain IN treatment, the success rate is 65% to 90%--higher than with any other treatment method. But sadly, many end up leaving treatment prematurely due to several causes--family and friends who push them to "get off that stuff" because they do not understand how it works, or the patient may be unable to afford continued treatment, or they may become fed up with clinic red tape and bureaucracy--and this almost always ends in relapse and sometimes in tragedy.
Most experts recommend a minimum of 2-3 years in treatment before considering a taper. It is important that you be stable, no relapses for some time, have a supportive home environment and no major stresses going on in your life, and that you truly want to taper off and are not being pushed to do so by someone else. It is also suggested that the rate of taper be no more than 10% of your dose every 2-4 weeks. It is crucial that you go all the way down to 1mg before stepping off as well. Many try to jump off from 20 or 10 mgs and become desperately ill. Don't let this happen to you.
Also, if you feel at any time that you are close to relapsing, go back up a bit on your dose and WAIT until you feel stable and able to continue.
People often blame clinics for "keeping me hooked" if the clinic shows reluctance at the idea of withdrawing from treatment--however, the facts are that clinics have plenty of patients waiting to take the place of anyone who leaves--sad to say--so they are NOT worried about losing YOUR money. It would be medically unethical for them to recommend tapering when they know the chances of a relapse are 90% and that the risks of a relapse are so serious--jails, loss of job, souse, kids--disease, even death. But if you wish to withdraw after being informed of the risks, they owe it to you to support you in your taper.