JUST DROP OFF THE KEY, LEE! TIPS FOR COMING OFF METHADONE
I originally went onto methadone because back then there were no rehabs for under 18s. I was on it for 19 years before I decided I had enough.
While it might be right for some people, I didn't want to stay on methadone permanently. I wanted to try life drug free. Here are some tips based on how I came off methadone and the lessons I learned on the way.
TIP NUMBER 1: Have a larger goal.
Even with four takeaways a week, I 'd had enough of the restrictions, the power games and the stigma. More importantly, I had fallen in love with a wonderful man and the time was finally right to have a baby. I wanted to do this without the complication of drug use. This kept me focused even when withdrawal was at its hardest.
TIP NUMBER 2: Work with your doctor.
I had a good prescribing doctor and dosing chemist, for whom I am very grateful. At first my doctor argued but I felt I was ready. I think most people know what works best for them and doctors should listen. I wanted advice from my doctor about how quickly I should reduce, but I also wanted flexibility along the way.
TIP NUMBER 3: Sort your drug and alcohol use so you aren't fighting a lot of battles at once.
Before I began reducing, it was important for me to stop drinking. For a while there I was drinking a litre of port a day, starting in the morning. I’d be pretty messy by mid-afternoon. I would fall asleep watching telly, wake up in the middle of the night all stiff and sore, crawl to bed, and then usually sleep in. I asked my doctor to help and he prescribed valium to detox as coming off daily drinking can cause fits.
TIP NUMBER 4: Take it slowly.
I think we want to push ourselves to do it all NOW but my doctor recommended the steady approach. When I started my reduction, my daily methadone dose was 100mg/20ml. It took me just over a year to reduce off at the rate of 5mg per fortnight at the beginning, then 2.5mg per fortnight once I had reached a "low" dose.
TIP NUMBER 5: Get into healthy habits!
I found that when I got below 30mgs/6mls I began to experience withdrawal symptoms that my dose didn't take away - muscle cramps, yawning, getting emotional and moody. To counteract all this, I ate regular healthy meals, did some exercise, tried meditation and rewarded myself with little luxuries. I also went onto anti-depressants.
TIP NUMBER 6: Stay busy.
The head miles can be hard so try to not buy into the anxiety. I recommend focusing on a project. Mine was knitting ☺
TIP NUMBER 7: Learn strategies to get to sleep and have quality sleep. I think lack of sleep was the hardest thing to deal with. I didn’t cope well. Try Beyond Blue's Staying Well; Fact Sheet 7 Sleeping Well: http://resources.beyondblue.org.au/prism/file?token=BL/1178. At first, my doctor prescribed a sedative short term which helped get my sleep back on track. From then I learnt how to sleep again. My sleeping patterns have changed dramatically, for example I sleep at night only and rarely sleep in.
TIP NUMBER 8: Stop injecting as soon as possible.
I had always injected some of my takeaways. For many years this kept me from street drugs, giving me some financial stability. However, my veins became very damaged and I had been taking the risk of injecting in my hands and feet, particularly problematic with large volumes of liquid. When I began to reduce my methadone, I started injecting double doses to get a decent whack. This meant I was pigging out, then going without and feeling like shit. Once I made the decision to stop injecting, my withdrawal went a lot easier. I felt more even-tempered.
TIP NUMBER 7 (of the "don't do what I did" variety): Try not to let drugs or alcohol take over.
As I was nearing my last dose, my partner and I had a binge. We started using heroin, breaking it up with a few days on the ice here and there. It wasn’t fun to stop; you know the symptoms. It was important to get back on track as soon as I could. It's only pain, people! Go back to TIP NUMBER 1! Luckily my partner and I have a good relationship and that support has made a huge difference.
I just can't imagine life now as it was - doing methadone, drinking grog, eating (sometimes), passing out then waking up to do it all again. I feel amazing now. I am pleased that I saw something through that took planning, commitment and overcoming a fairly major hitch. I'm not pregnant yet, but I am knitting booties!