LAAM for Addiction Treatment
Levacetylmethadol, or LAAM, is a synthetic opiate that has a similar structure to methadone. Like methadone, LAAM can be used to treat opiate addiction.
As LAAM has been shown to cause fatal ventricular rhythm disorders, it is only prescribed for patients who do not respond well to treatment with other medications such as methadone or buprenorphine, and who are not already at risk of developing heart problems.
Understanding Addiction Treatment with LAAM
LAAM is similar to methadone, but while methadone must be administered daily, levacetylmethadol continues to work for forty-eight to seventy-two hours, so that it only needs to be administered two to three times a week.
Some studies (such as this one indexed on the U.S. National Library of Health website) have found that LAAM is actually more effective in reducing heroin use than methadone. Like methadone, LAAM functions by staving off opiate withdrawal symptoms and by suppressing drug cravings in opiate-dependent individuals.
Despite its proven efficacy, the potentially lethal heart complications the drug can cause means it is only used when medication-assisted therapy is advisable, but the patient fails to respond to other medications. In these cases, doctors should conduct a heart exam, and decide whether the benefits truly outweigh the risks.
Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse
It is not always obvious when someone you love is suffering from an opiate addiction. Addicts tend to be secretive, doing their best to put up a front of normalcy when they are around people who care about their well-being.
Nevertheless, there are some signs you can look out for. For example, addicts often neglect their appearance, even basic hygiene. They also tend to have financial problems. They may ask you for money without giving a good reason for why they need it, and they often pawn valuables, or even steal to get money for drugs.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, other signs and symptoms of opioid abuse include:
- poor coordination
- shallow or slow breathing rate
- nausea, vomiting
- physical agitation
- poor decision making
- abandoning responsibilities
- slurred speech
- sleeping more or less than normal
- mood swings
- euphoria (feeling high)
- lowered motivation
- anxiety attacks
Dangers of LAAM
LAAM can be abused or misused, like other opiates, but the effects will not be as intense. Patients are therefore less likely to take higher doses to try and get high. No one should ever stop taking LAAM abruptly, but the withdrawal that can occur when you do so will be even worse if you are taking higher than recommended doses.
Side effects are possible, even when taking LAAM as directed. They are similar to the side effects of other opiates, such as:
- nausea and vomiting
- shallow breathing
- drowsiness or sedation
Who Benefits From LAAM?
Anyone suffering from a serious addiction to opiates, who responds poorly to other drugs used to treat opiate dependence, and who does not have any pre-existing condition that makes them vulnerable to developing heart abnormalities, could benefit from treatment with LAAM.
LAAM is not a cure for drug addiction; it is simply one tool among many that can be used to help you recover from substance abuse. By addressing the physical aspects of opiate addiction, LAAM can make you less prone to relapse in the early days of your recovery. It should be used in conjunction with a full treatment plan at a qualified drug rehab program.
Am I Addicted?
Perhaps you aren’t sure whether or not you are addicted to opiates, and might therefore benefit from medication-assisted treatment.
The 12-step program Narcotics Anonymous lists the following questions in their publication, Am I an Addict? Read them over and honestly consider each one.
- Do you ever use alone?
- Have you ever substituted one drug for another, thinking that one particular drug was the problem?
- Have you ever manipulated or lied to a doctor to obtain prescription drugs?
- Have you ever stolen drugs or stolen to obtain drugs?
- Do you regularly use a drug when you wake up or when you go to bed?
- Have you ever taken one drug to overcome the effects of another?
- Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of you using drugs?
- Have you ever used a drug without knowing what it was or what it would do to you?
- Has your job or school performance ever suffered from the effects of your drug use?
- Have you ever been arrested as a result of using drugs?
- Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?
- Do you put the purchase of drugs ahead of your financial responsibilities?
- Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?
- Have you ever been in a jail, hospital, or drug rehabilitation center because of your using?
- Does using interfere with your sleeping or eating?
- Does the thought of running out of drugs terrify you?
- Do you feel it is impossible for you to live without drugs?
- Do you ever question your own sanity?
- Is your drug use making life at home unhappy?
- Have you ever thought you couldn’t fit in or have a good time without drugs?
- Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?
- Do you think a lot about drugs?
- Have you had irrational or indefinable fears?
- Has using affected your sexual relationships?
- Have you ever taken drugs you didn’t prefer?
- Have you ever used drugs because of emotional pain or stress?
- Have you ever overdosed on any drugs?
- Do you continue to use despite negative consequences?
- Do you think you might have a drug problem?
According to NA, how many questions you answer yes to isn’t as important as how you feel while you consider how to answer.
LAAM Addiction Treatment
What should you expect out of a substance abuse treatment program? There is a wide range of different program options available, but they all feature certain key ingredients.
Upon admission to a treatment program, you will meet with doctors, psychiatrists and other treatment professionals to determine your individual needs and goals. This way your treatment team can come up with a plan that is targeted to be most effective for you.
The first step in your treatment is likely to be detox, unless you’ve already detoxed from your drug of choice before checking into your program.
You should never abruptly stop taking opiates, as this results in a much more severe withdrawal, which can make you more likely to relapse and use again. When you take a drug like LAAM or methadone, you are essentially replacing your drug of choice with a less harmful, less intoxicating substance that will ease your withdrawal symptoms and help combat your drug cravings as you undergo treatment.
LAAM can be administered on an outpatient basis, or while you are a resident at a treatment facility.
Talk therapy with a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed therapist is a necessary part of all recovery plans.
Individual therapy will help you work through issues on a one on one basis. This kind of therapy is also helpful for diagnosing co-occurring conditions—pre-existing mental health issues that have likely been contributing to your substance abuse problem.
Group therapy, where therapy sessions are led by a counselor and include a group of recovering addicts, can be a wonderful reminder that you are not alone in your struggles. You can also gather strength from group therapy, partly from the support you will be given, but also by giving support, which can sometimes be even more beneficial to maintaining a positive mindset about recovery.
Family therapy can be an intensely emotional experience, but it is usually one of the most valuable. A therapist can help you and your loved ones work through interpersonal issues, improve communication skills, and figure out ways to create a more supportive home environment.
Holistic approaches, such as recreational therapy, will likely be a part of your plan as well. According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association, “Research supports the concept that people with active, satisfying lifestyles will be happier and healthier. RT/TR provides services which are based on the individuals’ interests and lifestyle and allows them to better engage in therapy and apply these functional improvements to all areas of their life.”