Psychotherapeutic Benefits of Opioid Agonist Therapy

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98 Scopus citations


Opioids have been used for centuries to treat a variety of psychiatric conditions with much success. The so-called opium cure lost popularity in the early 1950s with the development of non-addictive tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Nonetheless, recent literature supports the potent role of methadone, buprenorphine, tramadol, morphine, and other opioids as effective, durable, and rapid therapeutic agents for anxiety and depression. This article reviews the medical literature on the treatment of psychiatric disorders with opioids (notably, methadone and buprenorphine) in both the non-opioid-dependent population and in the opioid-dependent methadone maintenance population. The most recent neurotransmitter theories on the origin of depression and anxiety will be reviewed, including current information on the role of serotonin, N-Methyl d-Aspartate, glutamate, cortisol, catecholamine, and dopamine in psychiatric disorders. The observation that methadone maintenance patients with co-existing psychiatric morbidity (so called dual diagnosis patients) require substantially higher methadone dosages by between 20% and 50% will be explored and qualified. The role of methadone and other opioids as beneficial psychiatric medications that are independent of their drug abuse mitigating properties will be discussed. The mechanisms by which methadone and other opioids can favorably modulate the neurotransmitter systems controlling mood will also be discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-65
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Addictive Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 12 2008


  • Anxiety
  • Co-morbidity
  • Depression
  • Methadone
  • Opioid
  • Psychiatric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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