Methadone Addiction

Although Methadone is an effective medication for treating opioid withdrawal and craving, it also has addictive qualities and can lead to abuse or addiction. Get the facts about methadone addiction treatment and what you need to know to avoid falling back into substance abuse.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a prescription medication to help with addiction treatment for opiate abuse, and can also be utilized as a maintenance medication.

An opioid agonist, methadone eliminates the euphoric effects one might feel from taking any opioid drug by blocking the opioid receptors of the brain.

Methadone is available in powder, liquid, or diskette.

Methadone and Public Health

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of methadone to treat opioid use disorder. Methadone is safe if taken as prescribed by a physician and can help those in recovery from opioid dependence to lead active stable lives.

There is much evidence to show that methadone, along with other opioid addiction medications, such as buprenorphine and naltrexone, not only reduces opioid use but also reduces the risk of contracting infectious diseases (such as hepatitis) and other risk-taking behaviors associated with drug abuse.

Methadone is also a Schedule II drug that has the potential for abuse. Schedule II drugs can lead to psychological dependence. Methadone dependence often must be treated by medical and mental health professionals.

Methadone Side Effects

When taken as prescribed, methadone can have very few side effects. This drug is even approved to be taken when pregnant or breastfeeding. However, patients are strongly encouraged to not only take this drug as directed but to avoid mixing it with other medications, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax), due to the dangerous drug interactions that can occur.

Common methadone side effects include:

  • Restlessness
  • Slow breathing
  • Itchy skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Sexual problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy sweating

There are also serious side effects of methadone, including:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or throat
  • Chest pain
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Hallucinations

Methadone Precautions

Taking methadone as directed by a health professional can be beneficial in recovering from heroin addiction or other opiate misuse. However, even methadone maintenance treatment comes with some specific cautions.

As reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the following precautions should be considered:

  • Do not share your methadone prescription with anyone
  • Take only what is directed; do not skip or double up on doses
  • Do not consume alcohol or mix it with other medications (such as benzodiazepines)
  • Be careful when driving or operating heavy machinery
  • Call 911 for a suspected overdose

Methadone Abuse and Addiction

Methadone is used effectively to reduce cravings due to opioid dependence. It is also highly regulated in a clinical setting. Patients are often required to come to the clinic to receive their daily dose of methadone.

Methadone abuse occurs when a person does not take methadone as prescribed. This could include taking more than their daily dose or taking methadone without having a prescription.

Once addicted, those with methadone use disorder have to take increasing amounts to achieve the same effect. With the right treatment and support, those addicted to methadone can reclaim control of their minds and bodies.

How to Know When You Are Addicted to Methadone

There is a small gap between prescribed and dangerous doses of this drug. It also has special risks when used as a painkiller. Those who take more than the prescribed amounts or who seek to obtain the drug illicitly have probably become dependent on methadone.

When used with other prescribed analgesics, methadone is particularly risky.

Methadone Overdose

Once someone takes more methadone than their body can metabolize, it could have severe effects.

Signs and symptoms of a methadone overdose include the following:

  • Slow breathing
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Clammy skin
  • Weak pulse
  • Convulsions
  • Coma

A methadone overdose can also cause death.

How Can Methadone Overdose Be Treated?

Those with methadone use disorder can receive treatment to overcome their addiction. However, there are several factors to consider. The length of time someone is addicted to methadone and the amount taken directly impact how long it would take to detoxify the body of methadone. It will also impact the severity of their withdrawal and cravings during recovery.

In the event of an overdose of methadone, take these steps:

  1. Call 911 and follow the instructions of the operator
  2. Turn the person to their side to make it easier to breathe
  3. Stay with the person who overdosed until they receive help

Methadone Addiction Treatment

Methadone addiction affects the person with a drug use disorder and their family and friends. In order to overcome methadone addiction, you have to accept that you have an issue and need help. Start a treatment program as soon as possible so that you can regain your health and start rebuilding relationships broken by methadone use disorder.

Treatment options for opioid addiction can be difficult since methadone itself is the usual treatment for opioid addiction.

Methadone Withdrawal

Methadone withdrawal occurs when someone who has a methadone dependency suddenly stops taking the drug. This typically happens during a controlled detox process. It is not recommended to go through this process alone. When you work with a health care professional, they can slowly cut back your methadone dose to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of Methadone Withdrawal

When you stop using methadone, you may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle tremors
  • Diarrhea

Methadone Treatment Programs

Finding an effective methadone rehab program is a high priority after you complete detox. A methadone addiction program that offers both therapy and medical treatment can help you expedite your recovery and transition back into a more productive life.

Receiving an individualized treatment program lets you participate in your recovery program. Recovery programs with aftercare can also help improve your chances of long-term sobriety and drug-free living.

Inpatient Rehab Program

Entering an inpatient rehab program provides 24-hour supervision and care. This is key for those with severe methadone use disorder. Partnered with the right treatment plan, an inpatient rehab program provides the most effective foundation for long-term recovery. Being surrounded by others in recovery can have a therapeutic effect and promote peer support.

Both group and individual therapy sessions play a role in getting to the root of addiction issues and can help prevent a relapse. Additionally, inpatient rehab programs include nutrition therapy and fitness therapy to help rebuild your body.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) is a type of outpatient drug rehab program. Patients go through 25 to 30 hours of behavioral and medical health care. during this time, they attend both individual and group therapy programs. At the end of the day, patients can return home to their families, go to work, and otherwise resume their lives.

PHP is often used in conjunction with inpatient rehab to give you the best opportunity for long-term recovery.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is often recommended for those with less severe addictions. Those attending daily IOP can resume their lives as normal outside of the program.

The program is less intense than a PHP but still involves a time commitment from participants. Programs last anywhere from 90 days to 16 weeks depending on each person’s needs. Most attend a support group during and after treatment.

Methadone Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to a third of prescription painkiller deaths involve methadone. Up to 5,000 people die of overdoses related to methadone. Additionally, six times as many people died from methadone overdoses in 2009 than ten years prior.

In 2014, methadone accounted for 23% of prescription opioid deaths but only represented 1% of opioids prescribed.

However, the use of methadone for substance use disorder does prove to be beneficial when it is taken as directed.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Patients on methadone had 33% fewer opioid-positive drug tests and were 4.44 times more likely to stay in treatment.”

Hope and Help for a Loved One

If you are currently addicted to methadone or know someone else with a methadone use disorder, admit there’s an issue and reach out for help. Receiving treatment can change the course of your life and may even save your life.

Too many people stuck in a battle with addiction feel that they are on their own. Know that help is available and may be closer than you think. If you need help determining the signs of drug abuse in someone you love, we can provide tips on how to get them to recognize their problem and seek assistance.

Recovering from methadone use disorder is not a do-it-yourself process. In fact, quitting on your own can lead to potentially life-threatening side effects. Reach out for help today and regain control of your mind, body, and spirit.

Methadone FAQs

Why have methadone overdoses increased?

Due to an increase in methadone prescriptions, overdoses have become more prevalent. Methadone, when used in a carefully monitored environment, effectively treats opioid use disorder.

Some people sell their prescriptions so that others can obtain the drug illegally. In a process called diversion, prescription drugs are given to others for nonmedical reasons. Diversion fuels much of the opioid abuse epidemic.

What is the origin of methadone?

In World War II, German scientists created methadone to counteract a morphine shortage. The drug (Dolophine®) was first prescribed for pain relief in the United States in 1947. It was first used to counteract drug addiction in New York as part of an opioid treatment program during the 1960s.

Does physical dependency continue when using methadone?

Yes, your body remains physically dependent on opioids while you take methadone. This type of treatment, known as opioid replacement therapy, uses a less potent drug to wean your body off stronger prescription painkillers.

Reviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Addiction Guide and ensures the quality of our website’s content and messaging.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

5 references
  1. Drug scheduling. DEA. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, July). Prescription Painkiller Overdoses. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/methadoneoverdoses/index.html.
  3. Drug fact sheet: Methadone. DEA. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Methadone-2020.pdf#.
  4. Methadone. SAMHSA. (n.d.). November 19, 2021, from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/methadone.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 13). How effective are medications to treat opioid use disorder? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/efficacy-medications-opioid-use-disorder. 

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