Understanding Methadone Abuse and Addiction
Methadone is a synthetic opioid originally developed in the 1930s as a less addictive substitute for morphine. Methadone is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it has an accepted medical use but also a high risk of misuse and users are susceptible to developing a severe mental or physical dependence on the drug.
What is Methadone Used For?
Methadone can be used to provide relief from moderate to severe pain and is especially effective since it is a long-acting medication.1 A short-term tapering dose of methadone can be used to facilitate detoxification from opioids by reducing withdrawal symptoms.3 Methadone maintenance treatment involves longer-term use of this medication to manage opioid cravings and maintain stability while blocking the reinforcing effects if a person does use opioids.
While methadone has valid medical uses, it can also be abused like other opioids. Changing how the medication is taken, such as injecting it rather than taking it orally, or taking a larger dose, can increase the effects and lead to a high that may not be experienced at prescribed doses. This also increases the risk of experiencing harmful or potentially life-threatening side effects.
Can You Become Addicted to Methadone
While methadone is used to treat opioid addiction, it is possible to switch addictions from a different type of opioid to methadone.Over time, tolerance to methadone can develop, meaning that a person becomes desensitized to the medication and may need to take larger doses to achieve the desired effect. Taking methadone in a way differently than prescribed or when not supervised by a doctor can increase the risk of developing an addiction.
Methadone Use and Side Effect
Methadone use affects the body and the mind.The short-term side effects of methadone can be felt about an hour after taking the drug.1 The long-term side effects of methadone use can result in negative physical and psychological effects.
Short-Term Side Effects of Methadone
The short-term side effects of methadone can be pleasurable, which creates a high potential for abuse.
Pain relief, sedation, and euphoria are among the most common side effects of methadone, which may make it more likely to be abused.
The effects of methadone generally last between 4 to 8 hours, although the drug stays in the system for much longer.1
Short-term side effects of methadone use can include:1,3
- Abnormal heart rhythms.
- Depressed mood.
- Low blood pressure.
- Slowed breathing rate.
Signs of Methadone Overdose
It is possible to overdose on methadone.4 It is important to be aware of the signs of methadone overdose so treatment can be administered as soon as possible. Warning signs of methadone overdose include:
- Slow or shallow breathing.
- Constricted pupils.
- Difficulty staying awake.
- Clammy or cold skin.
- Muscle weakness.
Naloxone (Narcan) is a medication that can be administered if a person has overdosed on opioids like methadone.4 This medication can reverse the effects of an overdose and block the effects of methadone temporarily, allowing a window of time to seek medical treatment. A doctor or pharmacist can provide education on how to use this medication, and it can be administered by anyone who has received training.
Methadone and Alcohol
Methadone and alcohol both depress the central nervous system, and it is not recommended to mix them.1 Combined abuse of alcohol and methadone can increase the side effect of sedation. This contributes to the risk of dangerous and potentially lethal effects, such as very low blood pressure, breathing trouble, coma, or death.4
Long-Term Side Effects of Methadone
Chronic use of methadone can have an impact on physical and mental health. The long-term side effects of methadone use can include:1, 4 , 5
- Decreased sexual drive.
- Dental issues from dry mouth.
- Depression or other changes in mood.
- Electrolyte imbalances, especially low potassium and magnesium levels.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Heart issues, including abnormal heart rhythms, cardiomyopathy, or heart failure.
- Inflammation of the veins.
- Intestinal issues from constipation.
- Irregular menstrual cycles.
- Reduced bone mineral density in men, which is a warning sign of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
- Respiratory issues, such as fluid in the lungs or trouble breathing.
- Weight gain.
Signs of Methadone Addiction
Addiction is a disease that is characterized by more than just using a substance. Symptoms affect a person’s body, thoughts, and behavior, and can have an impact on various areas of a person’s life. Physical symptoms and signs of methadone addiction can be witnessed by others and the methadone user.
Physical Signs of Methadone Addiction
It can be difficult to tell if a person is addicted to methadone simply by looking at them, but there are some signs to be aware of. These can include:6, 7
- Appearing clumsier than usual or being less coordinated.
- Constricted pupils.
- Moving faster or slower than normal.
- Nodding off.
- Paying less attention to appearance or personal hygiene than usual.
- Slurring when speaking.
- Track marks if methadone is injected.
- Unexplained weight gain or loss.
Behavioral Signs of Methadone Addiction
Addiction often involves changes in behavior. Some red flags to be aware of include:1, 6, 7
- Becoming more secretive or paranoid.
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
- Experiencing financial difficulties related to methadone use.
- Getting methadone illegally, or frequently “losing” prescriptions.
- Having trouble focusing.
- Legal troubles.
- Lying about using methadone.
- Memory impairment.
- Methadone use gets in the way of responsibilities at home, school, and/or work.
- Methadone use results in strained or broken relationships with family, loved ones, or friends.
- Mood or personality changes.
- New group of friends or becoming isolated.
- Quitting hobbies or activities that were once enjoyable.
- Using methadone more frequently or in larger doses than prescribed.
What Are the Side Effects of Methadone Withdrawal
As with other opioids, there is a predictable course of withdrawal that appears when methadone use is significantly curtailed or stopped abruptly. Since methadone is a long-acting medication, symptoms of withdrawal can take 2-4 days after the last dose to appear, and last longer but are less severe than that of other opioids.6 Common withdrawal symptoms include:1, 6
- Alternating periods of chills and sweating.
- Difficulty sleeping or inability to sleep.
- Dilated pupils.
- Inability to feel pleasure or happiness in activities that used to be enjoyable.
- Increase in blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate.
- Increased sensitivity to pain.
- Loss of appetite.
- Muscle, bone, and joint pain.
- Runny nose.
- Stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
- Strong cravings for methadone.
- Tearing eyes.
Since withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to manage on your own, medically managed detoxification can be very helpful for people who want to stop using methadone, as staff can monitor patients for complications and provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to make the detox process safer and less painful.8 Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) is one of the more common medications used in MAT, and it can help provide relief from withdrawal symptoms during treatment.8
Are You Struggling with Methadone Addiction?
It can be especially confusing to decide if you are struggling with an addiction to methadone, especially if it is prescribed by a doctor. Asking yourself some questions can help you understand if you might have an issue with methadone addiction.
- Do you recognize one or more of the symptoms listed above?
- Are you looking for help but aren’t sure where to start?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may want to consider methadone addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one.
How American Addiction Centers Can Help
As a leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself, but the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.
Our Treatment Program
Our treatment model focuses on identifying any existing mental illnesses or mental health issues that may stimulate the need to cope with issues by using alcohol.
Our treatment facilities then focus on providing an initial support system for those attending treatment and teach them healthier ways to cope with their alcohol dependence.
We offer a full continuum of care that encompasses the primary types of treatment all the way from detox for those initially struggling to aftercare options like sober living, counseling sessions, and support groups for the recovering alcoholic.
To find out more, or to get started, American Addiction Centers operates a confidential addiction hotline available 24/7 to help people find their path to recovery.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
Learning about addiction and treatment options may feel overwhelming. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dolophine hydrochloride CII.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug scheduling.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020). Methadone.
- Grey, A., Rix-Trott, K., Horne, A., Gamble, G., Bolland, M., & Reid, I.R. (2011). Decreased bone density in men on methadone maintenance therapy. Addiction, 106(2), 349-354.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Mental health and substance use disorders.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Medication and counseling treatment.