Methadone Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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People who are working to recover from chronic opioid abuse may be given methadone to help them manage uncomfortable withdrawal from stronger opioid drugs, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and the illegal narcotic heroin.

Methadone is a synthetic (manmade) opioid pain reliever used to ease opiate withdrawal symptoms for recovering users undergoing drug addiction detoxification and maintenance programs. This Schedule II narcotic is used to treat pain and addiction to other opioids during the medical detoxification process but without the high. It is sold under the trade names Dolophine, Methadose, and Physeptone.

The drug replaces the opioids in a person’s system with milder effects, according to WebMD, which cautions that the drug is not a cure for addiction. It also shares that a doctor can prescribe methadone to patients who are in pain from an injury, surgery, or long-term illness, such as cancer. 

How Does Methadone Affect the Brain?

When methadone enters the body, pain relievers are blocked from interacting with the brain, which helps reduce the cravings that come with drug withdrawal symptoms. The drug alters how the brain and central nervous system perceive and respond to pain, providing pain relief. Methadone works similarly to morphine when ingested. A person can take it as a tablet, liquid, or powder. 

All medications have side effects, and methadone has its share, too. According to Drugs.com, people taking methadone could experience:

  • Sedation, dizziness, or drowsiness
  • Respiratory problems
  • Increased sweating, nausea, vomiting
  • Headache
  • Severe constipation
  • Seizures
addiction-to-methadone

Is Methadone Addictive?

While methadone has therapeutic uses and can be part of replacement therapy programs, the opioid is dangerous when misused. It should be taken under the supervision of a medical professional and is available only at certified pharmacies. 

It can be habit-forming, even when used as prescribed and in regular doses. It can also be addictive. Users are advised to use caution when taking methadone, although some will misuse and abuse it. Some recreational users inject the drug to experience a strong high. 

A person who develops physical and psychological dependence on the drug could have a hard time ending use. If they undergo medical detox at an accredited substance abuse treatment facility, the detox process could take at least a month or more. People in recovery from methadone addiction can struggle to achieve and maintain mental and emotional clarity, normal sleep schedules, and more after battling a methadone addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Addiction

People who abuse methadone to get high experience euphoria and relaxation, the same potent effects it is responsible for blocking when used as intended. The signs and symptoms of addiction include:

  • High methadone (a person can taking large amounts of the drug to get high)
  • Methadone prescription running out before the expiration date
  • Preoccupied thoughts with obtaining, using methadone
  • Continuing to abuse the medication despite the consequences
  • Mixing methadone with other drugs, including other opioids and alcohol
  • Strained interpersonal relationships

People can also experience physical and psychological signs of methadone addiction, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Increased pain in muscles, bones, and joints
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sexual dysfunction

A person who has a substance use issue or a history of substance use and addiction can be at risk of abusing methadone and developing an addiction to it. If you have been abusing methadone, and you find it difficult to quit using, you likely will require professional medical help so you can safely stop.

Generally, detoxing at home or without professional help is widely discouraged. This dangerous practice can lead to relapse and overdose, especially after long-term use. Detoxing without medical assistance also means a person may not realize they are in a state of emergency. Without medical help available, they could be putting their life at risk.

Getting Treatment Help for a Methadone Addiction 

If you seek help at a rehabilitation facility that specializes in treating addiction, you likely will start with a medical detox process. One of the main purposes of detox is to help recovering users gain medical stability as they go through uncomfortable to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. The process also keeps users from relapsing, as many users go back to using so they can stop the discomfort of not using the drug after a long period of frequent use.

It can be very difficult to withdraw from methadone because of how long it takes the body to process one dose. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it can take eight and 59 hours for the drug to fully exit from one’s system. The FDA also says it has been known to persist in the liver and other tissues. 

Because methadone takes a long time to clear the body, people who abuse it may not be aware that they are overdosing on the medication, especially when they are not aware they haven’t cleared an earlier dose they were taking.

Medical professionals who oversee medical detox can monitor patients who have abused methadone and will know how to handle medical emergencies that may arise during withdrawal. They also can administer any medications needed to help patients gain stability. Medical detox can be the start of patients joining a medication-assisted program (MAT) that helps them manage their opioid use disorder. In the case of a person who is working to overcome methadone addiction, other FDA-approved medications, such as buprenorphine, could be prescribed to treat their disorder.

These medications can help recovering users manage the psychological changes that often accompany methadone dependence. The opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone also may be used in a MAT program to help patients avoid feeling the usual opioid effects of the drugs that are used.

What Happens After Medical Detox?

Medical detox by itself is rarely enough to help someone end their dependence on methadone. It is important to identify and understand the reasons behind abusing medications and other substances, so spending time in a setting focused on treating the addiction is usually the next step.

The severity of your methadone dependence likely will determine the kind of treatment placement that will be recommended for you. It is important to give yourself time to heal and grow on your journey toward sobriety, so you may have to spend time in a residential program for 30 days or longer or another setting along the continuum of care, such as a partial hospitalization program (PHP). 

A PHP program is usually for people who have completed residential care and are ready for a level of care that offers more self-supervision, but it is possible for people to transition from detox to a PHP. If you are in the early or mild stages of methadone addiction, you may be recommended to join an outpatient program if you can receive treatment and still live on your own.

You can also receive aftercare services when treatment ends. Aftercare helps you find your footing as you leave treatment and rejoin society. A person can receive assistance with finding employment or transitional housing with a sober living focus. Programs also teach people in recovery how to manage their personal finances and grocery shop for foods that promote health and wellness. Life skills are important as people start to find their way again after overcoming addiction.

Continuing on the recovery path often involves staying connected to a supportive community that understands your story and your goals.

The treatment program you choose to address your methadone addiction must meet your unique needs and preferences. Keep this in mind as you look at treatment facilities and the services and programs they offer.

Methadone Addiction Is Dangerous If Left Untreated

Unsupervised methadone use can lead to an accidental overdose. People who use it recreationally take far more than they should, putting them at risk of dying. If they use the drug with other substances, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other opioid pain medications, the risk of overdose is greater. 

People who take substitute drugs in maintenance therapy programs could overdose, but taking such drugs often requires the presence of a medical professional.

If a person has overdosed on methadone, there are ways to tell. Call for emergency help if you notice any of the following:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Breathing problems (such as slow or shallow breathing)
  • Respiratory failure 
  • Disorientation
  • Coma
  • Drowsiness
  • Cold skin
  • Bluish skin and lips
  • Weak pulse
  • Abnormally low blood pressure
  • Stomach spasms

First responders may administer an antidote to the person who has overdosed. According to Medline, they may receive multiple doses of antidote drugs because of methadone’s long-acting properties. Medline also advises that overdose on methadone can also happen if a person is taking the medication with other pain relievers, such as Oxycontin, hydrocodone (Vicodin), or morphine. The medical site says the faster overdose treatment is given, the better one’s chances of recovery.

If you or someone you know is battling methadone addiction, help is only a phone call away. No one has to face addiction alone. Call today or get in touch with a facility online that is waiting for you to reach out. Doing so can save a life—yours or someone else’s.

Sources

Casarella, J. (2020, March 20). Methadone: Purpose, uses, side effects, and risks. from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/what-is-methadone

Methadone: 7 things you should know. (n.d.). from https://www.drugs.com/tips/methadone-patient-tips

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Methadone. PDF. from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2019/017116s038lbl.pdf

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020, April 29). Medication and Counseling Treatment. from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment#medications-used-in-mat

Methadone overdose: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. (n.d.). from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002679.htm

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