Methadone is a synthetic opioid that serves as a long-acting painkiller. It is usually used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat individuals who suffer from the addiction to other opioid drugs, such as heroin or prescription painkillers. When taken as prescribed, methadone has been proven to be very useful in treating opiate addiction, but it can also be addictive, because it is still an opiate. When used in medication-assisted treatment plans to wean individuals off other drugs of addiction, methadone prescriptions and use are closely supervised by medical professionals. However, because of a few different factors, such as the increased expense of many other painkillers and the relatively low cost of methadone, doctors have been prescribing it as a long-acting painkiller for chronic pain for years.

According to the many sources, this has allowed more people to become exposed to methadone than before, including numerous individuals who have not been exposed to opioid medications in the past. This increased exposure has caused a rise in addictions to methadone, as well as greater access to it fueling a rise in abuse.

What are the Physical Effects of Methadone Use?

Methadone works on the brain by attaching to the same receptors as other opioid drugs like heroin or OxyContin would. Because methadone stays in the individual’s body for a long period of time (about 1-3 days) it assists in blocking the desired euphoric effects of other opiate drug abuse and lessens the painful symptoms of withdrawal from those drugs.

Because methadone is such a long-acting drug, designed to ease symptoms in people addicted to heroin for 1-2 days, it can build up quickly in the body and remain in the bloodstream for a long time. It is important for individuals with methadone prescriptions to use this medication exactly as prescribed, and to not adjust their own dosage without a doctor’s supervision. Overdosing on methadone can be quite easy because of the potency of one dose.

Other Side-effects of Methadone

Methadone can have a number of side-effects on an individual taking it, even when legitimately prescribed. They include:

  • Constipation
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sleepiness or drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Impaired cognition or confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired balance or coordination

Methadone’s potency is much higher than other opiate drugs, overdosing on methadone can happen easily. It is crucial to recognize the symptoms of overdose. They often include:

  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Clammy or bluish skin
  • Blue-tinted lips and fingertips
  • Extreme fatigue to the point of being unable to stay awake
  • Stupor
  • Convulsions
  • Vomiting
  • Coma
  • Death

Mixing methadone with other drugs, whether they are prescription or illegal drugs, can come with serious heart problems ranging from arrhythmia to heart attack.
Symptoms of Withdrawal

Because methadone was originally composed for use in treating heroin addiction, and it is used in treating all kinds of opioid addictions, its withdrawal symptoms are less severe and do not set in as quickly compared to the withdrawal symptoms of other opioids. Methadone stays in the body for about 1-3 three days. Although they are less severe, withdrawal symptoms from methadone are similar to withdrawal symptoms from other opioid drugs. They include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Fever or chills
  • Sweating
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)

Treatment of Methadone Addiction

Whether an individual began abusing methadone recreationally or used it as a part of a medication-assisted treatment to conquer another opioid addiction, addiction to methadone is a possibility. Treatment for methadone addiction requires both medical detox and comprehensive therapy. Since methadone is an opioid, medical detox is always required to withdraw from the drug. In some instances, individuals will be gradually tapered off methadone, whereas individuals may be switched to another medication- assisted treatment such as buprenorphine, in other instances. Because the detox process can be not only physically taxing on the body, but also mentally, there are many psychological and emotional effects associated with withdrawal and recovery from methadone addiction. Medications that are used to treat depression or anxiety can be used with careful supervision from medical professions to treat these effects. These medications are typically administered with a psychiatrist’s prescription in addition to individual or group therapy treatment.