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Methadone: WHat Does it Do?

Methadone is a great replacement drug because its effects are slower compared to painkillers like morphine, which are considered “stronger” medications.

Navigation: What Does Methadone Do?, How is Methadone Taken?, Is Methadone Safe?, Side Effects of Methadone Use, Methadone Risks, Methadone Storage and Disposal, Can Pregnant Women Take Methadone?, Methadone Abuse, Methadone Overdose, Methadone Addiction, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Methadone is a medication that is used to treat severe pain. However, it is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid addiction, including heroin addiction, as a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

If used for this purpose, methadone maintenance treatment can be a very helpful and effective treatment. Taken as prescribed, methadone is perfectly safe for pain management and opioid addiction treatment.

However, methadone itself is an opioid, and can therefore be addictive as well. So while it is primarily used to treat opioid use disorder or OUD, the medication itself can be dangerous if abused.

As a person uses methadone to wean themselves off of another opioid medication, they can get hooked on this long-acting full opioid agonist. In fact, methadone is classified as a Schedule II controlled medication because of this.

If you have been taking methadone for a while and you suddenly stop, you may experience withdrawal. Methadone’s withdrawal symptoms can be painful. This is why we need to talk about methadone’s effects, risks, side effects, abuse, and addiction. Knowing all of its benefits and risks can help you decide if it’s the right form of treatment for you.


What Does Methadone Do?

As a long-acting opioid agonist, methadone can reduce a person’s opioid withdrawal symptoms. It also helps block the effects of opioids so that the patient no longer craves for it. It effectively blocks the high that you would normally get from substances like heroin, codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. This is often referred to as replacement therapy.

Methadone is a great replacement drug because its effects are slower compared to painkillers like morphine, which are considered “stronger” medications.

In addition to helping with the treatment of opioid use disorder, it can also be used for patients struggling with pain. Methadone brings pain relief by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain signals.

If you are going through a lot of pain due to an injury, a long-term illness, or surgery, your doctor may prescribe methadone. Methadone is available in a powder, liquid, and diskette form.

Keep in mind that methadone is not a cure for addiction. It is only one component of a complete addiction treatment plan. The good news is that undergoing methadone maintenance treatment can help prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings, allowing people in recovery to achieve and sustain recovery. Used right, this drug can help them reclaim active and meaningful lives.

You still need to go through counseling and behavioral therapy to achieve long-lasting sobriety, but using methadone as intended will help you make significant progress on your recovery journey.

Despite being relatively safer than other narcotics, your doctor will still keep an eye on your methadone intake to make sure it does not cause a brand new addiction. They will make sure you are taking the right methadone dose so it does not lead to drug abuse.


How is Methadone Taken?

Your doctor will only prescribe methadone if you need it for pain. If you are dealing with an opioid addiction, you will only get it from special addiction treatment programs. You may find rehab options near you through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association treatment locator.

Your treatment provider will give you the right dosage that should work for you. The dosage may change during treatment as you make progress. Communicate with your doctor and tell them how you feel while taking methadone. Do not stop taking methadone without telling them.

When you have a methadone prescription, you need to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. If they give you a “dispersible” tablet, you have to dissolve all or part of the tablet in liquid and drink it all. Your doctor should tell you exactly how to use it.

According to addiction experts, people on methadone for addiction treatment need to use it for at least a year while they work on their recovery. Your doctor will tell you when it’s time to stop. When it’s finally time to do so, they will gradually lower your dosage to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Remember that mixing methadone with other drugs can be dangerous. Some people take methadone illegally, without a prescription. They inject it directly into their bloodstream, exposing themselves to blood-borne illnesses. There may also be various adverse effects to their physical and mental health.

Is Methadone Safe?

If taken as prescribed, methadone is safe and effective. The prescribed dose will be specifically tailored for the individual patient. These doses can be adjusted and readjusted as necessary.

Methadone medication should not be shared with others, even if they have the same symptoms or are suffering from the same condition. This is especially important for those who are taking methadone at home and those who are not required to take it under direct supervision of a healthcare professional.

To ensure their health and safety, patients taking methadone should give health providers their complete health history. There are certain medications that may interact with methadone and cause heart problems.

Methadone’s active ingredients can stay in a person’s system long after its effects have worn off. This means it is possible to experience an unintentional overdose if methadone is not taken as prescribed.

To achieve the best results, never take more methadone than you are supposed to at any given time, and never take it more often than prescribed. If you miss a dose of methadone, do not take an extra dose. Do not take more methadone even if you feel like it’s not working. This is a potentially addictive drug. You do not want it to be another source of stress for you when it’s supposed to help you with your pain or addiction.

While taking methadone, do not drink alcohol or operate machinery. Be careful when driving under the influence of methadone. If you suspect an overdose, or think you took too much methadone, call 911 immediately.

Store methadone out of reach of children and pets to avoid accidental ingestion. Store it at room temperature and away from light. Any unused methadone should be disposed of safely.

Side Effects of Methadone Use

The side effects of methadone may range from mild to severe. Either way, these side effects need to be taken seriously. Some of them may indicate an emergency. In that case, you need to seek medical assistance immediately.

Short-term use of methadone may cause restlessness, headache, itchy skin, stomach pain, dry mouth, slow breathing, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, heavy sweating, constipation, sexual problems, sleep changes, mood changes, weight gain, vision changes, and appetite changes.

Some side effects are more serious. Call your doctor immediately if you experience: difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, rashes or hives, swollen lips, tongue, throat, or face, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, confusion, seizures, hallucinations, a hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, unusual menstrual periods, and severe drowsiness.

Keep your doctor informed about any side effects you encounter while taking methadone.

Methadone Risks

Some people should not take methadone. Your doctor will recommend an alternative medication or treatment approach if methadone is not suitable for you. With that in mind, you should inform your healthcare provider if you have a heart disease, a heart rhythm disorder, lung disease, breathing problems, liver disease, kidney disease, problems urinating, an electrolyte imbalance, gallbladder problems, pancreas problems, thyroid problems, or a history of head injury, brain tumor, or seizures.

If you have a medical condition for which you take sedatives, methadone treatment may not be right for you either.

There are certain drugs that can affect methadone, including other narcotics or any drug that can make you sleepy or slow your breathing. The same goes for any drug that alters your serotonin levels.

Let your healthcare providers know about any medications that you are taking so they know if they can still prescribe methadone. This will lower your risk of an overdose.

Remember that it is possible to become methadone dependent. If you use too much methadone, your brain may start to rely on it for pain relief. Eventually, it will stop working as intended and you will have to take more just to receive the same effects. This is why doctors limit the duration of methadone treatment and keep a close eye on your dosage.

Your body can still get used to the presence of methadone, even though it is generally considered safer than other opioids. You do not want to develop tolerance for methadone as this can still lead to addiction. Similarly, a person who becomes dependent on methadone can expect withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking it.

Symptoms of an overdose include: slow heart rate, slow breathing, weak muscles, cold skin, small pupils, severe drowsiness, and fainting. Be honest with your doctor about the other drugs you take because overdose can be fatal.

Methadone Storage and Disposal

If you have been prescribed with methadone, make sure you keep it in its original container and that it remains tightly sealed. Keep it out of children’s reach to avoid its accidental ingestion.

Store methadone at room temperature, away from heat and moisture. If you possess expired methadone, or if you no longer have to take it, try to find a safe take-back program. Alternatively, you can just flush it down the toilet. Do not give it away.

Can Pregnant Women Take Methadone?

It is okay for pregnant women to take methadone. The same goes for breastfeeding women. As long as they have a prescription for it and they follow their doctor’s instructions carefully, they should be fine. Methadone is able to cross the placenta and get into the breast milk, so the doctor will keep this in mind.

For pregnant women who have a heroin addiction or addiction to any other drugs that relieve pain, proper treatment is essential. Babies who are born to women who take methadone may go into withdrawal. That said, they will still have fewer health problems compared to babies who were born to women who used opioids or heroin.

If your infant shows signs like unusual sleepiness, weakness, or breathing problems.

Although a lot of opioids are more potent than methadone, women who are pregnant may still have to think twice about using this medication. Ask your doctor if it’s a good fit for you and your current condition.

Methadone Abuse

Now that we’ve discussed methadone’s uses and effects, it’s time to talk about one of the most important topics surrounding this opioid medication: the abuse of methadone.

Methadone is primarily used to reduce cravings and curb addiction. As a heavily-regulated medication, patients cannot take it without a prescription. Patients taking methadone in an outpatient setting usually have to visit a clinic to be administered their dose rather than take it themselves.

This is because methadone itself has potentially addictive properties. It’s still an opioid after all. People who take methadone for addiction are more likely to become hooked on it because they already have that history of substance abuse.

Drug abuse is when someone misuses their prescription or takes a substance for anything other than its intended use. This means if you take methadone without a prescription that is considered drug abuse. If you have a prescription and take too much or take it too often, that is also drug abuse.

The interesting thing about methadone is that it does not actually produce the same euphoric effect as heroin or morphine. In fact, methadone is formulated to block these pleasurable sensations that usually cause addiction. If heroin users try to get high, methadone will block its euphoric effects.

Methadone itself has a bit of a euphoric high, but it’s limited. The effects of methadone aren’t to the same extent as heroin, but they are significant enough to have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declare methadone users as unfit to drive while under its effects.

The side effects of methadone such as sedation, droopy eyelids, muscle weakness, drowsiness, and decreased reaction time can make it harder for a person to operate a vehicle, which may expose them to the risk of accidents.

With a large enough dosage, it is actually possible for a euphoric high to be created with methadone. Intravenous use of methadone further increases this likelihood. However, doing so also puts the user at greater risk of an overdose. This is an opioid, meaning it can slow down the central nervous system. If taken in large doses, it can slow a person’s breathing and heart rate to fatal levels.

Methadone Overdose

It is possible to overdose on methadone. This happens when too much of the medication is taken within a short period of time. This is more likely to happen for someone who does not have a prescription for methadone.

Recognizing the signs of an overdose can help you save someone’s life. Methadone overdose may cause dizziness, constricted pupils, discoloration of the nails and fingertips, hypertension, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory depression.

An overdose is an extremely dangerous situation that requires immediate medical attention. It can even be fatal. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible if someone you love experiences these symptoms.

Methadone Addiction

Although it is supposed to treat opioid addiction, methadone itself can be addictive, especially if misused. Addiction occurs because the body has built up tolerance for it, and so more of the drug is needed for the same effect.

If you are going through a proper treatment program, you shouldn’t worry too much about methadone addiction, especially if you are given continuous medical attention. Your doctor can adjust your dosage as needed. Just make sure you keep them informed about any side effects you may be experiencing.

If you take methadone illicitly or misuse your prescription, the likelihood of developing an addiction is much higher.

Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of a certain substance even when the person is already experiencing its adverse health effects. In this case, an addicted individual will keep misusing methadone even if it is already affecting their physical and mental health.

Addiction not only affects the individual but also the people around them. Their relationships may be affected in the process, creating problems within the family, within their social circles, or within the workplace.

It can be overwhelming to deal with an addiction. Quitting isn’t very easy either as it can lead to withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, sweating, runny nose, difficulty sleeping, depression and many more.

The good news is that treatment is available to those who need it. Look for a rehab facility near you today and check out their treatment programs for methadone addiction if you or someone you love is struggling with it. Your road to recovery starts today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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