Methadone Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources


Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

Updated On: Jan 13, 2024
Last Medical Reviewer On: April 21, 2024
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    Methadone is a medication used to treat opioid addiction or opioid use disorder (OUD).[1] It can be effective for treating OUD when used as prescribed, but it’s addictive in its own right.

    What Is Methadone?

    Methadone is a medication approved by the FDA to treat OUD and for pain management in certain circumstances. It’s a safe and effective drug when used as prescribed and can help people struggling with addiction achieve and sustain recovery as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.[2]

    Methadone works on the brain by binding to the same receptors as other opioids like heroin or hydrocodone. However, its effects typically last about 24 to 36 hours, not a few days. It helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms by blocking the effects of other opioids.[3]

    Though methadone can be useful in treating opioid addiction, it’s an opioid itself and can be addictive. It’s relatively inexpensive and often prescribed for chronic pain as well, which has exposed more people to methadone and created a rise in methadone abuse and addiction.

    What Is Methadone Used For?

    Methadone maintenance has been recommended for OUD since the 1970s. It’s still in use in medical and rehab settings under medical supervision to reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. Legitimate prescriptions for OUD and chronic pain from cancer or other conditions can turn into misuse, leading to tolerance and addiction.

    Methadone Side Effects

    Methadone side effects are similar to other opioids and include:

    • Constipation
    • Drowsiness
    • Lightheadedness
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Absentmindedness
    • Impaired cognition
    • Impaired balance
    • Headache
    • Weight gain
    • Stomach pain
    • Mood changes[4]

    Signs of Methadone Overdose

    Methadone is a potent opioid, and the risk of overdose exists as with other opioids, though it is not necessarily much easier to overdose on methadone than on other opioids when taken as directed. The symptoms of methadone overdose include:

    • Small pupils
    • Intestinal spasms
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Weak pulse
    • Low blood pressure
    • Breathing problems
    • Unresponsiveness
    • Confusion
    • Disorientation
    • Dizziness
    • Coma[5]

    If you suspect a methadone overdose, call 911 immediately and wait for emergency medical services to arrive. Prompt medical attention is crucial in reducing a methadone overdose. If you have naloxone, you can administer it.

    Methadone Abuse Facts

    From 1999 to 2014, the overall prescription opioid overdose death rate, which includes methadone, increased from 300%, from 1.2 persons per 100,000 population in 1999 to 4.6 in 2014.[6] The rate of methadone overdose deaths increased 600% from 0.3 persons per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.8 in 2006.

    According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 261,000 individuals over the age of 12 had misused methadone in the year before the survey.[7]

    Signs of Methadone Abuse

    The signs of methadone abuse are similar to other opioids and include:

    • Constriction of pupils
    • Increased drowsiness
    • Confusion and hallucinations
    • Constipation
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Dry mouth
    • Mood changes
    • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
    • Vision problems

    Learn About Other Substance Use Disorders

    Can You Get Addicted to Methadone?

    Yes, methadone is an opioid that can be addictive. The methadone addiction symptoms include:

    • Intense cravings for methadone
    • Inability to control or reduce methadone use
    • Use of larger amounts of methadone or for longer periods than intended
    • Failure to fulfill obligations at work or home
    • Negative consequences on interpersonal relationships

    Is There Rehab for Methadone Addiction?

    If you or a loved one needs help for methadone abuse or addiction, treatment can be effective. Whether it was used recreationally or as part of an OUD treatment program, treatment involves an individualized care plan with comprehensive therapy.

    Methadone withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant and includes severe symptoms, often lasting for several days, such as fever or chills, sweating, muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and increased heart rate.

    Medical detox is often the first step to manage the symptoms of withdrawal and keep you safe and comfortable while the drug clears your system. In some cases, you may be tapered off of methadone and onto another OUD treatment medication, such as buprenorphine. Other medications may be used to manage some of your other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting.

    After medical detox, you can transition into inpatient or outpatient treatment environments:

    • Inpatient or residential treatment: This level of care involves staying in a facility 24/7 for supervision, support, and medical care while undergoing therapy sessions. This is ideal for people who struggle with the people, places, and things associated with addiction.
    • Outpatient treatment: Offered with several levels, outpatient treatment has more flexibility to allow you to balance your therapy sessions and recovery with other responsibilities, such as work, school, or family.

    Several therapies may be used in a comprehensive treatment plan, including:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This therapy helps you identify the thoughts and behaviors that lead to drug use and learn coping strategies to resist drug use.
    • Motivational enhancement therapy: This therapy increases your motivation to engage in treatment to overcome drug use.
    • Contingency management: This therapy involves using positive reinforcement using incentives or rewards for engaging in treatment.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What Are the Signs of Someone on Methadone? Chevron Down
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