- Addiction & recovery
How Addictive is Methadone?
July 30, 2021
Methadone, sold under the brand names of Dolophine and Methadose, is a synthetic opioid medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat moderate to severe pain. It works by changing how the brain and the nervous system respond to pain. It also helps treat opioid use disorders (OUDs) by acting on the same opioid receptors as heroin and morphine to minimize withdrawal symptoms during recovery.
Methadone is a federally designated schedule II substance. This classification implies that although it has a legitimate legal use, it also has a high risk of misuse and dependence. The controlled nature of methadone requires people to visit clinics to get their prescribed daily doses of the medication. Methadone is prescribed through a SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment program (OTP), also known as methadone clinics.
Methadone has the potential to be addictive; thus, it must be taken as prescribed. This is especially crucial for people permitted to take methadone at home and are not compelled to take the medication at an opioid treatment program under supervision.
Who Shouldn’t Take Methadone?
Methadone is a safe and effective medication when used as prescribed. However, it might not be the ideal treatment route for everyone with chronic pains or addictions to opioids. The medication should not be used by people who:
- Are allergic to methadone
- Have severe asthma or breathing problems
- Have a blockage in the stomach or intestines
People who plan to use methadone should also inform their doctors if they have any of the following conditions to ensure that the treatment is safe.
- Heart problems
- Head injuries, brain tumors, or seizures
- Liver or kidney disease
- Problems in the gallbladder, pancreas, or thyroid
- Urination problems
Side Effects of Methadone
Methadone has a wide range of side effects, from moderate to severe. Methadone’s milder, more prevalent side effects usually fade away after a few days or weeks and include symptoms such as:
- Upset stomach
- Slow breathing
- Itchy skin
- Profuse sweating
- Sexual problems
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Dry mouth
- Mood changes
- Vision problems
The more severe side effects of methadone, which can be life-threatening, will necessitate immediate medical intervention. Some of these adverse effects include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Hives or rashes
- Swollen lips, tongue, throat, or face
- Chest pain
- Severe drowsiness
- Overdose death
Individuals are advised to stop taking the medication and contact a healthcare professional immediately if they experience severe side effects.
How Addictive Is Methadone?
Methadone is a strong opioid medication with addictive properties. While it doesn’t produce the same intoxicating effects as morphine or heroin because it’s created to suppress the effects associated with such opiates, it does have a few sedative properties that can become intoxicating when administered in high dosages or through an IV.
People who misuse methadone to enjoy the intoxicating effects or even for genuine medical conditions may eventually build up a tolerance and dependence on the medication after prolonged use. The risk of methadone dependence or addiction is even higher for people with a history of opioid dependence.
Some of the signs of methadone addiction are:
- Consuming higher doses of methadone than prescribed
- Prioritizing methadone use over all other obligations in life
- Experiencing cravings or withdrawal symptoms
- Consuming the medication regularly despite having no reason to do so
- Finding it difficult to stop using the medication despite many attempts
Individuals who develop a physical dependence or addiction to methadone may experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking it or reduce their dosages. Methadone withdrawal symptoms take longer to manifest than those caused by other opioids because methadone is a long-acting opioid that can remain in the body for up to 36 hours. Hence, it can take a long time for the effects to wear off and withdrawal symptoms to appear.
Some of the symptoms of methadone withdrawal are:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Fever or chills
- Tremors or shaking
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
People are advised to talk to a healthcare provider before quitting or reducing methadone use to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Overcoming an addiction to methadone requires medical detox and comprehensive therapy.
Other Dangers of Methadone
Methadone can cause an overdose when taken in high doses or as opposed to the doctor’s prescription. The risk of overdose is even higher in people who mix the medication with other substances, such as alcohol, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine, to enhance the effects of both substances. Overdoses are a medical emergency. Hence, it’s vital to call the emergency services right away if anyone faces the below symptoms of a methadone overdose:
- Loss of muscle tone
- Cold and clammy skin
- Constricted pupils
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory depression
- Labored breathing
Methadone can interact with many different medications. Although some interactions don’t pose any considerable danger, others can increase the side effects of one or both substances or result in dangerous complications. For example, medications such as pentazocine, butorphanol, and buprenorphine reduce the pain-relief properties of methadone and trigger withdrawals, while benzodiazepines such as diazepam, lorazepam, and alprazolam lead to increased side effects. Thus, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider before taking prescription or over-the-counter medications while on methadone.
Even though methadone is a highly effective medication, it’s still an addictive substance that has to be used with much caution. Overcoming an addiction to methadone is just as hard as overcoming an addiction to other opioids.
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