Is Methadone Harmful?
The treatment of opiate abuse often requires another opiate as a supportive measure when the patient stops taking the original drug. Ideally, it’s a long-acting drug with a long half-life, and it should be easy to take. Often the goal is to decrease the intense drive to continue to seek out and abuse illicit opiates such as heroin.
Methadone pills or an oral liquid solution is usually the drug of choice, partially thanks to its price and easy availability; however, the system is not without its inherent risks, and methadone abuse is common. While the drug does not produce a high in the same manner as heroin, it can be abused to cause the same effects as most opiates: sedation, relaxation, and reduction of anxiety.
That means it does have the potential to be harmful, but this drug usually does more good than harm to the thousands of people who take it. It is easy to reduce dosages, and it can be used safely in relatively high doses, which makes it a good option for what’s usually called methadone maintenance therapy (MMT). Methadone is not to be confused with mephedrone or meth, which are both in the stimulant class of drugs.
Methadone: other drugs in same class
An incomplete list of other opiate (narcotic) analgesics
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Short-Term Effects of Methadone
Short-term effects of methadone can include the following:
- Feelings of euphoria.
The effects of methadone are similar to heroin but less intense and longer-lasting (effects can last up to 24 hours, while heroin’s effects last approximately 2-3 hours).
Video: What Is Methadone?
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Methadone slows down your reactions, making you appear more lethargic and your movements more exaggerated. This means you’re more likely to have an accident as you cannot react as quickly as you should.
You might also suffer from mood swings, particularly as your body’s supply of methadone gets low. These can range from depression to mania and everything in between, which can really put a strain on your health and personal relationships.
Other side effects include:
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Respiratory depression.
Overdose symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing/shallow breathing.
- Hypotension (low blood pressure).
- Twitching muscles.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Cyanosis (bluish fingernails and lips).
Do not wait if you see the signs of a methadone overdose. Get help immediately. Learn more at our blog, Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose.
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Long-Term Effects of Methadone
Approximately 5,000 people die due to abuse of this drug each year, and this often happens when the drug has been mixed with other substances, including alcohol and benzodiazepines.
In addition, the long-term effects of methadone abuse are almost as bad as those of heroin. The drug causes impaired judgment, and it can also lead to heart problems, just like other opiates. It’s uncommon for tablets to be crushed and injected, but even the injectable solution can cause problems, especially if the same needle is used with multiple people or for multiple doses.
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Misuse of methadone can easily lead to methadone dependence. Because the effects are so similar to heroin, it can be addictive on its own, even as it is used in the treatment of heroin dependence.
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Methadone Withdrawal Treatment
Methadone withdrawal is usually a three-stage process. You generally start with a high dose and gradually drop it down in 5 mg increments. At 40 mg, you drop it down by 3 mg; at around 20 mg, you start dropping it by 2 mg. This ensures a slow but comfortable withdrawal process. You may experience some effects of withdrawal anyway, but they won’t be as uncomfortable as they would be if you went cold turkey.
As your dosages are being reduced, you’ll undergo therapy, which can take a number of forms. If you’ve got a co-occurring disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, you’ll likely be given psychotherapy and possibly medication assistance to help you through the process. You’ll probably undergo cognitive behavioral therapy to help you find mechanisms to ensure you don’t restart methadone abuse in the future.
To find a treatment program, call 1-888-744-0069 . A caring treatment advisor can offer you support and guidance on finding the right program for you.
- Methadone overdose: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2015, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002679.htm
- Abadinsky, H., & Abadinsky, H. (2014). Drug use and abuse: A comprehensive introduction (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.