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Methadone for Addiction Treatment

Methadone is a highly effective treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) when taken correctly and under the supervision of a medical practitioner.1 Methadone can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and cravings to use opioids, and studies show it can reduce the risks of opioid overdose and contracting infectious diseases, which are often associated with opioid use.1

Many people benefit from taking methadone as part of an individualized opioid use disorder treatment program that may also include behavioral therapy, counseling, social support, and aftercare.1

This article will cover information you need to know about methadone including:

  • Why methadone is used.
  • How methadone works.
  • Potential side effects.
  • Overdose risks and interactions with other medications.
  • How to find help for opioid addiction near you.

What Is Methadone Used For?

Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist, which means it curbs opioid withdrawal symptoms, as well as blunting or blocking the effects of other opioid drugs.1, 2 It helps reduce the cravings associated with opioid use disorder, giving people the time and ability to make necessary life changes associated with long-term remission and recovery.1

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), methadone is prescribed for opioid use disorder and is also used as a pain medication for certain medical conditions.2

Methadone is a Schedule II-controlled medication and thus requires a prescription and the supervision of a medical practitioner.2 Federal regulations restrict the dispensing of methadone to opioid treatment programs. Counseling and drug testing are required in these programs, and some also offer additional services, such as treating co-occurring mental health disorders and more.1

Some people prefer to receive medication via their physician’s office, and although your physician may not meet the requirements to prescribe methadone, they may be able to prescribe buprenorphine or naltrexone, which can also be used to effectively treat opioid use disorder.

Even though methadone is an effective treatment, it can also be misused, as it is still a narcotic and can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms.3

How Does Methadone Work?

Methadone is among a few medications used as maintenance treatment for more dangerous opioids like heroin and fentanyl.1 Other such medications are naltrexone and buprenorphine.1 However, methadone is considered a highly effective medication, as it reduces cravings, blocks the euphoric effects of opioids, and reduces withdrawal symptoms.4 In this way, methadone helps curb the dangerous effects of opioids while gently easing a person away from using opioid drugs like heroin.1

The idea behind using methadone as a maintenance treatment is that it acts similarly to the opioid but does not produce the associated high.4 Maintenance treatment using addiction treatment medications helps improve people’s health and quality of life.4

When using methadone to treat opioid addiction, a medical professional slowly increases the dose to prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms and block other opioids from reaching the brain’s opioid receptors, which prevents the euphoria from other shorter-acting opioids.5

Methadone activates the same receptors that other opioids act on, including inhibition of pain transmission, making it an effective medication for neuropathic pain as well.5 Given that it does not create the euphoria that short-acting opioids induce, it helps curb the addiction and reinforcement mechanism of more dangerous opioids.5

However, since methadone is still an opioid itself, it can be diverted and misused—which is even more reason to maintain safe and controlled access to proper methadone treatment.1 Nonetheless, the possibility of misuse should not prevent a person from receiving life-sustaining methadone treatment, so a balance of care and control must exist.1

What Is Opioid Use Disorder?

You may be wondering, ‘can you get addicted to methadone?’ While methadone does not produce the same effects as heroin, it has strong pain-relieving and sedating effects, which can be addictive.3 The signs and symptoms of methadone addiction are like those of other opioid addictions.6

Those who do feel they are misusing methadone may be wondering how to get off methadone. If they choose to stop taking methadone, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, just like stopping other types of opioids. For that reason, it’s important to work with your treatment team or a doctor before trying to stop taking methadone or any other type of opioid.1

Methadone Side Effects

As mentioned above, methadone is a type of opioid medication used to treat opioid use disorder. It is, however, still an opioid, and it can have side effects similar to those of other opioids.

The following are the most common side effects associated with methadone use:1

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

The side effects of methadone, when it is taken in the correct dose under supervision, should not be life-threatening.7 Under medical supervision, the dose is tailored to each person depending on their history, health, and previous drug use.7

Strict supervision ensures that doses can be changed according to the patient’s opioid tolerance and considers side effects, which is why it’s important to use this medication as prescribed.7 However, one should report all side effects, especially if they persist or become distressing, as they could indicate a potentially dangerous reaction.7

Methadone Overdose Symptoms

Some people taking methadone ask, ‘can you overdose on methadone?’ Methadone is associated with a decreased risk of deadly overdose. Once an individual stabilizes, they usually discontinue illicit drug use completely. While some individuals may continue to use illicit drugs, these occurrences are less frequent, or the drug is used in smaller amounts.1

The effects of methadone can last for between 4 to 8 hours and can vary significantly depending on the person.7 For this reason, it’s important never to take more methadone than what is prescribed, even if the effects seem to subside quickly.7

Taking more methadone to achieve the same effects as it previously caused is one of the main reasons people overdose.7 Other reasons that methadone overdoses occur are not understanding the directions of use, taking methadone with other medications or drugs, having certain health conditions, and deliberately increasing the dose.7

Common signs of opioid overdose are:8

  • Small pupils that look like “pinpoints.”
  • Loss of consciousness or falling into a deep sleep.
  • Very slow and shallow breathing.
  • Choking or making a gurgling sound.
  • Limpness or extreme weakness.
  • Blue lips or nose or very pale skin.

It’s imperative to act on an overdose quickly to prevent death. Since death from opioid overdose usually happens through severe respiratory depression, it can happen quickly, since the brain cannot live without oxygen for more than a few minutes.8

Currently, the best treatment for opioid overdose lies in medications like naloxone. This medication counteracts the effects of the opioid and thus eliminates the associated respiratory depression.9 Studies show a significant decrease in opioid-related deaths since naloxone laws were put in place and the medication was made more accessible to the public.9

Methadone Interaction with Other Drugs

An important area for education and harm reduction is the potential for methadone to interact with other drugs and medications. Many times, those who take methadone will understand the importance of taking only what’s been prescribed. However, methadone can interact with over-the-counter medications, as well as those used for other health conditions, and the individual may not be entirely aware of all potential interactions.

Unfortunately, many of these medications can increase the effect of methadone, putting a person at risk for serious side effects and overdose.7 This is also true when combining methadone with other recreational or illicit drugs.7 It’s essential that you speak with your doctor about any other medications or drugs you may take so that they can adjust the dose of methadone and provide life-saving education or support you in choosing how to get off methadone.7

Those taking methadone should be especially careful with central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, other opioids, and any medications that can cause drowsiness.7

Antihistamines, blood pressure pills, diuretics, HIV medicines, and MAO inhibitors can also interact with methadone.7

Since methadone can cause heart rhythm issues, it’s important not to mix anti-arrhythmia medications with methadone.7 Over-the-counter medications such as cold medications may often contain some of the above ingredients.7

Find Treatment and Methadone Clinics Near Me

Although it’s hard to face an issue as profound as opioid addiction, treatment using methadone as a key tool can provide much-needed relief and prevent the more serious consequences of opioid use. Research has shown that methadone treatment can save lives and provide an enhanced quality of life.2

There is help available for opioid use disorder. Rehab facilities are located throughout the U.S. and can cater to individual needs. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. To find an addiction treatment center near you, visit our treatment directory or call us free at at any time, day or night, to learn more about rehab and treatment options with AAC.

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