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Effects of Methadone Use: Short-Term, Long-Term, Side Effects, and Treatment

Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that is FDA-approved to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). Methadone also has a role in pain management. When used correctly, as prescribed, methadone is safe and effective. This article will help you understand what methadone is, how it is used to help treat opioid addiction, the side effects of methadone, and the short- and long-term effects of using methadone. In addition, you can find out more about getting help for an opioid use disorder, including programs that offer methadone to help treat addiction.

What Is Methadone Used For?

Methadone is a Schedule II prescription medication and has some potential for abuse, so it is important that methadone is only used under the supervision of a medical practitioner.1 However, the drug is generally safe when it is taken as directed.1

Methadone is a full opioid agonist, which means methadone has an affinity for the opioid receptors in the brain that are usually stimulated by opioids—such as Vicodin and heroin—and will bind to these opioid receptors.2

Methadone stimulates the opioid receptors and creates effects similar to those that occur when a person uses opioids.2 Methadone reduces opioid cravings and blocks the effects of opioids.2, 3 It is sold under the brand names Dolophine and Methadose.3 Methadone may be prescribed as a powder, liquid, or tablet that is taken daily.2

Dependence is a physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to a drug being present in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively drink or use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms.

Since these symptoms of withdrawal can make it difficult to stop using, methadone can help provide relief from withdrawal, reduce opioid cravings, and enable people to stop misusing opioids.2

Methadone can be a stand-alone treatment for opioid use disorders, but it may be more effective as part of a treatment program that includes individual therapy, 12-Step programs, and other types of social support.1, 2 Methadone is generally safe, but it is important to make sure that it is only taken as prescribed and only under the direction of a medical provider.4

Methadone Side Effects

When methadone is taken as prescribed, it is effective and generally safe.1 However, there are side effects that can occur when taking methadone.1

Some of the more common side effects of methadone use on the body and mind include:1

  • Restlessness.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Constipation.

On occasion, a person might have more serious methadone side effects that can include:1

  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded.
  • Having a rash, hives, or swelling of the face, lips, or throat.
  • Chest pains.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Confusion.

Short-Term Effects of Methadone

In the short term, methadone will help reduce symptoms of withdrawal and cravings, without the sense of euphoria that results from using other opioids.5

However, it is possible to have too high of a dose of methadone that causes euphoria or excessive drowsiness.2 When a person starts taking methadone, the medical provider will start with the lowest dose possible to control withdrawal symptoms and avoid drowsiness and other side effects. It may take some effort and time to reach the ideal dose of methadone, and daily monitoring of the effects of methadone is needed to help the provider adjust the optimal amount of methadone a person needs.2

It is very important to be aware that combining methadone with another central nervous system depressant, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other opioids, can lead to respiratory depression, coma, or death.2, 4 A methadone overdose death results when the impact of methadone on the heart functioning and respiratory system of a person exceeds that person’s tolerance.6 It is notable that most overdose deaths from methadone show levels of methadone that by themselves would not constitute a lethal dose, but are often the result of the interaction of other medications or drugs taken with methadone.6

Long-Term Effects of Methadone Use

Methadone can help control cravings and prevent relapse, both during withdrawal and on an ongoing basis.2 Methadone can help people stay in treatment longer and use fewer opioids.7

As you continue to take methadone, you will likely become physically dependent upon it, which means that you may experience methadone withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it suddenly.8 Methadone, however, is safe for long-term use.9

It is important to not focus on discontinuing methadone by a certain point in treatment, as some individuals who stop using methadone and other types of addiction treatment medications return to opioid use.2 It is also important to know that the symptoms of opioid withdrawal may linger for weeks after the last use, and methadone can help control these symptoms.2

Methadone has many positive long-term effects, such as reducing opioid overdose deaths, lower rates of HIV and other infectious diseases, and lower rates of criminal activity.2

Types of Rehab for Opioid Dependence

If you or a loved one needs help with opioid addiction, there are many options for treatment available. Most programs that treat opioid use disorders do so through a combination of behavioral therapy and medication, including methadone.1 Treatment settings for opioid use disorders include detox, where a supervised program will use a set of interventions to help you safely manage withdrawal symptoms and prepare for structured addiction treatment.10

Detox is an effective way to get a person ready to enter treatment.10 Ongoing treatment may involve inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment, depending on the needs of the individual.

Find Opioid Addiction Treatment Programs

Rehab centers are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for facilities. Many state government websites will provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehabs across the country. You can find the right program for your needs by browsing our online directory. You can also instantly check your insurance benefits to see if you can use your health insurance to pay for rehab. Call us free today at to speak with an admissions navigator who can help you learn more about your options and answer questions about paying for treatment.

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