Methadone Addiction and Treatment

methadone addiction

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Methadone is a powerful pain medication that is typically used in a hospital or hospice setting for the treatment of severe pain. It is sometimes prescribed to patients with chronic pain as well. It carries a high potential for abuse and subsequent addiction.
Methadone comes in various forms, including small pills and a liquid that can be swallowed, mixed with food or drink, or injected directly. Because it is so powerful, and potentially deadly when used incorrectly, dosages are monitored closely in hospital settings, especially when administered intravenously. Enough must be given to ensure the patient feels relief from pain, but if too much is given, uncomfortable side effects – and even overdose or death – can occur.
What is drug addiction? When used as directed, and administered by medical personnel, Methadone can be quite helpful in the alleviation of extreme pain. However, those who abuse this drug are asking for trouble. Even the slightest variation in dosage can result in an overdose. Thousands of people per year make the mistake of trying to take this drug without proper guidance and supervision and die as a result. Effects of snorting methadone can be even more devastating than using in other ways.
Many users start with a small amount and work their way up. Initially, only a very small dosage is likely needed to bring about a “high” or euphoric sensation. As time goes on, though, often not very much time at all, the high becomes less pronounced until finally, the patient doesn’t feel high at all. This process is called tolerance, and once it develops, a higher dosage of Methadone is needed to achieve the same high effects. As dosages get higher, however, the risk of overdose becomes more likely. Those who mix Methadone with other drugs increase this chance even more.
When abused, Methadone causes side effects similar to those of using other opiates, such as heroin.

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Table of Contents

The Effects of Methadone can Include:

  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Stomach pain, nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Fainting
  • Sweating
  • Trouble urinating
  • Mood swings

In severe cases, or cases of overdose, patients may experience irregular heart rate and dangerously slow breathing. Sometimes respiratory arrest will occur, or cardiac arrest, and the patient can die if medical attention is not sought immediately.
Women who abuse Methadone during pregnancy or while breastfeeding will pass the drug to her baby. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms in the child, which can be very painful and often leads to several negative effects, including:

  • Fussiness
  • Trouble latching or drinking from a bottle
  • Shallow or labored breathing

When a person who has been abusing Methadone hasn’t been able to get his or her “fix” in a while, withdrawal symptoms may present themselves quickly and violently, but there are some useful facts about the metabolism of methadone.

What are the Effects of Methadone Addiction?

Some effects of methadone addiction include:

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings and other behavioral issues
  • Person begins to ignore personal hygiene and appearance
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, dilated pupils, nausea, diarrhea, restlessness, and confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle aches
  • Confusion and mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Teary eyes
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, nausea
  • An obsession with getting more Methadone

If one notices these symptoms in someone who has been using Methadone or another prescription painkiller, they just may be dealing with a full-blown or developing addiction.

Who is at Risk of Methadone Addiction?

Anyone who takes Methadone for pain may become addicted. This is especially true for those who have chronic pain, as the medication may stop working after a while, and the temptation to self-medicate by upping the dosage is too much for some to withstand. The more severe the pain, the more a patient is often willing to risk addiction by increasing the dosage without a doctor’s consent.
Who is at risk of methadone addiction?

  • Those with chronic pain conditions
  • Those addicted to opiates
  • Teens and college students
  • Veterans and those with co-occurring conditions
  • Professionals

Methadone can be used to treat narcotic addictions. But it can also become a secondary addiction by itself which is difficult to undergo without any rehabilitation. Due to this factor, methadone is often abused alongside other drugs, and is more likely to be abused by those who are also abusing illegal or prescription drugs. While anyone can become addicted, those most at risk include:
Teens and college students – Young people often do drugs as a result of peer pressure, or to experiment with drugs at parties or clubs. Some also turn to drugs to help them cope with school pressures and anxiety.
Veterans and those with co-occurring conditions – Veterans are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress than the general population, all conditions which increase one’s risk of drug abuse and dependency.
Professionals – Those with stressful or high-powered careers may find the allure of self-medicating their stress and anxiety too appealing to pass up. This can easily lead to addiction.

Recognizing Methadone Addiction

It’s not always easy to admit that a problem is present, and discovering a loved one might be abusing drugs is not something most people want to face. However, knowing the warning signs of addiction will help one to get help as soon as possible without methadone relapse.

Drug abusers may begin to:

  • Lose interest in favorite activities
  • Ignore personal hygiene and dress
  • Become obsessed with getting money or steal from those closest to them
  • Develop mood swings or exhibit unusual behavioral issues, such as aggression
  • Act secretive or locking out of rooms
  • Become withdrawn and lose interest in being around friends and family members

Keep in mind that these symptoms are also common with certain physical and mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Methadone Abuse Statistics

  • 750 thousand prescriptions for methadone were written by doctors in the year 2008.
  • There are about 1,000,000 Americans who are addicted to heroin. Approximately 120,000 are currently taking methadone to assist with their addiction.
  • As of 2012, methadone is to blame for nearly 1/3 of all opioid-related deaths.

Can one overdose on methadone?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on methadone if the use is not closely monitored by a medical professional. A proper does will relieve the patient of severe pain. However, even the slightest variation in dosage can result in uncomfortable side effects, an overdose, and even death.

Treatment and Getting Help

Luckily, there is hope for those who suffer from Methadone addiction. Support groups and outpatient counseling are good places to start, although inpatient facilities offer a more thorough form of support. Rehabilitation centers provide medical addiction treatment during detoxification through methadone addiction treatment and counseling. One on one support with experts in drug addiction and peer support are also made available, ensuring a great chance of long-term success.

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View Sources
  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Methadone. 2019.
  2. Kreek M. J., Borg L., Ducat E., Ray B. Pharmacotherapy in the treatment of addiction: methadone. Journal of Addictive Diseases. 2010; 29(2): 200–216. doi:10.1080/10550881003684798.
  3. Maxwell J. C., McCance-Katz E. F. Indicators of buprenorphine and methadone use and abuse: what do we know?. The American Journal on Addictions. 2010; 19(1): 73–88. doi:10.1111/j.1521-0391.2009.00008.x.
Olivier George

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.


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  • Kansas Fuller
    What rehab will accept pregnant women who are on methadone and will have to continue to take the methadone atleast until the baby is born?