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Methadone Addiction

Table of Contents

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is primarily used to treat opioid addiction, although it can also be used as a pain reliever. The drug was first sold in the United States in 1947 under the brand name Dolophine. Around this time, it started to be used in methadone maintenance and weaning people off of other opioid drugs. In methadone detox, the drug is used to help a person slowly adjust to opioid abstinence.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone maintenance is a controversial addiction treatment method in which methadone replaces more harmful and intoxicating opioids to maintain a sober lifestyle. However, abstinence may or may not be a goal of maintenance. Instead, treatment focuses on harm reduction. However, other opioid medications like Suboxone are starting to become more commonly used.

Methadone can satiate opioid cravings without causing intoxication, euphoria, or hindering users in any significant way. However, maintenance inevitably leads to methadone dependence which can be difficult to overcome.

Methadone can be abused to achieve euphoric effects, which can lead to tolerance, dependence, and overdose if left untreated. However, safer prescribing and the use of other medications led to a sharp decline in methadone overdose rates between 2007 and 2014. Still, the drug is highly addictive, and overcoming methadone withdrawal can be difficult. Methadone withdrawal symptoms are notoriously intense and often require medical detox.

Methadone works in a way that’s similar to other opioids. It’s an opioid receptor agonist, which means that it binds to receptors and activates its effects. Opioid receptors are responsible for analgesic effects managing the pain response in the body. Methadone has a long half-life (around 15-55 hours), which lends itself to use in maintenance and weaning. Pain-relieving effects may last for around eight hours, but it can prevent a user from feeling withdrawal symptoms for up to two days.  

Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Addiction

Substance use disorders (SUDs) are separated into three categories of mild, moderate, and severe. Addiction is a chronic disease that’s on the severe end of the spectrum; however, it can be treated with the right therapies and professionals for your specific needs. While substance use disorder can be difficult to detect at first, they eventually become difficult to hide. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, there are a few signs and symptoms that can let you know there is a problem.

If you’ve used methadone for therapeutic purposes, such as pain relief, or if you’ve used it recreationally, the first sign of a SUD you should look for is tolerance. If you feel like you need a heavier dose to achieve the same effects, it may be because your body is getting used to the drug. If you increase the dose and continue to use, you may be increasing your risk of developing a chemical dependence.

Dependence happens when your brain and body start to rely on methadone to maintain healthy brain chemistry. Your nervous system may stop producing certain chemicals while increasing others in an attempt to balance around the foreign chemical. At this point, if you stop using or cut back, you might start to feel cravings for methadone and flu-like withdrawal symptoms.

If you are worried that a friend or family member might be developing an addiction to methadone, there a few behavioral signs that may notice, including:

  • Isolation
  • Loss of control over drug use
  • Lying about drug use
  • Hiding drugs around the house
  • Loss of interest in typical activities
  • Poor work or school performance
  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Trying and failing to quit the drug

How Is Methadone Addiction Treated?

Methadone is known for two things: its usefulness as a means to assist people who are addicted to more potent opioids and for its unforgiving withdrawal symptoms. Like other opioids, methadone causes withdrawal symptoms that are similar to the flu, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and body aches. However, methadone is reported to be much more severe, making the drug harder to quit than other opioids. Opioid withdrawal symptoms aren’t typically dangerous, but in some cases, dehydration can lead to complications.

The safest and most successful way to deal with a methadone addiction is to receive addiction treatment with professional help. Because methadone withdrawal is so severe, it’s recommended that you start your treatment with medical detoxification. Detox is a process that involves 24-hour medical care that lasts for about a week, depending on your needs. Severe cases may take up to two weeks. Through this process, your nervous system and brain will adjust to life without methadone in your system.

You will be given care and medication to help avoid medical emergencies and to manage uncomfortable symptoms. After detox, clinicians will help to connect you to another level of care that can best address your specific needs. At the beginning of your treatment program, you will go through an intake and assessment process in which you will create a treatment plan with the help of your therapist. As you progress in treatment, your plan will be assessed every week and changed as needed.

There are four major levels of care after detox, which include:

  • Inpatient services. This is a high level of care that involves continued 24 hours of medical or clinical monitoring. Inpatient care is ideal if you have ongoing medical or psychological health concerns of complications. Residential services also fall under this category, which is ideal for people who don’t have housing or when their housing has a negative effect on recovery.
  • Intensive outpatient services. Also called IOP, this level of care allows you to live independently while still having access to high levels of clinical services. Each week, you will attend no fewer than nine hours of therapy and as much as a typical work week.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program – This is a medically supervised program that involves intensive therapeutic clinical services and treatment, which runs five or more times per week for up to eight hours per day. Clients live on-campus and learn skills to re-adapt to their life, including how to avoid triggers.
  • Outpatient services. This is the lowest level of formal addiction treatment, and it involves fewer than nine hours of clinical services every week. This level serves as an excellent step between addiction treatment and independent life.

How Dangerous Is Methadone?

As a medication, methadone is carefully controlled as a prescription drug. With careful doses prescribed by a doctor, methadone will most likely never be harmful. However, dependence and addiction can lead to abuse, which can have potentially dangerous consequences. Studies show that people who abuse prescription opioids are more likely to use heroin. Though the percentage of people who turn to heroin after prescription opioid use is small, the percentage of heroin users who started with prescriptions is as high as 80 percent.

Illicit heroin use is dangerous, and it’s related to the contraction of intravenous diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Illegally produced heroin is often adulterated with other substances. Dealers will cut heroin with inert substances to increase profits. To avoid a week product, they may add other synthetic opioids to the mix to give the impression of a higher quality. Substances like the highly potent fentanyl are cheap and easy to make. Users will take a hit without knowing that there’s fentanyl in their drug cocktail and overdose.

Like other opioids, methadone can be life-threatening during an overdose. High doses can suppress your nervous system to the point of slowing your breathing. Slowed or stopped breathing can cause hypoxia, oxygen deprivation, brain damage, coma, and death.

Methadone Addiction Stats

  • An estimated 115 people die because of an opioid overdose every day.
  • Prescription opioid medications and illicit opioids were involved in 49,068 overdose deaths in 2017.
  • Methadone was involved in more than 3,000 overdose deaths in 2017.

Finding Help with Methadone AddictionMethadone addiction is notoriously difficult to overcome, but you don’t have to go through it on your own. With help from medical and clinical professionals, you may be able to reach long-lasting sobriety. To learn more about methadone addiction and how it can be treated for you or a loved one, speak to an addiction specialist at Ocean Breeze Recovery. Call 855-960-5341 to learn more about the therapy options that are available to you and begin your road to recovery today.


ASAM. (n.d.). American Society of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved from

CDC. (2017, August 01). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 06). Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from

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