Methadone is a popular medication that medical personnel use to help treat opioid addiction. Although effective, this drug is also quite controversial. On the one hand, methadone helps relieve pain and prevents withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, methadone is a highly regulated controlled substance. Perhaps the most controversial question surrounding methadone is whether or not the medication is addictive. Learning more about methadone, how it works, its benefits and side effects, as well as any potential risks with its use, can help you better understand the substance and draw your own conclusion to the question.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a medication that recovery experts use to help individuals undergoing medication-assisted addiction treatment. The substance can help people reduce or quit heroin and other opioids. Methadone, which can be taken as a tablet, a flavored drink, or injectable liquid, can produce many of the same effects as morphine and heroin even though the drug is made up of different chemicals.
When taken as prescribed, methadone is a safe and effective way to recover from opioids. However, methadone is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that even though methadone can be legally used under a doctor’s supervision, the drug has a high potential for abuse which can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Because of this, any non-medical use of methadone is illegal.
When people do use methadone illegally, the drug may be referred to as “Amidone,” “Chocolate Chip Cookies,” “Fizzies with MDMA,” or “Wafer.”
How Does Methadone Work?
Methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system perceive and respond to pain. Normally, pain receptors in the brain send pain signals and messages to the nervous system. By lessening the severity of these signals, methadone reduces the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Methadone can do this because it’s a long-acting opioid.
As a long-acting drug, methadone acts more slowly in the body for a longer period of time. Shorter-acting opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl move quickly through the body. Because of this, individuals have to use these drugs 3 to 4 times a day to maintain their effects. Since methadone’s effects last for a longer amount of time, the drug can help taper people off opioids.
The medication also blocks the euphoric effects of opioids such as heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, which helps to reduce cravings. Methadone can affect people differently, but generally, the pain relief individuals feel from a single dose of methadone lasts anywhere from 24 to 36 hours.
In addition to pain relief, people taking methadone can experience:
Even though these symptoms can occur alongside side effects such as nausea, constipation, sweating, mood swings, and decreased respiration, some people experience effects that feel like a methadone high.
The Methadone High
Individuals taking methadone as prescribed won’t experience a methadone high. However, people taking large doses of methadone can experience the methadone high. Individuals taking methadone without a medical need for the drug can also become high.
Methadone, like depressants, can reduce reaction time and attention span. When this happens, individuals process information much slower than usual. In addition to feeling relaxed and euphoric, they might also feel extremely drowsy. Some people who have consumed excessive amounts of methadone exhibit little or no reaction to light, while others have droopy eyelids, dry mouth, and flaccid muscles.
Even though individuals have to consume an abnormally high dosage of methadone to get high, many people wonder if these effects indicate whether or not the drug is addictive.
Is Methadone Addictive?
Methadone acts differently than shorter-acting opioids, but it is still an opioid. This means that methadone has some of the same risks that other opioids do. Those risks include:
Even though methadone blocks the effects of other opioids, the drug does interact with the brain in a way that reduces pain. When this kind of substance is misused or abused, the brain can start to rely on it as a source of pleasure. If this happens, the brain, which is wired to repeat pleasurable experiences, starts to crave larger amounts of methadone. Sadly, this kind of habit formation can lead to addiction.
As a Schedule II substance, methadone has a high potential for physical and psychological dependence. When individuals become dependent on methadone, their brains have developed a need for the substance. When people become physically dependent on methadone, their body reacts negatively when the drug isn’t present. Similarly, when individuals have a psychological dependence on methadone, they have an emotional need for the substance. When individuals don’t have methadone or lower the amount they consume, withdrawal symptoms can start to occur. The symptoms can be physical, emotional, or both depending upon the type of dependence that has developed.
Even if the withdrawal symptoms that occur aren’t life-threatening, they are often uncomfortable. This discomfort can cause many people to seek quick, temporary relief. Individuals recovering from heroin, fentanyl, and other short-acting opioids can wrongly assume that methadone can provide the relief they’re looking for. Unfortunately, this thought process and behavior can increase the likelihood of addiction.
Despite what many people may think, it is much easier to overdose on methadone than other opioid drugs. The symptoms of methadone overdose generally include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Clammy, bluish-colored skin
- Blue-tinted lips and fingertips
- Slow, shallow breathing, known as respiratory depression
- Discolored nails and fingertips
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme fatigue to the point of not being able to stay away
If you or someone around you is exhibiting any combination of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Long-Term Effects Of Methadone Abuse
Misusing and abusing methadone can also have a negative effect on the brain and body. Even though methadone affects everyone differently, excessive use of the substance can lead to:
- Cardiovascular challenges. Constantly injecting methadone into the body can lead to collapsed veins and arteriosclerosis, or the build-up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls.
- Respiratory issues as a result of chronically reduced respiration rates.
- Menstrual cycle changes in women. Women taking methadone can experience an irregular cycle. Sometimes, a woman’s cycle stops entirely while taking methadone. Methadone can also cause sexual dysfunction in men.
- Changes in the brain. These changes tend to affect parts of the brain that help regulate learning and memory. This means that abusing methadone can cause cognitive challenges and memory problems.
What Is The Most Important Information To Know About Methadone?
- Methadone alone cannot — and does not — cure addiction. Methadone works best as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program that also includes behavioral therapy, peer support, and individual, group, and family counseling.
- Methadone should be taken exactly as directed by your physician.
- Do not stop taking methadone unless you have been told to do so by your physician. This is true even if you think you’re feeling better. When stopped abruptly, methadone can trigger symptoms of withdrawal that include shaking, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, anxiety, and irritability.
- Missing doses of methadone can increase the risk of relapse.
- The risk of slow, labored breathing increases when individuals inject methadone into the body or mix it with other depressants such as benzodiazepine medications or alcohol.
- Individuals with severe liver disease should not use methadone. Individuals experiencing yellowing of the skin or eyes, severe stomach pain, or severe nausea and vomiting should contact their doctor immediately.
- Do not take other medications with methadone without talking to your medical care team first.
- Methadone does have some side effects. Common side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling in the arms and legs
- Individuals should stop taking methadone and contact a doctor if they:
- Have difficulty breathing
- Experience hives or a rash
- Have swelling in the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Feel chest pain
- Experience hallucinations or confusion
Say Goodbye To Addiction For Good
Developing an addiction to methadone can be extremely disheartening to individuals who are trying to recover from opioid addiction. But there’s hope. Our addiction treatment programs can help you recover from opioids and methadone without medication. Let us help you get there.
Our mission is to help empower you to take charge of your recovery. Contact us today if you’re ready to say goodbye to addiction for good.
Remember, we’re not medical professionals. If you are considering whether or not to take methadone, talk to your healthcare provider first.