Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine) is an opioid medication commonly used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for heroin and other opioid addictions. When used as prescribed and as part of an overall treatment plan for addition, it is both safe and effective.
However, like many prescription drugs, methadone can be addictive, leading individuals who are seeking relief from one addiction directly into another.
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is an opioid agonist that reduces painful symptoms of opiate withdrawal while also reducing the euphoric effect of the opiates on the mind. The two-fold approach helps individuals who are in addiction treatment focus on other aspects of their recovery.
The effects of methadone last up to 24 hours, which is longer than other withdrawal support medications. This allows treatment centers to reduce the risk of abuse by dispersing methadone on a daily basis, rather than prescribing it in long-term supply.
Signs And Symptoms Of Methadone Addiction
Spotting methadone addiction is often difficult because the symptoms may be less noticeable than with other opioids. Because many people use methadone as part of addiction treatment, they may not exhibit any signs that are unusual or unexpected.
One of the first signs of opioid dependence is dizziness and a slight euphoric feeling.
Over time, those abusing methadone may experience additional physical symptoms, such as:
- pinpoint pupils
- weight changes
- vision problems
- urination problems
- flushing of the skin
Signs that someone has become addicted to methadone include:
- increased focus on the drug or cravings for it
- multiple prescriptions (“doctor shopping”)
- taking methadone without a prescription
- purchasing methadone online
- decrease interest in social activities
- poor work or school performance
- financial struggles
- difficulty maintaining relationships
If left untreated, methadone addiction can be devastating to a person’s life and health. Long-term abuse can affect the brain’s natural production of dopamine and serotonin, leading to serious brain chemistry changes.
How Is Methadone Abused?
Methadone comes as a tablet or liquid, which are both intended to be taken orally. Some individuals crush the pills and snort them, while others inject the liquid. These methods of abuse take methadone more quickly to the bloodstream for a heightened effect.
When a person takes methadone more often than prescribed or in higher doses, it is also considered abuse. Even those who use it properly may begin to crave its effects.
Over time, people develop a tolerance to methadone, requiring more to achieve the desired result. This leads some individuals to take dangerously high doses, fueling addiction and increasing the risk of overdose.
Dangers Of Methadone Overdose
Overdosing on methadone can be fatal. In the United States alone, 3,194 people died due to methadone overdose in 2017.
When someone takes too much methadone, they may experience euphoric feelings that are obvious to those around them, along with slurred speech. Loss of balance or decreased coordination—similar to what occurs with alcohol intoxication—are early signs of a methadone overdose.
If left untreated, methadone overdose can lead to unconsciousness with loud snoring and a brown discharge from the mouth. The average time of death after injection of a toxic dose of methadone is 5.1 to 6 hours, so it is vital to seek help immediately.
People can overdose on methadone for a variety of reasons. Often, tolerance to the drug causing the person to seek higher and higher doses is the leading cause.
Overdose can also occur if someone takes methadone while also using other central nervous system depressants, such as opioids, alcohol or benzodiazepines. Combining these substances can lead to severely depressed breathing, coma and death.
Methadone Addiction And Dependence
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that is marked by someone compulsively seeking and using methadone despite adverse consequences. Since methadone can change brain chemistry, the brain begins to rely on it, which makes it very difficult for someone to stop taking it without help.
Methadone addiction often goes hand-in-hand with physical dependence—the body’s inability to function normally without the drug. If someone is physically dependent, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking methadone.
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Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms
Because methadone works in the pain and reward centers of the brain, it can cause extremely painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This leads many people to continue taking the drug in order to avoid these unpleasant effects, which keeps them dependent and addicted.
Common methadone withdrawal symptoms include:
- sleep problems
- tearing or watering of the eyes
Medically-Supervised Detox For Methadone
At The Bluffs, we begin treatment for methadone addiction with a medically supervised detox program. This provides medical support for the painful withdrawal symptoms, which helps reduce the risk of relapse.
Methadone withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. At our inpatient detox facility, individuals receive 24-hour supervision while going through the withdrawal process. Our professional staff may administer medication to keep the person stabilized and relatively comfortable as they rid their body of methadone.
Treatment For Methadone Addiction
Detox is an important step in the addiction journey, but it is just the first step. Going through detox first ensures that a person is able to focus on treatment for their mental addiction, rather than fighting with physical cravings for methadone.
Our inpatient rehab program at The Bluffs is based on individualized treatment planning that aims to meet each person’s unique needs. This is done with a thorough assessment and a blend of evidence-based therapies such as yoga, recreation, adventure, and behavioral therapy.
Addiction treatment at The Bluffs takes a holistic approach to the problem of addiction. By addressing the root of addiction and nurturing a person’s mind, body, and spirit, we help struggling individuals achieve lasting recovery.
- Centers for Disease Control — Data Brief 329
- National Institutes of Health — Fatal Methadone Toxicity: Signs And Circumstances, And The Role Of Benzodiazepines
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Methadone