Methadone is an opioid drug that is prescribed to treat moderate pain caused by injury, surgery, or chronic illness. It is extremely similar to morphine and can be taken as a tablet, liquid or powder.
Methadone also has seen success as a form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. Also called “methadone maintenance therapy,” it is administered to help people in recovery from opioid addiction manage their withdrawal symptoms and avoid relapse. Methadone replaces the more powerful opioids in someone’s system, like heroin, morphine, or OxyContin but with much milder effects.
Methadone also works very slowly and has a long half-life, which makes it a good candidate for helping to treat withdrawal symptoms for a significant period without being strong enough for someone to get high on, provided they are taking it within the extremely strict dosage parameters.
To even take home a dose of methadone, someone must first meet specific federal eligibility criteria, but methadone can still be diverted for recreational and illicit use, and it often is. If someone is taking methadone outside of carefully prescribed doses, they will find themselves quickly becoming dependent on it, which can lead to addiction, overdose, and a wide range of serious health problems.
What Are the Signs of Methadone Addiction?
Spotting the signs of substance abuse or addiction is often much more difficult than someone might think. What is, in hindsight, a clear pattern of addictive behavior can be easily missed at the time, especially because the symptoms of abuse and even addiction do not appear all at the same time.
Because methadone is a prescription medication, people may be more likely to misuse and abuse it due to perceiving it as safe to do so, especially in comparison to opioids like heroin or fentanyl. Someone with a prescription for methadone may not even realize their misuse can escalate into addiction until it is too late.
Some common side effects associated with regular methadone abuse that can act as signals of a possible methadone addiction include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent constipation
- Excessive sweating
- Impaired coordination
- Sexual dysfunction
- Pain in joints, muscle, and bone
One of the most significant transition points between methadone abuse and methadone addiction is a loss of control over use. Someone who has become addicted to methadone will use methadone compulsively. They can’t control how much or how often they use, so instead, they seek it out obsessively.
When methadone is the sole focus, the user will prioritize it over nearly everything else in their lives. The person will generally begin exhibiting behavior consistent with substance use disorders, including continuing to use despite the negative impact on their relationships, finances, health, and more.
Other signs of methadone addiction include:
- Taking methadone outside of the prescribed dosage
- Taking methadone without a prescription or medical supervision
- Increasing tolerance to methadone’s effects
- Experiencing cravings and withdrawal when not using methadone
- Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn
- A noticeable decline in performance at work or school
- Money or valuables going missing to pay for methadone
- Lying about or hiding methadone use
- Unable to feel “normal” unless using methadone
- Legal problems resulting from methadone use
- Unable to stop using methadone after trying to quit
If you have been experiencing these symptoms or have recognized them in the behavior of a family member or friend, do not wait to seek help from a professional addiction treatment center. Addiction is a progressive disease, which means the longer you go without treatment, the worse it will get.
What Is Involved in Methadone Addiction Treatment?
When it comes to treating almost any addictive substance, the top priority is to remove all traces of drugs or alcohol, along with any other accompanying toxins, from someone’s system. This process is known as medical detoxification, and it is meant to stabilize someone, treat acute intoxication, and stem any further mental or physical damage caused by having the drug in their body.
Methadone detox should not be carried out without the supervision of an experienced medical detox professional. While the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid detox are generally on the milder side compared to other substances and mostly flu-like, methadone withdrawal is generally significantly more severe with a high risk of relapse.
Because of this, the best way to ensure a safe methadone detox and remove the danger of a potential relapse is to undergo detox at a professional treatment center.
Once detox has been completed, the next step in methadone addiction treatment is to enter either an inpatient or outpatient addiction recovery treatment program. Inpatient treatment involves living at a facility that gives clients 24/7 access to medical and therapeutic care and can be extremely beneficial to those with co-occurring disorders or a history of relapse. If someone’s methadone addiction is still in the early stages and they are in good physical health, they may prefer outpatient treatment, wherein they will keep living at home and commute to the facility for treatment sessions.
During addiction recovery treatment, clients work with doctors, clinicians, and staff to address the underlying issues at the root of their addiction as well as gain a better understanding of their addictive behaviors to manage them in a more effective and positive way. This is done through the use of different addiction therapies and treatments, which are typically customized into a treatment plan based on what will be most useful for the person in treatment.
While treatment for opioid use disorders will often involve medical-maintenance therapy through the use of drugs like Suboxone or methadone, if someone has been addicted to methadone, it is unlikely that this form of treatment will be used.
Some Common Therapies and Treatment Types Include:
- Behavioral therapy
- EMDR therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Holistic therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Addiction education classes
- Relapse prevention planning
How Dangerous Is Methadone?
While methadone can be a beneficial drug when used correctly, abusing methadone can easily lead to an overdose, especially if someone combines it with other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines to increase its sedative effects, greatly increasing the risk of a rapid, lethal overdose.
Methadone Overdose Symptoms Include:
- Dangerously slow and shallow breathing
- Extreme drowsiness
- Constricted pupils
- Weak pulse
- Bluish skin around lips and fingernails
- Dangerously low blood pressure
- Intestinal spasms
If someone is exhibiting the signs of a methadone overdose, it is vital they receive emergency medical attention as soon as possible to avoid death as well as major brain and organ damage due to a lack of oxygen.
Methadone Abuse Statistics
- According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 3.2 million Americans age 12 or older regularly misuse methadone and other prescription opioids.
- In 2017, methadone was involved in more than 3,000 overdose deaths in the United States.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids like methadone for chronic pain misuse them.
Start Your Recovery Journey Today
While methadone has seen success in helping people with opioid use disorders, it is still addictive and can be extremely difficult to overcome. But if you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to methadone, Serenity at Summit can help provide the care and resources needed to achieve lasting recovery.