Methadone is a strong painkiller with abuse potential similar to morphine. Like other opioids, abuse is dangerous and may cause overdose.
Methadone Abuse And Addiction
Methadone is a narcotic pain reliever (opioid) effective for treating opioid dependence and addiction. If suffering from heroin or other opioid addiction, a person may enroll in a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that uses methadone to combat opioid cravings and withdrawal. While methadone can be useful for treating opioid addiction during treatment and recovery, taking too much may lead to abuse and addiction.
What Is Methadone?
When taken as prescribed and directed, methadone is safe and effective for treating opioid addiction. Methadone works in a way similar to other opioids, and changes how the body and brain respond to pain. It’s useful for treating opioid addiction because it blocks the effects of commonly abused opioids including oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and heroin.
Methadone usually comes in tablet form but is also available as a liquid and dissolvable tablet. For the general treatment of pain, methadone is prescribed to be taken every 8-12 hours. If a person receives methadone for addiction treatment, the dosage will likely be based on the severity of addiction and individual needs.
Methadone should always be taken as directed because of its potential for abuse. Abuse occurs when a person takes methadone in ways other than directed, in larger amounts, or without a prescription. People with a history of substance abuse are more likely to abuse methadone. This can disrupt treating opioid dependence and lead to further addiction.
Although methadone is effective for addiction treatment, abusing it may produce euphoric effects similar to other opioids. Euphoria, or a feel-good high, is likely why people abuse opioids. If a person becomes hooked on methadone, they’ll likely show various signs and symptoms of abuse.
Signs And Symptoms Of Methadone Abuse
Abusing methadone is likely to cause an increase in side effects. Side effects of methadone abuse may include:
- difficulty urinating
- dry mouth
- insomnia (difficulty sleeping or staying asleep)
- mood changes
- stomach pain
- vision problems
- weight gain
Side effects are more likely to occur when a person starts using methadone. When taken as directed, many of these side effects will diminish over time. But, abusing methadone is likely to increase the frequency of side effects. This may also include extreme drowsiness, nausea, and lack of sexual desire or performance.
A person abusing methadone is likely to show signs of drug-seeking behavior. They may see methadone as their top priority, and neglect personal hygiene and other responsibilities at home, work, or school. Other signs of abuse include craving methadone, compulsively using it, showing poor judgment relating to it, and continuing to use methadone despite harm to themselves and others.
Injecting 10-20 mg of methadone will likely produce effects similar to morphine. A person suffering from addiction may also attempt to enhance the effects of methadone by using it with other drugs or alcohol. Abusing methadone, especially with other opioids and alcohol, is extremely dangerous.
The Dangers Of Methadone Addiction
Methadone should never be taken with other drugs or alcohol. Drinking alcohol with methadone can be life-threatening and lead to serious effects. Taking methadone with other prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and morphine may also to lead to overdose and death.
Overdose happens on purpose or by accident and occurs when a person takes too much. Symptoms of methadone overdose may include:
- blue fingernails and lips
- cold and clammy skin
- muscle pain and twitches
- slowed breathing
- tiny pupils
- weak pulse
Methadone overdose may lead to seizures, pneumonia, and brain damage from a lack of oxygen. Overdose can cause
a person to stop breathing, which is the main cause of death during an overdose. If a person is overdosing, 9-1-1 should be contacted immediately. The faster the person receives medical attention, the better the outcome.
Other life-threatening symptoms may arise from mixing methadone with benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium. These symptoms may include lightheadedness, unusual dizziness, extreme sleepiness, unresponsiveness, and breathing problems.
While methadone abuse comes with many dangers, stopping use can be difficult. Like other opioids, abuse is likely to lead to dependence. Dependence means the person will experience uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal when they stop use.
Methadone Withdrawal And Detox
When prescribed and taken as directed, methadone is likely to help symptoms of opioid withdrawal. But, when abused, withdrawal symptoms may occur from taking too much methadone or using it not as directed.
Once dependence occurs, the body needs time to adjust and recover after stopping use. This period is called withdrawal and is likely to make a person sick, unsatisfied, and annoyed. Similar to withdrawal from other opioids, symptoms of methadone withdrawal may include:
- abdominal cramping
- a runny nose
- muscle pain
- watery eyes
The length and severity of withdrawal depend on how much and how often a person took methadone. While symptoms are usually not life-threatening, they can be very uncomfortable. Due to discomfort, many people may use more methadone or other drugs in hopes to self-medicate or alleviate symptoms.
To avoid further drug use, a person may require a medically supervised detoxification, also known as detox. A medically supervised detox usually occurs at a hospital or inpatient treatment center to provide safety and comfort during the worst of withdrawal. Other benefits of a medically supervised detox include support from staff, access to medications, and careful monitoring and observation to track a person’s progress.
While detox is a necessary element for recovery, it’s not the treatment for addiction. To treat addiction effectively, a series of behavioral therapies, as well as medications, should follow to give a person the best chances for recovery.
Treatment For Methadone Abuse And Addiction
Methadone is one of three government approved drugs used to treat opioid addiction and dependence. While treating opioid addiction would likely involve the use of methadone to reduce drug cravings and symptoms of withdrawal, a person suffering from methadone abuse and addiction will need to consult a specialist to determine which medication is best for treatment.
Treating opioid addiction usually involves a combination of medications and behavioral therapy. Medications can help lessen dependence and withdrawal, and focus a person on the growth and healing needed for recovery. Behavioral therapy is the most common form of addiction treatment and is essential for remaining sober during recovery.
Behavioral therapy is wide-ranging, and no one therapy is best for everyone. Forms of behavioral therapy may include one on one therapy, group sessions, or other more intensive therapies like motivational incentives or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
It’s a common misconception that a person must want to stop using drugs for treatment to work. This is false. Most addiction counselors, therapists, or other specialists are trained to motivate a person to stay clean and engage in recovery. The sooner a person receives treatment, the better their chances for recovery.
Chances for recovery are likely the greatest at an inpatient treatment center. Inpatient treatment centers will house a person for the duration of treatment, and usually, have strict procedures to ensure relapse does not occur. These centers are best for people with severe addiction, and usually, offer all the necessary components of effective treatment in the same place.
To be effective, necessary components of treatment include withdrawal support, medications, peer support, treatment for other mental or physical conditions, and behavioral therapy. All of these are likely offered at inpatient treatment centers, making it a good option for most.
Call now for more information on treating methadone abuse and addiction.
MedlinePlus—Opiate and opioid withdrawal
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—Methadone
U.S. National Library of Medicine—Methadone