What Is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid medication that is sometimes used to treat heroin addiction or prescription opioid addiction. It is used to manage the withdrawal symptoms associated with addiction detox. It acts as a pain reliever and works by reducing symptoms of withdrawal without the high associated with opioids.

How Does Methadone Work?

Methadone works by taking over receptor sites in the brain that are affected using opioids or heroin. Methadone essentially blocks the sedative and euphoric feelings associated with opioid use. It also helps to reduce opioid cravings and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

What Are the Side-Effects of Methadone?

There are several side-effects associated with the use of methadone. It acts as a depressant to the central nervous system and can illicit the following side-effects:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach problems
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Shallow breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Mood changes
  • Trouble with coordination
  • Decreased sex drive or function
  • Flushed skin
  • Changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle
  • Snoring
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sweating
  • Vision problems

Serious Side Effects

When methadone is taken as prescribed, it doesn’t typically carry some of the more serious side effects. The following side-effects are usually only experienced when a person abuses methadone. They are however, serious enough to warrant medical attention if they do arise. Anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms should contact a physician or emergency services immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, or lips
  • Rash or hives

Warnings of Methadone Use

Aside from some of the serious side effects associated with methadone, the medication also comes with several warnings. Methadone can cause very serious or life-threatening problems with breathing in the first 24 to 72 hours after it is taken. It is important that someone taking methadone talks to their physician about any asthma or other breathing problems they have experienced in the past before starting on it. Other risk factors for problems breathing can include any lung problems such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Methadone has also shown risk for addiction and can be habit forming. People who have problems with drug or alcohol abuse run the risk of becoming dependent on methadone. People that develop a dependence on methadone will typically take larger dosages than prescribed and take it more frequently than they are supposed to. People with a history or depression or anxiety are also at a higher risk for abusing and developing a dependence on methadone.

Pregnant women should not take methadone. Doing so poses risk to their unborn baby. Women taking methadone while pregnant run the risk of their child developing severe or life-threating withdrawal symptoms after they are born. These can include: abnormal sleep, hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhoea, high-pitched crying, shaking, and failure to gain weight.

Methadone FAQ

How long does methadone treatment last?

People overcome addiction at different rates. There is no set time limit a person will be on methadone, as each person is highly individual in their recovery journey. When using methadone for addiction cessation, 12 months is typically recommended however, some patients may stay on methadone for years.

Is methadone just replacing one addiction for another?

No. When methadone is used as it is intended it works to stabilise drug levels in the brain and helps to greatly reduce cravings for heroin or other opioids.

Does methadone impair mental function?

No. Methadone has shown to have no effects on learning, memory, reaction time, and making complex decisions. People taking methadone can still work, go to school, drive, and perform in various occupational and personal endeavours.

External Links

Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition), NIH

Methadone treatment, AATOD

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