Methadone is a safe and effective medication for the treatment of opioid addiction and dependence; however, because it is an opioid, it does have the potential for misuse. People who misuse this medication are at risk of developing a methadone addiction.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of opioid dependence and addiction.1
It is often used in the short term to manage acute opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms, and over longer periods as methadone maintenance or part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. Medication-assisted treatment consists of a combination of an opioid addiction medication like methadone and counseling to provide comprehensive addiction care.1
Because methadone binds to the same receptors in the brain as opioids do, it’s able to relieve opioid cravings, alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of other opioids, and reduce the risk of relapse—all without causing the intense, euphoric high of opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers.1Call 800-994-1867 Get Help Now - Available 24/7 Who Answers?
Is Methadone Addictive?
Like other opioids, methadone can be addictive. But if you take your methadone exactly as prescribed, the chance of addiction is extremely low. And ultimately, taking methadone is far safer and has fewer risks than using opioids of abuse like heroin, fentanyl, or oxycodone.2
When you take a medication like methadone, you may develop a physiological dependence. This is not the same thing as addiction and is a normal adaptation to methadone. It simply means that your body has adjusted to the presence of the medication and if you were to suddenly stop, you may experience methadone withdrawal symptoms, which is typical and to be expected. In order to prevent these withdrawal symptoms, your doctor will create a tapering schedule in which you gradually wean off of the methadone so your body can acclimate to the lower doses over time.
The risk of developing a methadone addiction increases if you misuse this medication in order to get high. Methadone misuse can occur in a number of ways, such as:
- Taking more methadone than prescribed
- Taking more frequent doses than prescribed
- Mixing methadone with alcohol or other drugs
- Injecting or snorting methadone
These practices are dangerous and unpredictable and can lead to compulsive methadone use that may require professional treatment.
Signs of Methadone Addiction
The signs of methadone addiction are similar to the signs of an addiction to another opioid and are outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Signs and symptoms of methadone addiction may include:3
- Taking methadone in larger doses or over a longer period than originally planned
- Experiencing a persistent desire or failed attempts to control or quit methadone use
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and recovering from methadone
- Experiencing strong cravings to use methadone
- Failing to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work due to methadone use
- Continuing methadone use despite interpersonal problems caused or worsened by methadone use
- Neglecting important occupational or recreational activities due to methadone use
- Using methadone in dangerous situations
- Continuing to use methadone despite physical or psychological issues caused or worsened by methadone use
- Developing tolerance, meaning you need higher amounts to feel the desired effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly quit methadone
Methadone withdrawal symptoms are likely to be mild of you are taking your methadone as directed, but in the case of methadone addiction, your withdrawal symptoms are likely to be more severe and distressing. Methadone withdrawal symptoms may include:3
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Profound sweating
- Goose bumps
- Dilated pupils
- Increased sensitivity to pain
If you are concerned about your or someone else’s methadone misuse, call 800-994-1867Who Answers? to speak to a treatment support specialist. We can help you find a rehab near you.Call 800-994-1867 Get Help Now - Available 24/7 Who Answers?
How to Prevent Methadone Addiction
The best way to prevent methadone addiction is to avoid misusing or abusing your medication. Here are some tips on how to prevent methadone misuse and ensure your and everyone’s safety:1
- Avoid alcohol while taking methadone.
- Don’t drive if you are feeling drowsy or dizzy from methadone.
- Only take the amount you are prescribed.
- Make sure to take your methadone at the time prescribed.
- If you miss a dose, don’t take an extra dose.
- Store your medication at room temperature and away from any light.
- Avoid sharing your methadone with anyone else.
- Get rid of unused methadone safely.
- Prevent pets and children from accidentally using methadone by keeping it in a safe place, out of reach.
If you have any questions about your methadone prescription, call your doctor right away. Never adjust your dose or schedule without your physician’s permission.
What Should You Do if You Become Addicted to Methadone?
If you or someone you know develops an addiction to methadone, a formal addiction treatment program can help. Methadone rehab occurs on either an inpatient or outpatient basis.
Inpatient treatment offers around-the-clock care and a highly-structured routine, free of everyday triggers. Many people benefit from inpatient rehab because they are able to focus solely on their recovery without distractions or stressors. These programs tend to last between 30 and 90 days, depending on a patient’s needs. Inpatient methadone rehabs are all different but most of them offer a myriad of therapies like family therapy, group counseling, and psychotherapy, as well as support group meetings, aftercare planning, and relapse prevention education. Once you’re done with an inpatient program, you may choose to enter step-down care at an outpatient program to continue receiving support and guidance.
On the other hand, outpatient rehab offers more flexibility. You attend individual and group therapy during the day and return home during non-treatment hours. Many people find this type of care beneficial since they can continue working or fulfilling other obligations while recovering from a methadone addiction. Outpatient programs tend to cost less than inpatient rehabs, as well, though both types of treatment tend to be covered by most insurance policies. Make sure to check with your insurance provider to learn more about your plan details, deductible, co-pay, co-insurance, and more.
Ultimately, the right methadone addiction treatment program for you depends on your individual needs, addiction, and experiences. Things to consider when choosing a program include:
- Treatment approach (holistic vs. faith-based vs. secular)
- Therapies offered
- Features and amenities
- Insurance accepted
- Patient-to-staff ratio
- Additional treatment modalities like mindfulness or yoga
- Program policies and rules
- Program credentials
- Staff licensing
- Treatment setting (beach vs. rural vs. mountains)
The search for the right treatment program can be demanding and often confusing, but we are here to help. Give our 24/7 helpline at call at 800-994-1867Who Answers? to speak to a rehab support specialist.
Is Methadone Safe?
Methadone is effective and safe when taken exactly as directed by your doctor. Because methadone treatment is tailored to meet your unique needs, you should only follow your specific treatment plan, as someone else may have a different dose or formulation.1
In order to ensure safety when taking methadone, you’ll want to share your complete medical history with your provider, including any medications you are currently taking. Some medications may interact with methadone and cause unwanted or dangerous side effects.1
Side Effects of Methadone
Otherwise, common and relatively mild methadone side effects may include:1
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slowed breathing
Serious methadone side effects that require medical attention:1
- Extremely difficult breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
- Hives or rash
- Swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, and face
- Faintness or lightheadedness
Call 911 if you or someone else experiences any of the above symptoms. When taking methadone as directed, there is very little to no risk of overdose; however, misusing methadone could increase the risk of overdose. Signs of a methadone overdose include:2
- Slurred speech
- Slow pulse
- Shallow or stopped breathing
- Frothing at the mouth
- Excessive drowsiness
If you suspect you or someone else has overdosed on methadone, call 911. Administer Narcan (naloxone), the opioid overdose medication, if you have it on hand, then monitor the person’s vital signs. You may need to administer naloxone a second time if they begin overdosing again. Make sure you stay by the person’s side until first responders arrive.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Methadone.
- Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 6, Methadone maintenance treatment.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).