Understanding the Risks of Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Methadone maintenance treatment is a very beneficial treatment type, especially for those who have been abusing heroin and injection drugs for a long time. Methadone can help get a person off of these dangerous drugs and back into a life that belongs to them. However, like any medication and treatment regimen, there are risks of methadone maintenance treatment. Understanding these risks is important to your successful recovery.

Abuse and Addiction

CESAR states, “Although methadone is intended to prevent narcotics addiction and dependence along with associated withdrawal symptoms, there is still the possibility of becoming addicted.” Those who take methadone are still at risk for abusing and getting addicted to the drug as it is “an extremely physically addictive drug” in its own right.

This can usually be avoided by attending a methadone maintenance clinic (rather than getting methadone some other way illegally) and by following the prescriptions of your doctor. If you feel that you need to have the medication administered by a doctor each time so that you do not have the potential of abusing it, it may be necessary and it is usually done this way in the beginning. Abuse of and addiction to methadone are risks of methadone maintenance treatment, but they can usually be curbed with a doctor’s care.


methadone dangers

It is possible to overdose on methadone, which is why dosage restrictions are so important.

In the same way, methadone overdose is also possible. If someone takes too much of this medication (either intentionally or unintentionally) there is a possibility for overdose and even death. The NLM lists the symptoms of methadone overdose. They are:

  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • No breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Cool, clammy, or blue skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Limp muscles

When someone experiences methadone overdose, they can start to breathe very shallowly or stop breathing altogether. Methadone overdose can cause death. In many cases, individuals use methadone treatment as a detox and do not attend full addiction treatment afterward. This can lead to deadly overdose, and according to the NLM, “most opiate overdose deaths occur in persons who have just withdrawn or detoxed,” as they do not realize their tolerances for the drugs have lowered, relapse back to drug abuse, and overdose.


Those who go into methadone maintenance treatment still have the potential for relapse. Methadone does not protect a person from wanting heroin, although it does block the euphoric effects of opioid drugs and relieves cravings to a point.

The CDC states that methadone can help prevent relapse and that “most of those who discontinue methadone maintenance treatment later relapse to heroin use.” While this is a possibility and a concern, it should not keep an individual from attempting to attend methadone maintenance treatment and find a successful recovery.

There are risks to methadone maintenance, but it is also a very successful program. According to Harvard Medical School, “More than 100,000 American addicts are now using methadone as a maintenance treatment.” This treatment regimen has been around since the 1960s and helped many people stop abusing opioids; still, those individuals had to recognize and understand the risks of the treatment.

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