In the hopes of finding an effective treatment for substance abuse, many treatment centers incorporate medication-assisted therapies. One popular method to help people struggling with addiction is methadone. However, methadone side effects can be quite uncomfortable and put someone in danger of furthering their addiction.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid that can help with addiction to opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers. However, methadone alone can be dangerous; it’s most useful when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy and other therapy methods.
It works by binding to the same opiate receptors, like most opioids drugs. However, methadone stays in the body anywhere between one to three days, which helps block euphoric effects from opioid abuse. Also, methadone helps lessen withdrawal symptoms, which is why it’s often included in the initial detox process.
What is Methadone Used For?
Methadone has been around since the early 1970s with the popular methadone clinics and methadone maintenance programs. Initially, it was intended as a way to fight the heroin epidemic and prevent relapse.
Today, methadone is still part of the medical detox process and is used to treat opioid addiction. However, in 2009 almost one in three prescription painkiller deaths involved methadone. To prevent this from happening today, methadone programs must happen under medical attention, administered only by a certified doctor or pharmacist, and only specific treatment centers can administer these programs.
How Does Methadone Work?
Methadone works on the brain by attaching to the same receptors as other opioid drugs, like heroin or OxyContin. Typically, methadone remains in the body for about 2-3 days, which helps block the effects of opiates in drug abuse treatment. It can also lessen painful withdrawal symptoms from opioids and other drugs.
However, methadone can also build quickly in the body and remain in the bloodstream for a long time. This is why the dosing of methadone needs to be closely monitored by a doctor. When someone doesn’t use a methadone prescription as ordered, they can easily experience side effects. A doctor will also assess for any drug interactions that could occur.
Methadone Side Effects
Methadone is a member of the opioid family; its side effects are very similar to opioids. However, methadone side effects can vary on a wide range of conditions including, age, the severity of the addiction, length of use, and more.
Short-term Methadone Side Effects
The short or initial methadone side effects are very similar to those associated with other opioids. These include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired cognition or confusion
- Impaired balance or coordination
- Sexual impotence
Some people may also experience initial severe side effects from methadone use. These are very common when someone experiences an allergic reaction. Common severe side effects include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Depressed respiratory function
- Slowed breathing and breathing problems
- Anaphylactic directions
In addition to the typical physical side effects, people might also experience psychological side effects, including hallucinations, depression, paranoia, and suicidal ideations.
Long-term Methadone Side Effects
Methadone is meant for short-term use; when people use methadone for more extended periods, dependency and addiction are possible. Even though methadone is part of addiction treatment, it is still an opioid medication, which means it has a high potential for addiction, especially when someone uses it for a long time.
The most dangerous long-term methadone side effect is developing a dependence that can escalate to a full-blown addiction. Some of these can be life-threatening side effects. Even if someone starts using methadone through a prescription, they can easily find the drug on the streets or in other ways. While not everyone reports side effects, this intense, long-term methadone abuse can lead to:
- Nerve damage
- Liver issues
- Brain damage
- Cognitive decline
The Risk of Methadone Abuse
Every year, more and more people find themselves suffering from prescription pain medication addiction. More and more doctors choose these drugs to treat pain, despite the risk of developing a drug addiction. Although the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend methadone as a prescription painkiller for these types of pain, over 4 million prescriptions were written for methadone in 2009.
Unless carefully monitored by a medical professional, methadone use is dangerous, and abuse or addiction can lead to severe consequences. Remember, methadone is long-acting, which means it can build up in the body. When people start misusing prescriptions, they can suffer an overdose.
Methadone’s half-life, depending on dose, ranges anywhere from 8 to 59 hours, while the analgesic or painkilling effects last up to 8 hours. However, this means it is less useful for treating chronic pain conditions related to diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or osteoarthritis. The painkilling effects do not last as long as the drug remains in the body.
Recreational Methadone Abuse
Many individuals find themselves using methadone for recreational purposes. People who abuse methadone are likely to find it from friends and family members or practice doctor shopping. When an individual abuses methadone for recreational purposes, the person is at a much higher risk of developing an addiction to this medication.
However, even more dangerously, they’re also prone to experiencing withdrawal symptoms that can include:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Chills or fever
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Once recreational methadone users experience these symptoms, they’re more likely to increase their dose, leading to an overdose.
Treatment for Methadone Addiction
Whether someone developed an addiction through recreational use or as part of an opioid addiction regimen, treatment for methadone addiction requires a medical detox program and a comprehensive therapy approach.
Because methadone is an opioid, treatment must start with medical detox to manage any withdrawal symptoms. In some instances, individuals will be gradually tapered off methadone, whereas individuals may be switched to another medication, such as buprenorphine, in other cases.
A significant part of addiction treatment is therapy. Speaking with a therapist through individual sessions, attending 12-step programs, and going to group counseling sessions can help recovery. Some evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) alongside other efforts can help people identify the underlying causes of addiction.
Sometimes, people struggling with substance use disorders also suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, etc. Most of the time, people fall for drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication, or they end up misusing prescription drugs. When this happens, seeking a dual diagnosis treatment program can help them treat both conditions simultaneously to improve their chances of recovery better.
Popular Methadone Treatment Options
- Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Since many long-term addicts often struggle with mental illness, a dual diagnosis program can get them the help needed to treat both conditions simultaneously.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Most of the time, these sorts of addictions develop due to compulsive behaviors that must be treated at the source. CBT is one of the most popular evidence-based treatments to treat addiction.
- Individual Therapy: One-on-one therapy sessions set the foundation for recovery. Having a safe and confidential space to discuss past experiences, struggles, and more is paramount for healing. These individual sessions often use a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach to address the addictive patterns and help patients understand their triggers better and learn new coping mechanisms.
- Group Therapy: Most treatment programs will incorporate one or more group settings, including 12-step groups, support groups for those with a dual diagnosis disorder, and other forms of group therapy that help build a supportive community.
- Family Therapy: Working with loved ones to rebuild damaged relationships can be an essential aspect of recovery, especially if someone is returning after treatment. Empowering family members to participate in the treatment process will also allow them to heal uniquely. Family therapy helps build positive communication skills that will help promote healing.
Walking into sober living can be scary at first. Returning home to the same environment that fostered the addiction in the first place can be a powerful trigger. Most addicts in recovery must commit to lifestyle changes to maintain sobriety. Continue attending 12-step meetings, connecting with the recovery community, and fostering a relationship with a sponsor or a therapist is vital for recovery.
Before leaving treatment, many patients enroll in life skills development programs that help them feel prepared to go back to normalcy. In these programs, patients learn necessary skills that can go from finding a job, managing their finances, and eating healthily.
Finally, recovery isn’t possible without the right support system by your side. No one can do it alone. Recovering addicts are encouraged to build a support system; having sober friends and family members by your side will help you find fulfillment outside rehab.
Substance use disorders don’t disappear after treatment. It’s crucial to maintain a comprehensive aftercare plan that includes mental health care, alternative therapies, and ongoing substance abuse relapse prevention treatment.
Finding Help for Addiction
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorders, ask for help immediately. Please, call Lighthouse Recovery Institute today and speak with our addiction specialists to learn more about our comprehensive and personalized addiction treatment programs.
Our addiction center offers unique and personalized treatment plans because we believe no two addictions are alike. The journey towards recovery is a long one, but together and with your family and friends’ support, we’ll make it.