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Methadone Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, & Treatment

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Methadone Addiction Chattanooga, TN
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Methadone is a regulated prescription medication primarily used to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and treat pain. Classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the FDA, methadone carries a significant risk for abuse and dependency.

Individuals taking methadone may develop a tolerance to the drug, necessitating higher doses to achieve the same effects, which can lead to increased risk of medication misuse and potential addiction. Dependence on methadone can also trigger withdrawal symptoms if usage is suddenly stopped. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor dosages closely under medical supervision to manage these risks effectively. Continue reading our blog to learn more about the signs and symptoms of methadone addiction, abuse, withdrawal, and overdose.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that doctors often prescribe to manage moderate to severe pain. Beyond pain relief, it is crucial in the treatment of opiate addiction, notably for heroin, by functioning on the same opioid receptors as morphine and heroin. This helps stabilize patients and reduce withdrawal symptoms during recovery efforts.

Classified as a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States, methadone is recognized for its legitimate medical uses but also carries a high potential for dependence. Its misuse is illegal and can result in significant mental and physical health problems. Methadone shares this classification with other opioids like hydrocodone and morphine, emphasizing its potential for abuse alongside its medical benefits.

Is Methadone an Opiate?

Opioids are a broad class of drugs known for their ability to bind to opioid receptors in the body, and they can be categorized as natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic based on their origin. Opiates specifically refer to natural opioids derived from the opium poppy, such as heroin and morphine. Although “opioids” and “opiates” are terms often used interchangeably, they are distinct categories.

Methadone, classified as a synthetic opioid, is manufactured through chemical processes in laboratories, not derived from natural sources. Consequently, while methadone is indeed an opioid due to its chemical action on opioid receptors, it is not considered an opiate.

The Risks of Methadone Addiction

Methadone is commonly used both as a pain reliever and a treatment for heroin addiction, viewed as a safer alternative to other opioids. Yet, its safety record is not without concerns. According to a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, there has been a rise in methadone-related fatalities, with 84 percent of these deaths due to accidental overdoses. These overdoses often involve methadone used alone or mixed with other substances, including both illicit drugs and prescription medications, or alcohol.

Most methadone-related deaths occur among individuals prescribed the drug for chronic pain management. However, about 8 percent of these fatalities are linked to its use in treating heroin addiction. This highlights the potential for methadone abuse and the risk of the drug being diverted for non-medical, illicit uses. Such statistics underscore the complexities of using medication-assisted treatments for addiction and signal the need for careful oversight and consideration of alternative treatment approaches.

Can You Become Addicted to Methadone?

Methadone is commonly used to treat opioid addiction and is effective due to its milder sedative effects compared to stronger opioids like morphine or heroin. Although it does not induce significant euphoria, methadone can lead to physical dependency with prolonged use, potentially escalating to abuse and addiction. Properly administered, methadone is a valuable component of addiction recovery programs.

To maximize its benefits and minimize risks, consider the following guidelines:

  • Individualized Treatment: Methadone dosage is carefully tailored to each individual’s needs. It is critical that the medication is taken only by the person to whom it is prescribed, even if others have similar symptoms or conditions.
  • Adherence to Prescriptions: Always follow the prescription exactly. Do not adjust doses on your own, and never take more than prescribed, even if a dose is missed. Consult a healthcare professional if the medication doesn’t seem effective.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Do not consume alcohol while undergoing methadone treatment as it can increase the risk of adverse effects.
  • Safety Precautions: Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery while on methadone due to its sedative effects.
  • Proper Storage and Disposal: Store methadone at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, and in a secure location out of reach of children and others. Safely dispose of any unused doses.

It’s important to distinguish between physical dependence and addiction. While long-term use of methadone can lead to dependence, akin to managing conditions like diabetes or asthma with ongoing medication, addiction involves compulsive misuse despite harmful consequences. Methadone, when used correctly under medical supervision, remains an effective strategy for managing opioid addiction, with its advantages significantly outweighing potential risks.

Why is Methadone Addictive?

Methadone acts as a full opioid agonist, which means it binds strongly to opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the body. Its long-acting nature helps block the euphoric effects that opioids provide, which is particularly beneficial in preventing relapse in individuals recovering from opioid addiction.

Despite its therapeutic benefits, methadone carries a high potential for abuse and dependence, making it addictive. The drug’s ability to build tolerance in users is particularly concerning. Over time, individuals may require increasingly higher doses to experience the same effects, potentially leading to methadone misuse. This misuse, characterized by taking larger amounts of the drug than prescribed, fosters both physical and psychological dependence, escalating the risk of developing a full-blown addiction. This dependency cycle highlights the need for careful monitoring and management when prescribing and using methadone.

Methadone Addiction

Methadone can lead to tolerance if used long-term. Tolerance occurs when increasing doses of methadone are required to achieve the same pain-relieving or therapeutic effects. This need for higher doses can tempt individuals to consume more methadone than prescribed, potentially leading to abuse and addiction.

In the context of addiction treatment, prolonged methadone use can similarly foster tolerance and subsequent addiction. Furthermore, individuals undergoing methadone therapy may use the medication to stave off withdrawal symptoms from heroin or other opioids. According to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, this pattern allows users to temporarily halt other drug use without facing severe withdrawal symptoms. Consequently, methadone can inadvertently facilitate the continuation of drug use rather than promoting complete cessation.

This dual risk underscores the need for careful monitoring and management of methadone use, whether for pain relief or as part of addiction treatment, to prevent the escalation into dependency and addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Addiction

Signs of Methadone Addiction

Although methadone is prescribed to help manage opioid addiction, it is important to remember that methadone itself is an opioid and can be addictive. Recognizing the signs of methadone addiction is crucial for adjusting treatment effectively.

The symptoms of methadone addiction are similar to those observed with other opioids and include:

  • Intense Cravings: Feeling a strong, uncontrollable desire to use methadone.
  • Daytime Drowsiness: Experiencing increased sleepiness during the day, along with changes in overall sleep patterns.
  • Weight Loss: Notable, unexplained weight loss over a period.
  • Flu-like Symptoms: Suffering from fever, fatigue, body aches, and headaches that resemble flu symptoms.
  • Neglect of Personal Hygiene: Showing a significant decline in grooming and personal care.
  • Social Withdrawal: Avoiding interactions with family and friends, often to hide substance use.
  • Theft: Stealing money or items from family, friends, or others to support their habit.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Experiencing physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug.

If you or someone you know is showing these signs, it may indicate a developing or existing addiction to methadone. It is essential to seek professional help to address these issues and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Methadone?

The time it takes to develop an addiction to methadone, like other opioids, varies widely and is influenced by several individual factors. There is no uniform duration for how quickly one can become addicted, as it depends on a range of personal and environmental factors.

These factors include:

  • Genetics: Inherited traits can affect susceptibility to addiction.
  • Specific Drug: The type of opioid and its potency.
  • Duration of Use: How long the drug has been used.
  • Personal Substance Use History: Previous experiences with substance abuse.

Additional risk factors that can accelerate the path to addiction include:

  • Family History of Substance Abuse: Genetic predispositions and home environment impacts.
  • Associations with High-risk Individuals: Influences from peers or social circles involved in substance use.
  • Criminal Activity History: Involvement in environments where drug use is more common.
  • Stressful Life Events: High stress can increase the likelihood of turning to substances for relief.

Addiction development can vary significantly among individuals—some may experience a gradual onset, while for others, it might progress more swiftly. Understanding these factors is crucial for recognizing the risks and managing the use of methadone responsibly.

Long-Term Effects of Methadone Use

While methadone is a critical component in the treatment of opioid addiction and certain types of chronic pain, its long-term use, even when administered correctly, can lead to serious physical and mental health issues. These issues are often akin to those associated with opioid abuse.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), long-term effects of methadone can include:

  • Respiratory Issues: Methadone can cause lung and breathing problems.
  • Cardiac Concerns: There is a risk of developing heart problems.
  • Mental Health and Neurological Damage: Prolonged use may lead to mental health disorders or even brain damage.
  • Hypoxia: Methadone can suppress respiration, leading to dangerously low oxygen levels in the body.

For women, the risks extend to reproductive health:

  • Menstrual Cycle Disruptions: Long-term methadone use can affect menstrual cycles.
  • Pregnancy Complications: Adjusting dosages during pregnancy may lead to complications.

Additionally, long-term opiate abuse, including methadone, increases the risk of a fatal overdose. This risk is particularly high if tolerance leads to continually higher doses, or if a user relapses to a high dose after a period of abstinence.

These potential risks highlight the importance of careful management and monitoring of methadone use to mitigate adverse effects and support safe, effective treatment outcomes.

Methadone Withdrawal

Methadone, known for its long half-life, often begins to manifest withdrawal symptoms approximately 24 to 36 hours after the last administered dose. The duration of these symptoms can extend from several weeks to as long as six months. Recognizing the symptoms of methadone withdrawal is crucial for those in recovery and their support networks.

Methadone withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety: Feeling heightened levels of stress and nervousness.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Experiencing difficulty in falling or staying asleep.
  • Restlessness: A constant, overwhelming need to move.
  • Sweating: Increased perspiration without physical exertion.
  • Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and a feeling of being worn out.
  • Respiratory Issues: Runny nose and watery eyes are common.
  • Digestive Problems: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can occur.
  • Muscle Pain: General aches and pains in the muscles.
  • Drug Cravings: Strong desires to use methadone again.
  • Depression: Low mood and lack of motivation, which can be severe.

Understanding these symptoms can prepare individuals and caregivers to manage the withdrawal process effectively. Proper medical supervision is recommended to safely navigate the complexities of methadone withdrawal and to support recovery in the most effective way.

Methadone Addiction Treatment Chattanooga, TN

Can you Overdose on Methadone?

Yes, it is indeed possible to overdose on methadone. Methadone overdose is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. If you suspect someone has overdosed on methadone, call 911 without delay so that emergency services can promptly address the situation and manage the overdose symptoms and any life-threatening complications that may arise.

The signs and symptoms of a methadone overdose can vary but commonly include:

  • Pinpoint Pupils: Noticeably small pupils.
  • Reduced Breathing: Breathing that is unusually slow or difficult.
  • Extreme Sleepiness: Significant drowsiness or difficulty staying awake.
  • Cold, Clammy Skin: Skin that feels cool and moist to the touch.
  • Unresponsiveness: Difficulty waking or responding to external stimuli.
  • Limp Body: A marked lack of muscle tone or control.

More severe symptoms of a methadone overdose may escalate to:

  • Low Blood Pressure: A drop in blood pressure, potentially leading to fainting or shock.
  • Decreased Heart Rate: A heart rate that is slower than normal, which can be life-threatening.
  • Coma: A deep state of unconsciousness.
  • Cardiac Arrest: A sudden stop in heart function, which can be fatal without immediate treatment.

Understanding these symptoms is crucial for anyone involved with methadone, whether prescribed or otherwise, to ensure prompt and effective response in the event of an overdose.

Methadone Addiction Treatment in Chattanooga, TN

Methadone, while not as intensely addictive as heroin, presents significant challenges when discontinuing use. Withdrawal symptoms from methadone can be difficult to manage without professional help. Thankfully, Iris Wellness Group is here to support individuals through the process of withdrawal and to ultimately overcome addiction permanently.

If you or someone you know is struggling with methadone addiction in Chattanooga, TN, do not hesitate to reach out. Iris Wellness Group offers expert guidance and comprehensive treatment options. Contact us at 423-919-9549 or complete our online contact form for more information on how to get the help you need.

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