Living with methadone addiction can be an isolating experience. With so much stigma around the topic, it may be difficult to know where to turn.

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The first thing to know is that there is hope. With professional support and specific treatment plans in place, recovery from methadone use disorder is within reach.

In fact, you’re already on the way. Reading about the topic and wanting to get help is your first step in this healing journey.

Methadone is a type of synthetic opioid.

An opioid is a natural semi-synthetic or synthetic substance that attaches to the opioid receptors in your brain to produce a pain-relieving experience.

Methadone is sold under the brand names:

  • dolophine
  • methadose
  • methadone diskets
  • methadone HCl intensol

Methadone is prescribed for moderate to severe levels of pain, usually for terminal or chronic conditions, such as cancer.

Methadone is also often prescribed as a treatment for recovery from opioid use disorder.

Specifically, methadone may help with therapy for cessation and withdrawal symptoms in the short term. When taken long term, methadone may reduce the occurrence of opioid cravings, overdose, and if the treatment plan failed.

Methadone is a full opioid agonist. It attaches to the brain’s mu-opioid receptors (like other opioids) but doesn’t produce as much of a euphoric effect.

For this reason, doctors consider it safer to use in the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Stabilized cravings

If you’re healing from opioid use disorder, methadone may help you taper off the substance. A maintenance dose may help decrease the physical need for the substance you’re used to, without developing psychological or physiological dependence.

Long half-life

Another reason methadone is used for medically managed treatments is that it has a long half-life, lasting 7 to 65 hours. This means that you don’t have to take it as often as other drugs.

“Unlike short-acting opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, or morphine, methadone’s long-acting properties allow it to stay in the brain and body for days,” says Robert White, founder of Any Length Retreat Holistic Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center in Austin, Texas.

Ability to function

Methadone may not cause a stupor like other medications nor interfere with the ability to participate in social or recreational activities.

Methadone must be taken strictly according to medical guidelines. By law, it can be given to you only at a SAMHSA-certified treatment program.

Within a medical setting, methadone use is highly monitored. When taken as prescribed, it’s considered a safe and effective treatment.

When guidelines aren’t followed, it can cause the same sedative or pleasurable effects as other opioids, which can pave the way for misuse.

“While methadone treats addiction, it can be addictive itself as it works along the same addiction pathways as other opioids,” says Dr. Monty Ghosh, an addictions physician in Alberta, Canada.

“When we start to wean people off methadone, they can begin to have cravings again for opioids and have withdrawal symptoms,” he says.

However, this is not the rule. Proper and supervised use of methadone can help treat substance use disorder without causing any harm.

Addiction looks and feels different for everyone. It refers to an emotional and behavioral dependence on a substance.

This is different from chemical dependency, which describes your body’s need for a substance.

The medically accurate term is substance use disorder.

In the United States, nearly 2 million people live with symptoms of substance use disorder related to prescription pain medications, including opioids such as methadone.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) has set the criteria to determine if someone lives with the disorder. The DSM-5 is a reference handbook that most mental health professionals use to provide accurate diagnoses.

The manual lists 11 symptoms for substance use disorder:

  • cravings for a substance
  • consuming in situations that may put you or someone elses’ safety in jeopardy, like while driving
  • continuing to consume it even though it’s causing relationship conflics
  • continuing to use it even though you have mental or physical health challenges
  • feeling the urge to consume the substance daily or several times a day
  • giving up social activities or hobbies due to substance use
  • having recurring thoughts about quitting but not being able to quit
  • inability to meet obligations at work, home, or school due to substance use
  • needing increasing quantities of the substance to have the same effect
  • spending significant time finding, using, or recovering from a substance
  • withdrawal symptoms when you stop consuming the substance

Substance use disorder is complex and it happens for many reasons. A combination of some of these factors may sometimes lead to it:

  • genetics
  • preexisting mental health conditions
  • traumatic childhood experiences
  • prior substance use
  • medication misuse

With methadone specifically, medication misuse can create a euphoric effect similar to that of heroin or morphine.

Plus, the withdrawal symptoms can be intense. Like any drug, the more you use, the more you need to feel the same effects.

When routinely prescribed and appropriately tapered, these outcomes are significantly minimized, though.

Addiction and dependence exist on a spectrum, from mild to severe.

Some of the symptoms of methadone use disorder may manifest in different aspects of your life. These are some of the common signs:

Emotional signs

  • sudden changes in mood
  • irritability and anger outbursts
  • anxiety symptoms
  • depression symptoms

Behavioral signs

  • being preoccupied with getting methadone
  • difficulty concentrating at work or school
  • hiding how much you’re taking from loved ones
  • injecting, snorting, or smoking methadone
  • taking higher doses or more often than intended
  • stockpiling doses
  • visiting multiple doctors for prescriptions
  • withdrawing from loved ones

Physical signs

  • constipation
  • dry mouth
  • decreased respiratory rate
  • irregular periods
  • insomnia or trouble staying asleep
  • nausea
  • poor reflexes
  • sexual dysfunction
  • slowed heart rate
  • sluggishness
  • sweating
  • weakness
  • weight loss
  • vision issues

Methadone overdose is a medical emergency and might be life-threatening.

Signs of overdose include:

  • cardiac arrest
  • clammy skin
  • coma
  • convulsions
  • drowsiness
  • extreme lethargy
  • low blood pressure
  • lowered heart rate
  • pupil contraction
  • seizures
  • slowed breathing
  • stomach spasms

If you see someone who is unresponsive or unconscious, you’re allowed to help them on the grounds of implied consent via Good Samaritan Laws.

It’s highly advisable to call 911 and stay with them until medical help arrives.

Inform the paramedics about what you witnessed. If they suspect an overdose, your report could help them pick appropriate treatment options such as naloxone, a life-saving medication in these cases.

Withdrawal symptoms are more manageable when methadone is taken according to medical guidelines. Still, methadone is an opioid.

You may experience some degree of withdrawal symptoms if you discontinue this medication at some point.

A health professional will work with you in determining your “maintenance dose,” the amount of drug that prevents intense symptoms without causing more dependence.

People typically take methadone for 12 months, minimum, though some may need extended maintenance. It’s designed for long-term use so that you can have a slow taper.

Everyone’s experience with withdrawal symptoms is different. Some may include:

  • diarrhea
  • flu-like symptoms
  • insomnia
  • sweating
  • vomiting

The most intense withdrawal symptoms typically go away within 2 weeks, but some may experience some lingering side effects for several months after their last dose. If this happens, your health team might slow down the taper.

It’s important to keep your health team updated on what you feel so they can adjust the dose if needed.

No matter how you’re feeling right now, know that recovery is possible. There are several treatment options that can support you.

Inpatient treatment

In a secure, safe environment, inpatient treatment can address your physical dependence on methadone and any underlying factors associated with your use, such as symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other conditions.

You may find it helpful to use SAMHSA’s Opioid Treatment Program Directory to see options in your state.

Medication-assisted treatment

You may want to speak with your doctor about whether continuing with methadone is appropriate for your case. They may want to adjust your dose or switch medications.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It’s 30 times more potent than morphine but can be effective when used properly. Like methadone, it’s also dispensed at SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment programs.

The SAMSHA’s treatment finder can help you find options near you.

Psychotherapy

A trained mental health professional can assist you in identifying beliefs about your substance use and help you develop coping skills to manage symptoms and recover.

If possible, be sure to find a therapist who is familiar with substance use disorder and addiction.

Some effective treatment modalities include:

Support groups

Group therapy and support meetings may offer help. You’ll be surrounded by people facing similar experiences as you.

For some, Narcotics Anonymous meetings can be a useful resource.

Education

You may find it empowering to educate yourself on the topic of opioid use disorder and listen to other people’s experiences with recovery.

“I love the ‘Dopey Podcast.’ If the goal is to find others who’ve been through what you’re going through, then that’s the place,” says Haines.

“It’s a community of people who are using, used to use, and everything in between,” he explains. “And they deal with this subject matter with humor, wisdom, and a deep compassion.”

Surviving Opioids: Beyond an Epidemic” is another popular podcast.

When used according to medical guidelines, methadone is the gold standard for maintenance treatment for opioid use disorder. However, in rare cases, some people may develop a methadone-specific use disorder, too.

If this is your case, you’re not alone. There are options to recover and this condition is treatable.

The first step is asking for help. From there, take it one day at a time. You can do this.