Methadone Addiction: Signs, Causes & Treatment

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid that, like other opioid drugs, can be used as a pain relief medication. However, taking methadone has also been found to be helpful in treating individuals who suffer from other forms of opioid addiction, such as with heroin or fentanyl.

Of course, while Methadone maintenance treatment can be very useful in treating opiate addiction, patients taking methadone may still run the risk of forming a drug dependence on this substance.

However, due to the cost of many prescription painkillers and the relatively low cost of methadone, doctors have been prescribing methadone as a long-acting painkiller for chronic pain for years.

Now, when used as a treatment to wean individuals off of other drug addictions, prescribed methadone use will be closely supervised and regulated by medical professionals.

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The medical use of methadone as a form of addiction treatment has drastically increased exposure to methadone over the years. Ironically, unfortunately, simultaneously causes a rise in addictions to methadone, as well as easier access to it as a recreationally abused substance.

When illicitly distributed, methadone may be referred to by several other names, including Meth, Dolls, Jungle Juice, Junk, Fizzies, Pastora, or Chocolate Chip Cookies.

How Does Methadone Work?

Methadone works by attaching to the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opiate drugs. As a long-acting drug, typically lasting over 1-3 days, methadone medication can both block the euphoric effects produced by other opioids, as well as any painful withdrawal symptoms.

However, the long period of time that methadone can remain in the bloodstream, while effective in easing the symptoms of heroin addiction withdrawal, can pose other problems. The body may begin to store methadone, making it easier to accidentally overdose on the medication.

This is why individuals who are prescribed this drug are recommended to use it exactly as guided in order to use methadone safely. While it may be tempting to up one’s medication dosage or frequency of ingestion, this can be extremely hazardous to their health.

How Addictive is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid and, like other opioids in its class, its continual use carries critical, inherent risk for misuse and addiction development. Because it is a longer-acting, slightly less potent drug, it is unable to provide the same intense effect as that of heroin and other opioids.

In short, the use of the drug will not result in an instant onset of highs or intolerable crashing lows, meaning it can be less habit-forming than other substances. However, while methadone may not produce intense euphoria, it may result in other mildly enjoyable side effects, including:

  • Sedation
  • Mild euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Decreased sensory stimulation


If patients use this drug by consuming it in high doses or otherwise outside of their prescription guidelines, this will present the possibility of experiencing heightened dangerous side effects.

This will also increase their chance of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms between one dose to the next, or should they suddenly stop using methadone entirely. Furthermore, someone who has a history of opioid abuse will be at a higher risk of developing a methadone addiction.

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What is Methadone Maintenance Treatment?

Methadone maintenance is a type of medication-assisted treatment that is commonly used in helping heroin addicts and other opioid abusers overcome these habits. When using methadone safely, this medication can be a very helpful addition to an addiction treatment program.

Methadone clinic attendance and methadone treatment have long been used and endorsed as a means for those struggling with heroin addiction to overcome their substance use habits in an environment that can help manage the difficult withdrawal period that may come with recovery.

Undergoing methadone maintenance treatment may be particularly beneficial for pregnant or breastfeeding women who are addicted to opioids. This medication has been found to help minimize withdrawal symptoms in both pregnant women and their unborn children.

When taking methadone, women who are pregnant can overcome their addictions to other opioid drugs without potentially causing harm to their babies. This can be a major relief for women who may have avoided treatment out of fear for their unborn child’s safety.

Furthermore, methadone has been found to reduce the chances of a child developing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), or infant withdrawal syndrome – something that can be common in children born to, or consume the breast milk of, women that are struggling with drug addiction.

Of course, while methadone treatment can certainly be effectively used in treating heroin addiction and other forms of substance abuse, this is only done under extremely careful medical supervision and control due to the various dangers this medication may pose with its use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, over 16,000 deaths resulting from prescription abuse, including methadone abuse, occurred, equating to around 45 deaths per day.

Unfortunately, because of its long-lasting nature, once tolerance is formed to methadone, addiction is not far behind. Once this happens, it will not take long before someone accidentally takes too much methadone; an effect that has a high potential for causing long-lasting damage.

What are the Causes of Methadone Addiction?

Causes of Methadone Addiction

In most cases, methadone users are people trying to fight heroin addiction or are struggling with severe pain. It is one of the major drugs used to help people in the withdrawal stage of heroin, as it can help reduce withdrawal effects without producing the “high” or euphoria heroin creates.

However, while this form of addiction treatment can be helpful during a medical detox process, using an addictive substance to treat another substance addiction rarely bodes well for a recovering individual.

After all, someone who has a history of substance abuse and decides to take methadone will be more likely to form a psychological and physical dependence on it. This, unfortunately, will ultimately leave this person in a vicious cycle of opioid addiction.

How is Methadone Abused?

There are several methods of administration that can be used when taking methadone. For those who have been prescribed methadone, it will most commonly be taken daily in either a liquid, powder, and diskette form.

For those who take methadone in an abusive manner, this powder may be snorted, or its liquid form injected intravenously. Some people may also choose to drink alcohol or use other illegal drugs while using methadone, as a means of enhancing its effects.

These methods, however, pose a high risk of experiencing several unpleasant and potentially life-threatening side effects, including that of a fatal drug overdose.

Side Effects of Methadone Abuse

There are several side effects of methadone that may occur from improper use of this drug, many of which are similar to those of other medications that fit into its class. These may include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Impaired coordination or balance
  • Impaired confusion or cognition


In general, this drug can present side effects significant enough that they interfere with an individual’s ability to function. Thus, it is strongly advised not to attempt to drive, operate heavy machinery, or otherwise engage in potentially dangerous activities while taking methadone.

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Is it Possible to Overdose on Methadone?

While its medical application may make methadone seem like an unassuming drug, this substance can actually be quite dangerous, for more reasons than just its potential unpleasant side effects or risk for substance abuse.

Rather, it is methadone’s high risk for overdose that makes it such a potential hazard to a user’s health. The reason for this is that this drug does not produce a high in same intensity as other illicit substances typically would.

Thus, it can be all too easy for someone to accidentally take too much methadone, or mistakenly feel comfortable using this medication with other drugs or alcohol in an attempt to enhance its effects.

Unfortunately, the resulting overdose that will likely occur from this behavior can produce several hazardous, and potentially life-threatening side effects. These, of which, may require extensive medical care to be properly addressed.

What are the Signs of Methadone Overdose?

Because of their potentially fatal nature, knowing how to recognize the side effects of methadone overdose can be life-saving. Some of the most common signs that may indicate that someone has taken too much methadone include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Blue-tinted nails and fingertips
  • Clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Hypertension
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Respiratory depression


These symptoms, if not addressed correctly or in a timely manner, can quickly escalate, leading to heart failure, asphyxiation, coma, and even death.

Thus, if you or someone else is exhibiting any of these signs after taking methadone, seeking medical emergency services immediately is critical in properly treating the overdose and potentially preventing any long-lasting damage these effects may cause. Learning what to do when someone is overdosing is crucially important for all opioid users and their loved ones.

Signs of Methadone Overdose

Recognizing a Methadone Addiction

Accepting that you or a loved one may be struggling with an addiction of any kind, let alone one to methadone, can be extremely difficult. However, it is absolutely necessary in order to finally begin seeking out a professional addiction treatment and recovery support services.

There are several warning signs that may serve as indicators that someone is addicted to or abusing methadone, including:

  • Visiting several different doctors and pharmacies to get the medication approved and continue using it, a process also referred to as “doctor shopping.”
  • Needing to increase a regular dosage or using methadone more frequently in order to achieve a desired effect.
  • Spending large amounts of time and money acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of methadone use.
  • Experiencing recurrent social, work, or home problems due to methadone use.
  • Repeatedly being unsuccessful in attempts to reduce or stop methadone use, even if there is a genuine desire to do so.
  • Giving up previously enjoyable hobbies or relationships in order to continue to take methadone.


Along with the signs listed above, one of the biggest signs of a substance addiction of any kind is the development of withdrawal symptoms upon attempting to drastically reduce or completely stop using an abused substance.

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Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms

Despite methadone often being used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in heroin addicts and those struggling with other forms of opioid abuse, this medication can also present its own withdrawal effects.

When someone suddenly decides to no longer take methadone after having formed a dependence on this drug, their body may produce various physically and emotionally painful symptoms of withdrawal in response to this de-stabilization.

There are many factors that may influence the severity of a person’s methadone withdrawal experience, including the frequency, duration and intensity of their drug use. Depending on their situation, these individuals may experience several early and late stage withdrawal symptoms.

Early Stage Withdrawal

Early stage withdrawal can start anywhere from 24-48 hours after a person’s last dose of methadone, and may include symptoms such as:

  • Disorientation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Chills or clamminess
  • Mood swings


Individuals may also experience psychological symptoms such as depression or mania, as well as extreme anxiety at the notion of not being able to take methadone. These are major reasons why seeking out professional addiction treatment will be crucial for their successful recovery.

Late Stage Withdrawal

For those with more severe methadone addictions, the late-stage withdrawal symptoms that may develop can be far more intense and difficult to endure. These include:

  • Irritability
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue


Most withdrawal symptoms should subside after one or two weeks. However, there are those who experience what is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), in which these symptoms may remain over several months or even years.

Because of the potential severity of the methadone withdrawal period, those struggling with this substance abuse disorder are highly recommended to seek out professional addiction help and recovery services.

How is a Methadone Addiction Treated?

How is a Methadone Addiction Treated

Because of the cyclical way in which many methadone addictions typically develop, someone recovering from this particular substance use disorder will require a comprehensive treatment plan to successfully overcome these habits.

Finding a treatment provider that offers medically-supervised detox services will likely be the first necessary step for many methadone abusers. These will likely be offered as a part of the recovery approach used by various inpatient and residential treatment centers.

Participating in a medical detox treatment program will allow individuals to be tapered off of methadone safely while under the constant supervision of licensed clinical professionals.

Those with unavoidable financial or time constraints may also choose to seek out an outpatient treatment provider. These will focus more on providing recovery tools and resources, as well as participation in sober support groups.

All of these programs will also often offer medication-assisted treatment services, which can help further manage or prevent certain symptoms of withdrawal, as well as reduce drug cravings. This, in turn, can significantly reduce an individual’s risk of relapse.

If you are unsure what level of treatment is best suited to your recovery needs, speaking with your healthcare provider or an addiction specialist, such as a Find Addictions Rehab Representative, can help you narrow down these options.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to methadone, this can be an incredibly difficult and painful experience for everyone involved; but you do not have to go through this alone.

At Find Addiction Rehabs, we are dedicated to connecting people like you who have been affected by the devastating impacts of addiction with substance abuse treatment programs and recovery services that can serve all of your personal care needs.

By calling our 24/7 hotline, a dedicated recovery representative can help you or a loved one get started on your path to re-discovering the ability to lead active and meaningful lives, free from the influences of substance use.

So don’t wait; call now, and let us help you take that first step on your recovery journey, where you can achieve a happier, healthier, and successfully sober you, today!

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