What Is Methadone Used For?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 10, 2021

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat pain and opioid use disorder. Methadone may cause constipation, drowsiness, and other side effects. If you or a loved one is abusing methadone, drug abuse treatment may be recommended.

What Is Methadone Used For?

Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist. It is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of opioid use disorder and pain management.

Methadone is a strong painkiller that can be habit-forming. It should be taken exactly as prescribed by your doctor. This drug comes in tablet, liquid, or powder form.

Brand names for this medicine include:

  • Dolophine
  • Methadose
  • Physeptone

Taking high doses of methadone, or mixing it with other central nervous system depressants, can be dangerous. Methadone can also be abused and become addictive with chronic misuse.

Methadone Uses

Methadone is a synthetic drug that’s primarily used to provide pain relief and treat opiate addiction. It belongs to a class of drugs known as opiate (opioid) analgesics.

Although methadone is an opioid drug, it doesn’t act on the body’s opioid receptors in the same way that some short-acting opioids do. Compared to drugs like heroin and fentanyl, methadone is less likely to produce euphoric effects.

Methadone And Pain Relief

Methadone can be prescribed to treat severe acute and chronic pain. This medication is generally prescribed for those who do not respond to other pain medications.

Methadone acts on receptors in the brain that control our perception of pain. It does not treat the source of the pain. It can be prescribed to treat severe pain following an accident, surgery, medical procedure, or chronic pain conditions.

Methadone And Opioid Addiction

Millions of people misuse prescription opioids each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An estimated two million Americans live with an opioid use disorder (OUD).

One of the most effective treatments for OUD is medication-assisted treatment, which utilizes medications such as methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), naltrexone, or lofexidine alongside behavioral therapy.

Methadone maintenance treatment is used to treat the following addictions:

Methadone maintenance therapy can help reduce opioid withdrawal, drug cravings, and reduce the risk of overdose. This type of treatment is offered through methadone clinics and drug rehab programs.

Methadone And Pregnancy

Methadone can pass through breast milk and cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies exposed to methadone during pregnancy or breastfeeding can be at risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

However, methadone may be prescribed for people who are addicted to methamphetamine or short-acting opioid drugs while pregnant. This can reduce the risk of life-threatening withdrawal in newborns following birth.

Methadone Tolerance And Dependence

Taking methadone for an extended amount of time can lead to drug tolerance and dependence. This can cause the drug to become less effective in small doses. Do not increase your dose without first speaking to your doctor.

Opioid dependence is when the body becomes used to having a certain drug in your system. This can cause withdrawal symptoms should you attempt to reduce or stop taking methadone.

Methadone Frequently Asked Questions

Before you begin taking methadone for either pain relief or as a way to overcome opioid addiction, you may have a few questions. Fortunately, you are not alone. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about methadone.

❓ Is Methadone Safe?

✔️ Methadone is commonly prescribed to treat several health conditions. However, it is important to take methadone exactly as prescribed.

Taking higher doses or taking it more often than prescribed may cause serious and potentially life-threatening side effects, including respiratory depression (slow or stopped breathing) and overdose.

Talk to your doctor about the safety of taking methadone if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
  • are under the age of 18
  • have certain heart or lung conditions
  • have a history of substance abuse or mental illness
  • have a family history of drug or alcohol abuse

If you have concerns about methadone safety, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider to learn more.

❓ What Is Methadone Abuse?

✔️ Methadone abuse is defined as using methadone in any way that is not prescribed by a doctor.

Examples of this include:

  • taking higher doses
  • taking it more often
  • taking it with other drugs (including alcohol)
  • snorting, injecting, or smoking methadone
  • taking it for longer than prescribed

Methadone abuse is a pattern of drug misuse. When abused, methadone can cause serious side effects, including drug dependence and overdose.

Common signs of methadone abuse include: hiding or lying about your drug use, enhanced side effects of methadone (e.g. sedation), and mood swings.

❓ Is Methadone Addictive?

✔️ Methadone can be addictive when misused. Like other opioid drugs, including heroin, methadone interacts with chemicals in the brain that are associated with addiction.

Signs of methadone addiction may include:

  • frequent misuse of methadone
  • relying on methadone to get through the day
  • hiding or lying about drug use
  • continuing to abuse methadone despite negative effects on physical health, mental health, work, or relationships
  • feeling unable to control your methadone use
  • constantly thinking about taking or getting more methadone
  • inability to focus or concentrate on other things
  • experiencing symptoms of withdrawal

Addiction is an illness that can affect your thoughts, mood, health, and behavior. It can take over your life. Methadone addiction can develop over time and can lead to long-lasting health consequences without treatment.

Methadone Overdose: Signs And Symptoms

Overdose is a condition that can occur after taking too much of one or more drugs, including alcohol.

Do not take methadone with other drugs if they haven’t been prescribed by your doctor. This includes other opioids, sedatives, or benzodiazepines. This can lead to life-threatening overdose.

Signs of a methadone overdose include:

  • sleepiness
  • confusion
  • lightheadedness
  • slow, shallow, or stopped breathing
  • cold, clammy skin
  • bluish lips and fingernails
  • low blood pressure
  • low heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach spasms
  • tiny pupils
  • sedation
  • unconsciousness

If someone you know is having breathing problems or has passed out after taking methadone, call 911 or Poison Control for immediate medical assistance.

Deadly symptoms of overdose can be reversed by administering naloxone (Narcan) via injection or nasal spray.

Methadone Withdrawal

Taking methadone for more than a few weeks may cause drug dependence. Becoming dependent on methadone can cause you to experience symptoms of withdrawal within 36 hours of your last dose.

Withdrawal symptoms of methadone can include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • teary eyes
  • runny nose
  • restlessness
  • yawning
  • dilated pupils
  • muscle pain
  • irritability
  • stomach cramps
  • sleep difficulties
  • depression
  • diarrhea

Do not try to adjust your dosing without first talking to your prescribing doctor. Your doctor may recommend that you begin an opioid detox program or gradually taper your dose.

Treatment For Methadone Abuse And Addiction

Overcoming an addiction to methadone is possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with methadone addiction, treatment is available.

Treatment programs for methadone abuse and addiction include:

  • medically supervised detoxification
  • inpatient drug rehab programs
  • outpatient rehab programs
  • medication-assisted treatment programs (e.g. Suboxone MAT)
  • aftercare programs

Treatment for methadone addiction may involve behavioral therapy, pain management services, and other substance abuse services.

Recovering from methadone addiction begins with two steps: admitting you have a problem, and seeking professional help.

For more information about methadone or to find addiction treatment options, call our helpline today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 10, 2021

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