What Is Methadone? | What Does Methadone Do?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 28, 2021

Methadone is an opioid-based medication that is used as a treatment for heroin addiction and opioid use disorder. It is also prescribed for pain relief.

What Is Methadone Used For?

Methadone is an opioid addiction medication that can relieve pain and help treat opioid use disorder, in conjunction with behavioral therapy and substance use counseling.

Here, you’ll find more information about methadone, including potential side effects of methadone, risks, and answers to frequently asked questions about methadone.

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How Methadone Works

Methadone is a long-acting, full opioid agonist that binds to opioid receptors in the brain.

Taken daily, it can effectively treat opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for other opioid drugs, such as heroin and oxycodone (OxyContin).

When taken as directed, it can be safe and effective for short-term or long-term use as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for opioid use disorder.

When Should You Start Taking Methadone?

Methadone is commonly used as maintenance therapy for opiate dependence. People who are opioid-dependent may begin methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) under clinical supervision.

Withdrawal management, a common reason for which medications for opioid use disorder like methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine (Suboxone) are utilized, is not necessary for people beginning MMT.

Methadone Dosing

The prescribed dose of methadone for any given person will depend on personal needs and attributes, including opioid dependence severity and other health-related factors.

Clinical guidelines for methadone maintenance programs suggest that methadone doses of 60 mg or greater are most effective for treating opiate addiction.

However, clinical guidelines also advise that doctors first begin patients on a lower, initial dose of 20 to 30 mg, and adjust this dosage as needed over time.

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Average Dose Of Methadone

The average effective dose of methadone for opioid use disorder is between 60 to 120 mg per day. Dosing may be different for people who are prescribed methadone for pain relief.

Read more about the average dose of methadone

How Often Methadone Is Taken

Methadone is taken for opioid dependence once a day. Generally, it is administered in a closed setting—an inpatient treatment facility or methadone clinic — for close medical supervision.

Types Of Methadone

Methadone is manufactured in the form of a pill, liquid, or diskette. It is sold under generic and brand names, some of which are exclusively used for the treatment of chronic or severe pain.

Common brand name methadone products include:

Side Effects Of Methadone

Methadone is a powerful opioid agonist and central nervous system depressant. When taken, methadone may cause acute side effects such as drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, and euphoria.

Read more about the side effects of methadone

Methadone And Itching

Severe itching after methadone can occur, but this is generally considered a serious side effect or adverse drug reaction.

Read more about methadone and itching

Methadone And Depression

Major depression and other mental health disorders are common among people who seek drug addiction treatment, including those who take medications like methadone for addiction.

Depression is not a common side effect of methadone.

People who take methadone may feel depressed as a result of co-occurring mental illness, environmental factors, or other personal factors.

Read more about how methadone effects depression

Methadone And Effects On Blood Pressure

Methadone is a depressant that can lead to hypotension (low blood pressure) in some people.

Increased blood pressure, or hypertension, is a sign of opioid withdrawal and may develop if someone tries to stop taking methadone too quickly or all at once.

Read more about the effects of methadone on blood pressure

Cardiac Effects From Methadone

Abnormal heart rhythm and other cardiac effects of methadone are uncommon. This can occur as a result of a drug interaction, opioid withdrawal, overdose, or an underlying cardiac condition.

Read more about how methadone affects the heart

Methadone And Effects On Weight

Changes in weight can occur while taking methadone. Methadone may cause bloating, swelling, and constipation, all of which can lead to minor weight gain.

Read more about how methadone affects weight

Other Effects Of Methadone On The Body

Methadone can cause a range of physical effects. The use of methadone may cause fatigue, leg swelling, skin problems, and hypotension, in addition to other effects on the body.

Methadone Treatment Duration

Methadone is a strong pain reliever and addiction treatment that can be taken for as long as a doctor sees therapeutic benefit in its use.

People with opioid dependence or opioid use disorder may safely take methadone for weeks, months, or years as an ongoing treatment.

Read more about how long you can take methadone

Does Methadone Cause Withdrawal?

Methadone can result in withdrawal syndrome if it is stopped too abruptly. It is habit-forming and can lead to physical dependence with chronic use, like many prescription medications.

Read more about withdrawal from methadone

Methadone Detox

Beginning a detoxification program for methadone is highly recommended for those who wish to stop taking methadone.

Methadone detoxification (detox) programs can offer treatment for withdrawal and help prevent potentially serious consequences such as dehydration, opioid cravings, and relapse.

Read more about how to safely detox from methadone

Can Methadone Lead To Addiction?

Methadone can be addictive. Taken in ways other than prescribed, methadone addiction can be dangerous. As a maintenance treatment, however, methadone can be effective for long-term use.

Risks Of Using Methadone To Treat Opioid Use Disorder

Methadone is not a risk-free medication. Like any medication, there are risks to methadone drug use.

Potential health risks of methadone may be communicated to patients prior to beginning methadone treatment for opioid use disorder.

Methadone Overdose

Taking a very high dose of methadone, or mixing it with other depressants (including alcohol), can lead to methadone overdose, which may cause serious breathing issues.

Without treatment, severe overdose can be life-threatening. Overdose can be treated with the opioid overdose-reversal drug, naloxone, also known as Narcan.

Read more about a methadone overdose

Long-Term Risks Of Methadone

Taken chronically, methadone can have effects on sleep, sexual function, mood, cognition, and cause physical dependence.

Read more about the long-term effects of methadone

Drug Interactions With Methadone

Methadone can interact with certain prescription and illicit drugs. Before taking methadone, tell your doctor about any other substances you’re taking to discuss potential interactions.

Read more about drugs that interact with methadone

Methadone Interactions With Other Substances

Some non-pharmaceutical substances like grapefruit juice can interact with methadone.

To prevent adverse effects, talk to your doctor about substances you should avoid while taking methadone.

Read more about how grapefruit juice can interact with methadone

Methadone FAQs

Having questions about methadone and methadone products is common. Find answers to frequently asked questions about methadone and what it does here.

Yes. Methadone is safe when taken as directed by a licensed health professional. Side effects can occur and some health risks may apply.

Methadone isn’t free, but it is covered by many health insurance plans, including some Medicaid and Medicare coverage plans.

For those who are uninsured, methadone treatment may be available at little or no cost through certain healthcare providers, for patients who are eligible.

Methadone can produce euphoric effects in low to moderate doses. Taken as directed for drug addiction, euphoria from methadone shouldn’t cause severe disruption to a person’s treatment.

Read more about getting high from methadone

Methadone may cause a person to feel drowsy, lethargic, and happy. Its moderate euphoric effects can result in a feeling of relaxation and positive well-being. It can also provide pain relief.

Read more about what methadone feels like

Methadone is a synthetic opioid drug. It can effectively blunt opioid cravings and prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms, due to the fact that it is chemically similar to other opioid analgesics.

Methadone is a first-line treatment for heroin addiction and opioid use disorder in pregnant women. Methadone may be used during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Taking methadone while pregnant does come with certain risks, and may lead to neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome in babies following birth.

During the early stages of methadone maintenance treatment, signs of emotional distress, including anger, may develop as a result of physical or psychological withdrawal.

Anger is not a common side effect of methadone, nor chronic methadone use.

Read more about anger issues from taking methadone

Methadone can interact with certain antidepressant medications, including:

  • SSRI medications (e.g. Zoloft, Prozac)
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. amitriptyline)
  • desipramine (Norpramin)

The severity of these interactions can vary depending on the type of antidepressant and other biological and health-related factors.

Read more about the interaction between methadone and antidepressants

Methadone for opioid use disorder can only be dispensed by a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) practitioner as part of an opioid treatment program (OTP).

Read more about who can prescribe methadone

Find Methadone Treatment For Opioid Abuse And Addiction

Methadone is one of the leading treatments for opioid abuse and addiction, which is estimated to affect millions of Americans from all walks of life.

If you, a friend, or a family member is struggling with opioid abuse, we may be able to help. Call our helpline today to find methadone treatment options at a drug treatment center near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 28, 2021

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