Methadone is effective for long-term use. Long-term side effects, however, can occur and can be helpful to understand if you or someone you know is taking methadone for opiate addiction.
Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that is used as a medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapy.
Learn more about the side effects of methadone
Developing A Methadone Dependence
Chronic use of methadone, like that of other opioid drugs, can result in dependence. This is a physiological reaction in the body akin to a physical reliance on methadone.
What this can cause:
- withdrawal symptoms with stopped use (e.g. chills, tremors, muscle pain)
- stronger dependence over time
- cravings for methadone
- discomfort with a missed or skipped dose
Methadone dependence can develop within weeks of use. People who become dependent on methadone may need to taper their use gradually if they plan to stop taking it.
Disrupted Sleep With Methadone
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia) is common among people in methadone maintenance therapy for opioid addiction.
Unfortunately, disrupted sleep can have negative effects. Poor sleep quality and sleep loss can negatively affect a person’s physical health, mental health, and ability to complete daily tasks.
Insomnia from methadone can be treated through a variety of behavioral and pharmacological interventions, although the former is generally preferred to avoid drug interactions.
Treatment for methadone-related sleep troubles might include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- mindfulness meditation
- bright light therapy
- natural supplements (e.g. melatonin)
Because insomnia can be influenced by a variety of medical, social, and mental health-related factors, it may be useful to address all potential contributing causes within a treatment plan.
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Changes In Mood With Methadone
Methadone has been associated with changes in mood with acute and chronic use. Like other opioids, methadone affects chemicals in the brain that can influence emotions and other functions.
Changes in mood that can occur with methadone use include:
- mood swings
Not all changes in mood may be attributable to methadone. Co-occurring mental health issues, including anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder, are common in people with OUD.
Emotional or mental health issues that do occur with methadone use may be treated with behavioral therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, and other behavioral health services.
Sexual Side Effects Of Methadone
Medications for opioid use disorder, including methadone and buprenorphine, can have effects on sexual function, a person’s menstrual cycle, and libido.
Sexual side effects that can occur with long-term methadone use might include:
- decreased interest in sex
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- symptoms of testosterone deficiency (e.g. fatigue, mood disturbances)
Sexual dysfunction is common. Research shows, however, that this is more likely to occur in people who are taking higher doses of methadone and people with depression.
Weight Gain From Methadone
Changes in weight can occur with methadone. Methadone has the potential to slow down a person’s metabolism and can cause increased sugar cravings in some people.
According to research published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, it’s common for people taking methadone to gain weight in the first six months of treatment, although this may be influenced by a variety of factors.
Contributing causes to weight gain with methadone might include:
- poor dietary habits
- lacking knowledge of nutrition
- infrequent exercise
- environmental factors
- poor mental health
- changes in appetite
Methadone Withdrawal From Chronic Use
Physical dependence on methadone from chronic use can result in withdrawal symptoms if someone misses a dose or tries to stop taking methadone too quickly.
Common early withdrawal symptoms include:
- muscle and bone aches
- stomach cramps
Methadone withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, and can be most effectively managed in a medical detox setting. Withdrawal can occur with discontinued treatment, or may be a sign of an ineffective dose.
How Long Can You Take Methadone?
There is no timeline for how long a person can take methadone. This will depend on individual factors such as progress in treatment and benefits of the methadone treatment.
Methadone can be safely taken for as long as its use benefits the person who is taking it, which may be months or years. A minimum of 12 months of treatment is recommended.
Find Methadone Treatment For Opioid Addiction Today
Methadone maintenance treatment is one of the most effective treatment options for opioid addiction, and can be safely taken long-term.
If you or a loved one are addicted to opioids and is looking for treatment, call us today to learn more about methadone treatment and to find addiction treatment options near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
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.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Methadone
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Treating Sleep Problems of People in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — How do medications to treat opioid use disorder work?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Methadone
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Increases in body mass index following initiation of methadone treatment