Methadone is an opioid-based medication that can have side effects that may lead to weight gain in those who take it for chronic pain or opioid use disorder.
Side effects of methadone associated with weight gain include:
- slowed metabolism
Gaining weight while taking methadone is common. Weight gain can be directly linked to the use of methadone, dietary habits, or other factors related to the treatment or recovery process.
What Causes Weight Gain From Methadone?
Opioid drugs, like methadone, can affect the gastrointestinal system, which can lead to symptoms associated with weight gain, including constipation.
Methadone’s action on opioid receptors in the brain has also been linked to increased cravings for sweets, hyperglycemia, and potential insulin resistance due to an increased sugar intake.
On average, people taking methadone may gain up to 10 pounds in the first six months of treatment.
This can vary according to body mass index (BMI), dietary habits, and other personal and biological factors.
Factors Associated With Methadone-Related Weight Gain
Whether a person gains weight on methadone can vary according to a wide range of factors, including their diet, level of physical activity, stress, and biological factors.
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Lifestyle factors—such as dietary habits, nutritional status, increased access to food, and a person’s support system—can influence changes in weight while taking methadone.
Changes in appetite can occur during methadone maintenance treatment. This may be related to or independent of malnutrition that’s occurred as a result of their substance use disorder.
Some changes in weight may be indicative of nutritional restoration. Malnourishment is common in people with a substance use disorder, and treatment may help reverse this.
Physical activity does not always significantly affect changes in weight—compared to say, their diet—but it can play a role in both weight and muscle mass.
Factors that can affect physical activity levels include:
- energy level
- mental health
- full schedule (i.e. non-conducive to exercise)
- access to a gym
- living near parks or green spaces
Healing From Addiction
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, malnutrition is common among people who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Beginning to eat more normally, or renourishing oneself during the treatment process, may result in some weight gain.
While this can increase certain health risks for some, gaining some weight during this process can also be protective against the dangers and harms of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is associated with a number of health consequences, including:
- low energy
- poor mental health
- cognitive issues
- amenorrhea (lack of monthly cycle in women)
- osteoporosis (low bone density)
- slow metabolism
- digestive issues
Restoring nutrition in addiction recovery can help prevent or reverse effects of malnutrition, which is also associated with weight gain.
Changes In Appetite
Changes in appetite or dietary preferences while on methadone can have effects on weight if they significantly affect a person’s daily diet.
While methadone may cause changes in appetite or increase cravings for sweets, this can also be a natural part of the healing process.
Both drug addiction and chronic opioid use can have effects on mental health. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders can affect metabolism, diet, and weight.
Like drugs, food can for some become a coping mechanism for dealing with depressed mood, anxiety, stress, or other life difficulties.
Within a treatment program, services such as behavioral therapy and addiction education may help to provide alternative coping strategies for managing negative emotions and stressors.
Can You Lose Weight While Taking Methadone?
Losing weight while taking methadone for maintenance treatment is less common, but this can occur.
Methadone may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or effects on mood that may result in dehydration or reduced appetite in some people. This could potentially lead to weight loss.
Tips For Coping With Weight Gain From Methadone
Recovery is a journey that is fraught with change. Some of these changes, including changes in weight, can be uncomfortable to deal with. But you can get through this, one step at a time.
Tips for coping with weight gain while taking methadone:
Be Kind To Yourself
Weight gain is often associated with embarrassment, shame, and guilt. Showing yourself compassion during the healing process is crucial.
Although this can feel uncomfortable, compassion is, all in all, a much healthier motivator than shame.
Drink Enough Water
Dehydration is common in substance use recovery. Drinking fluids between meals can help you stay hydrated and promote physical health.
Aim For A Balanced Diet
A balanced diet that contains adequate nutrients and calories can help promote mental health and physical health in recovery.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends a high-fiber diet with nutrient-dense foods.
Find Physical Activity You Enjoy
Engaging in regular exercise doesn’t have to involve going to the gym.
For many people, practicing yoga, walking, dancing, or cycling can be enjoyable and relaxing, while simultaneously improving strength and endurance.
Consider Seeking Professional Advice
If weight gain becomes a major concern, consider consulting a nutritionist or licensed dietitian for further guidance.
Call Today For More Information About Methadone Maintenance
Methadone is a leading treatment for opioid dependence and addiction when taken alone, or in conjunction with behavioral therapy and other social support services.
For more information about methadone, or how to find a treatment center that offers methadone maintenance treatment near you, call our helpline to find treatment options today.
Published on July 12, 2021
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- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Substance use recovery and diet
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Course of weight change during naltrexone vs. methadone maintenance for opioid-dependent patients
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Risk factors for weight gain during methadone maintenance treatment
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: PMC — Increases in body mass index following initiation of methadone treatment