Methadone Treatment: Understanding Side Effects and Risks

Methadone treatment stands as a beacon of hope offering a lifeline to those grappling with opioid dependency. In 2019, an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States had opioid use disorder (OUD). Of these, 400,000 received methadone as part of their addiction treatment.

In this article, we’ll explore Methadone and its role in combating opioid addiction, as well as the risks and side effects of this medication.

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What is Methadone Used For?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid medication that has been used for several decades as a cornerstone of medication-assisted treatment for those struggling with opioid addiction, particularly heroin addiction.

One of the primary functions of Methadone is to prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, allowing individuals to stabilize their lives and focus on recovery. Unlike short-acting opioids that produce intense euphoria and withdrawal symptoms between doses, Methadone’s effects are more gradual and stable, making it easier for people to discontinue illicit drug use.

How Methadone Works

Methadone is classified as a long-acting opioid agonist, which operates by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers. By doing so, it prevents withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings, effectively aiding individuals on their journey to recovery.

Is Methadone addictive?

Yes, methadone is addictive. While it is used as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help people reduce or stop their use of opioids, methadone itself is an opioid, and like other opioids, it has the potential for abuse and addiction. The risk of addiction to methadone is increased in people who have a history of substance abuse or mental health problems.

Not everyone with an opioid use disorder is automatically eligible for Methadone treatment. Certain criteria must be met, including a diagnosis of opioid addiction and a willingness to adhere to the treatment program.

The initial assessment also includes identifying and addressing possible co-occurring disorders through a Dual Diagnosis Program, to ensure a holistic approach to recovery. This assessment helps determine the appropriate dosage and treatment plan tailored to their needs.

While Methadone is generally safe, there are potential risks, especially if not taken as prescribed. Patients should be aware of the potential for overdose on Methadone and the importance of responsible use.

Overview of Methadone Treatment


The journey begins with a thorough assessment by a healthcare provider. This step helps determine the right dosage and treatment plan for the individual.

Induction Phase

During this initial phase, Methadone is introduced at a carefully calculated dose to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings.


Once the right dosage is established, patients enter the stabilization phase, where they work on rebuilding their lives and regaining stability. Once they progress, the dosage may need adjustments.


The maintenance phase is about long-term recovery. Patients continue taking Methadone to prevent relapse and address side effects while receiving support and counseling.


When the time is right, healthcare professionals may gradually reduce the dosage, eventually leading to complete independence from opioids and stop taking Methadone.

Long-Term Recovery

Long-term recovery is the ultimate goal of Methadone treatment. This includes preventing relapse, achieving stability, and building social relationships for a stronger support system.

How long can you be on Methadone?

The duration of methadone treatment can vary widely depending on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Methadone treatment can be relatively short-term or long-term, and in some cases, it may be indefinite. Some factors like the severity of addiction and type of treatment plan can influence the duration of treatment.

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Methadone treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Finding the right dosage is critical for success. Too little Methadone may lead to cravings and withdrawal, while too much can result in sedation or other side effects. Regular consultations with healthcare providers ensure the appropriate dosage is maintained.

Importance of Proper Administration and Dosage

To reap the full benefits of Methadone treatment and avoid abuse, it’s crucial to adhere to a strict regimen under the supervision of a healthcare professional. This ensures the medication is administered safely and at the appropriate dosage, minimizing the risk of overdose or long-term effects. It is important to take methadone as prescribed by your doctor. Do not increase your dose or take it more often than prescribed to prevent getting addicted to Methadone.

What is the average dose of Methadone?

The average dose of methadone for opioid addiction treatment is 60-120 mg per day. However, the dose can vary depending on the individual’s needs and response to treatment. The initial dose is usually 20-30 mg, and the dose is then increased gradually until the desired effect is achieved.

The maximum daily dose of methadone is 120 mg, but some people may need more than this.

While Methadone is generally safe, there are potential risks and side effects, especially if not taken as prescribed. Patients should be aware of the potential for overdose and methadone abuse, as well as other long-term effects of Methadone.

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Nausea and vomiting

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Disturbed sleep

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Dry mouth

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Weight gain

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Sexual dysfunction

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Menstrual irregularities

Risk of Methadone Overdose

Methadone can still lead to overdose if misused or taken in excessive amounts. The risk of overdose is particularly high when:

  • Methadone is not administered under proper medical supervision
  • Mixed with alcohol or other drugs, which can amplify its effects
  • Individuals develop tolerance and reduced sensitivity to the drug

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While Methadone is a highly effective treatment, it’s not the only option available. Comparing Methadone to other medications like buprenorphine, another partial opioid agonist, can help individuals make informed choices.

Buprenorphine vs. Methadone

Methadone and buprenorphine are both medications used to treat opioid addiction. They have both been shown to be effective in reducing cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and relapse rates. However, there are some key differences between the two medications.

Methadone is a full opioid agonist, meanwhile, buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist so it has a lower risk of addiction. Buprenorphine treatment is less regulated than methadone, allowing greater privacy and flexibility for patients.

Suboxone vs. Methadone

Suboxone is another OUD medication that combines buprenorphine and naloxone. Naloxone is an opioid agonist that can reverse the effects of opioids in case of overdose. Compared to Methadone’s long-acting duration, Suboxone has a ceiling effect which reduces the risk of respiratory depression and overdose.

Naltrexone vs. Methadone

Naltrexone, on the other hand, operates differently. It’s an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opioids in the body. While it doesn’t address withdrawal symptoms or cravings, Naltrexone can be a viable option for those who have already detoxed and want to prevent relapse. It’s available in both oral and injectable forms, allowing individuals to choose the method that best suits their needs.

Choosing The Right Medication

Selecting the appropriate medication for treating Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a crucial decision that should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional. The choice depends on various factors, including the severity of drug abuse, medical history, and personal preferences.

Methadone treatment is not just about substituting one drug for another. It’s a holistic approach that combines medication with counseling, therapy, and support, addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.

If you or someone you know is battling substance abuse disorder, remember that help is available. Seek assistance from treatment centers and healthcare providers experienced in substance abuse.

Here at HART, a rehab facility dedicated to young adults, our team of addiction specialists can help you address the root cause of addiction. We provide a safe, supportive, and compassionate environment to address the needs of individuals in your age group.

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