Causes & Effects of Methadone Addiction

Understanding Methadone Addiction

Learn about methadone addiction and abuse

Once a traditional treatment for opioid addiction, methadone has become an agent of abuse and addiction. Overdose and deaths from methadone accounted for over 30 percent of prescription drug deaths in 2010, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A potent long-acting opioid, misuse of methadone (or mixing it with other drugs) can easily lead to fatal overdose and the devastating consequences of addiction.

Additional Facts

How is methadone made?

Methadone (6-dimethylamino-4,4-diphenyl-3-heptanone, Amidone) is a synthetic opioid used in the detoxification and maintenance of patients who are dependent on strong opioids, particularly heroin, and the treatment of chronic or severe pain. It works similarly to heroin and morphine: by blocking opioid receptors. Methadone also relieves cravings and symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Making methadone a complex process that occurs in a professional laboratory.

How does methamphetamine work?

Meth affects three major brain chemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Over time, meth can damage brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, which is why people experience severe negative effects after the high wears off.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger involved in the control of physical movement, thinking, motivation, and feelings of pleasure or reward. Meth interferes with dopamine removal so that dopamine continually stimulates your brain’s receptors.

Norepinephrine controls our body’s “fight or flight” response. By inhibiting the re-uptake of norepinephrine, meth increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.

Serotonin allows us to sleep, controls movements and balances emotions. A person using meth becomes irrational, easily excited and unable to rest or sleep for extended periods of time.

How do people get high on methadone?

People can get high on methadone by taking it differently from the prescribed instructions. This includes taking more than the prescribed dose or taking the drug through a different method—such as snorting or injecting the drug.

For example, methadone can be abused by crushing the pills, mixing them with water, and injecting them to obtain a quick “high”. This speeds up the entry of the drug into the bloodstream and intensifies its effects.

Methadone is designed to discourage abuse, yet this same mechanism that prevents abuse can increase the risk of overdose. Methadone is a long-acting drug, and does not readily produce the euphoric rush associated with most opioids. Thus, an individual must take large quantities of the drug to obtain a high. As tolerance grows, the amount of methadone required to take a high can easily lead to overdose.

What should I not mix with methadone?

Methadone should not be mixed with any other drug that could intensify its effects and lead to overdose. As a general rule, this includes other opioids (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin), alcohol, depressants (Xanax, Valium, Ativan), and stimulants (ecstasy, amphetamine, Ritalin).

What are the short term effects of methadone?

Short term effects of Methadone include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Sexual dysfunction (impotence, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction)

What are the long-term effects of methadone?

Long term effects of methadone include:

  • Lung and respiration problems
  • Physical or psychological dependence
  • Addiction

What are the overdose effects of methadone?

The overdose effects of methadone include:

  • Respiratory depression (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Sedation
  • Coma
  • Death

How long does methadone stay in my system?

This depends on frequency of use, tolerance level, and the rate of your body’s metabolism. On average, Methadone can be detected in the urine for two to four days after the last dose with a longer time period for chronic users.

How long do the effects of methadone last?

The effects of methadone peak about four hours after ingesting the drug and its effects can last anywhere from 24-36 hours. For an opioid-tolerant person, however, the effects will not last as long.

How much methadone can I take before risking overdose?

Methadone is an extremely powerful opioid, and a safe dosage really depends on a person’s tolerance, metabolism (body weight, liver function) and other drugs of use. For example, alcohol or Xanax intensify the effect of methadone, and even one pill can result in severe respiratory depression. Due to its potency, anything more than the prescribed amount can result in overdose.

Methadone is also considered one of the deadliest drugs because it is slow-acting. Since the effects are not felt right away, an additional dosage of methadone increases the amount of methadone in the body system already and places the individual at risk of overdose.

Methadone also lingers in the body after its pain-relief wears off. Consuming similar-acting drugs during this time (such as depressant drugs or other painkillers) also increases the risk for overdose.

Can methadone kill you?

Again, this depends on your tolerance level and personal metabolism. According to the Addiction Treatment Forum: Methadone Dosing & Safety, a single dose of methadone can cause life-threatening respiratory depression in non-opioid tolerant individuals. This means a mere 10-15 mg may be fatal for a person who has no opioid tolerance.

How do I know if I’m addicted to methadone?

Addiction occurs when an individual continues to use methadone despite the negative consequences. Other signs of addiction include:

  • Needing more of methadone to achieve the same effect (tolerance)
  • Using more methadone than intended
  • Unable to cut down or stop methadone use
  • Spending more money than you have on methadone
  • Continuing to get high despite the problems it causes
  • Depending on methadone to relax or enjoy yourself
  • Neglects daily responsibilities
  • Others have expressed concern about your methadone use
  • Feelings of guilt when using methadone


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