Methadone Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

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A Guide to Treatment for Methadone Addiction

Methadone is an opioid medication used to ease the severe pain associated with advanced stages of cancer, as well as reduce cravings for opioids. Methadone is also commonly used as part of a longer-term treatment program for heroin addiction, although it has been known to be abused when solely taken or used in a recreational setting. When taken as prescribed by a doctor or used in a treatment program for heroin addiction, methadone is usually safe for use. However, when a person abuses methadone, they are at risk of many serious effects.

Methadone Effects on the Brain

When methadone is abused, it can cause a euphoric high that is similar to the effects produced by other opioids. This can lead to addiction and abuse. The brain naturally produces its own opioid-like chemicals called endorphins. It is these endorphins that cause the euphoric effects of methadone. If a person abuses methadone, their endorphin levels can get out of balance, leading to addiction and tolerance. Abusing methadone can also cause changes in the brain’s reward system, making a person more at risk for abusing drugs or alcohol.

How Methadone Is Abused

Methadone is abused in a number of ways. Most commonly, it is taken orally or crushed and snorted. It can be injected, although that is less common since methadone must be dissolved in water before it can be injected, which is a time-consuming process. Injecting methadone is also more dangerous because it can cause an infection or possibly other serious health effects. Injecting methadone may also produce certain effects faster, depending on the concentration of the drug.

Methadone Side-Effects

When methadone is abused, a person may experience various side-effects. They include the following.


Methadone can make a person quite drowsy. The drowsiness can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, and the use of methadone increases the risk of an overdose on other substances.

Changes in Mood

When a person abuses methadone, they may experience mood changes such as depression and anxiety. The mood changes are caused by an imbalance in the brain’s production of endorphins.

Slowed Breathing and Heart Rate

Methadone can cause a person’s breathing rate and pulse to slow. This is an effect of the drug on the body’s nervous system. If a person takes too much methadone, it can slow these processes to dangerous levels.


When methadone is abused, the person may begin to believe that they are being followed or that they are being asked to perform illegal activities, such as drug dealing or committing crimes. Methadone abuse can cause anxiety in general, and the person may develop paranoia.

Long-Term Effects of Methadone Abuse

Some of the negative long-term effects of methadone abuse include the following.

Memory Loss

Taken as prescribed, methadone itself does not cause memory loss. However, when a person abuses methadone, it can cause lasting effects on the brain. The brain can be damaged, and the ability to form new memories can be diminished or even lost.

Liver or Kidney Damage

When a person abuses methadone, it can affect their liver and kidneys. In the case of the liver, this can cause certain types of cancer. In the case of the kidneys, methadone can cause reduced urine production and kidney failure, which requires a transplant or chronic dialysis treatments.

Increased Risk for Heart Attack or Stroke

When a person abuses methadone, it can cause their blood vessels to constrict, which increases the risk of a heart attack. Methadone can also cause a stroke in some people. If a person’s blood pressure is not properly monitored while they are taking methadone, they are at risk of developing these two conditions.

Increased Risk for Infectious Diseases

When a person abuses methadone, the risk of getting a viral or bacterial infection increases due to the drug’s effects on the body’s natural defenses.

Signs of Methadone Addiction

Methadone addiction occurs when a person has become physically or psychologically dependent upon methadone. Here are some of the signs of methadone addiction that may be exhibited by someone abusing the drug.

Urine Test Results

When a person takes methadone, the drug has to be tested in their urine. The amount of methadone in the urine may also change depending on how regularly they take the drug. Methadone abuse is usually indicated by a large amount of methadone being found in a person’s urine.

Other Medical Problems

When a person abuses methadone, their body may become more sensitive to other painkillers. This can cause them to take more methadone than intended and can lead to other health problems, such as internal bleeding. If a person takes methadone, they are at risk of developing infections or diseases that were not present before they began abusing the drug.

Abandoned Behavior

One sign of methadone addiction is that the person may begin to leave their normal routine and behave in strange ways. They may stop going to work, or they may end relationships with family members. They may not be seen hanging out in the same places as they once did. The person may also begin isolating themselves from friends and family members or even begin to engage in criminal activities.

Frequency of Use

Another sign of methadone addiction is the frequency that the person is taking the drug. During a person’s addiction, their brain and body will become accustomed to having a certain amount of methadone in their system at all times. When they are no longer getting that amount of methadone, they will begin to develop withdrawal symptoms and crave the drug. Their cravings can cause them to take more methadone than is recommended by a doctor, which will increase the risk of an overdose.

Methadone Addiction Treatment

In many cases, methadone addiction can be treated. There are several treatment options for methadone addiction.

Inpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient treatment requires that a person stay in the treatment center for several weeks or months at a time while receiving a daily dose of methadone. The person’s dosage is regulated and closely monitored in this setting. While in an inpatient facility, a person will also receive therapy and counseling.

Outpatient Rehabilitation

Outpatient treatment is often preferred by those who are fighting a methadone addiction. In outpatient care, a person receives therapy and counseling, as well as medication therapy for their methadone addiction, but they are not required to stay at a facility. This gives them the ability to keep up with work, school, and other obligations while receiving treatment. Outpatient care is particularly effective for those who have a strong support system at home.

Medically Assisted Detox

Medically assisted detox is used for treating a methadone addiction when the person has already decided to stop taking the drug. This type of treatment is prescribed by a doctor and requires medical supervision. The person is monitored while they are taken off methadone, usually in the hospital or drug addiction treatment center.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is available at a number of treatment centers that are led by psychologist and addiction specialists. The goal of behavioral therapy is to help the person learn how to live a normal life while they recover from their methadone addiction. This type of therapy helps a person learn how to cope with their feelings and emotions in a more positive way. However, the effectiveness of behavioral therapy depends on many things, including the client’s intelligence level and background. For these reasons, behavioral therapy may not be the best option for some people.


Counseling is also an important part of treatment for methadone addiction. This type of treatment will be provided by a counselor or other trained individual with experience in helping people overcome methadone addiction. A counselor will work to help the person deal with things such as shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. They will help the person find positive solutions to problems, and they may also help them make plans for their future. Counseling will also help the person’s family and friends adjust to dealing with their addiction. This can be a very difficult time in the client’s life, so they will need to have the support of those around them in order to recover from their addiction.

Support Groups

Support groups are often a part of both inpatient and outpatient methadone addiction treatment. This type of treatment is especially helpful for people who have no family or friends to turn to while they are recovering. These groups help people connect with others in similar situations. One of the goals of support groups is to help people come up with ways to cope without methadone so that they will not relapse once they leave the group. The support groups themselves can also help people overcome their addiction and learn about ways to avoid becoming addicted again.


Some treatment centers use meditation as one of their methods to treat a methadone addiction. The method of meditation used will depend on the center that is treating the client. However, one goal of meditation is to help a person learn to calm their mind and avoid using drugs. Often, meditation is part of a type of behavioral therapy. The client is able to learn how to relax their mind and body, forcing the body to stop craving drugs. If this method can be combined with other types of methadone rehabilitation treatments, it may help a person overcome their addiction for good.

Why You Should Consider a Treatment Center for Methadone Abuse

One reason rehab centers are suitable for treating addiction to methadone is because they provide a facility with the proper resources to effectively treat their clients. The healthcare staff in an addiction treatment center is trained and licensed to deal with addiction issues. The staff will also be able to provide each person with a treatment plan that is based on their specific situation. This level of personal care can help the client recover from their addiction more quickly.

The environment of an addiction treatment center is also very supportive. There are many people at the treatment center who are like the client, and they find themselves in similar situations. The environment at a treatment center will be friendly and understanding, allowing a client to get the proper care and support that they need. The environment at a treatment center is also very secure and designed to keep clients away from triggers and the temptation to use.

Overcoming methadone addiction can be a difficult road, but it is possible. When a person receives treatment from an addiction treatment center, the result will be freedom from their addiction. They will learn how to manage their life without relying on methadone. If you or your loved one have a methadone addiction, contact a treatment center immediately to get the help you need.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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