What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Methadone Use?

by | Oct 30, 2022 | Addiction | 0 comments

Methadone is a medication used for the management of moderate to severe pain and the treatment of opioid addiction. When used as prescribed, methadone is safe and effective. However, methadone comes with the risk of both short- and long-term side effects. Abusing methadone increases the likelihood of negative side effects, and those addicted should seek help as soon as possible.

What is Methadone Used For

Methadone was developed during World War II as an effective and less addictive substitute for painkillers like morphine and opiates. In 1971 the FDA approved methadone as a viable medical treatment for heroin and other opiate abuse.

Methadone is a Schedule II narcotic (which means it has accepted medical uses and can legally be prescribed by physicians in the United States). It is commonly used to treat and manage severe pain, generally in cancer patients. Methadone is an opioid agonist and works like other opioids (morphine, Vicodin, OxyContin, fentanyl, heroin, etc.), binding to the opioid receptors in the brain and blocking sensations of pain. Methadone works much more slowly and is milder than other opioids, so it is believed that methadone has less addictive potential.

Methadone is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help someone addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers fight withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Since withdrawal symptoms make it difficult to stop using opioids, methadone can provide relief and help those addicted quit safely. It can be a stand-alone treatment, but it is usually part of a treatment program that includes individual therapy, 12-Step programs, and other types of social support.

Is Methadone Addictive

Even though methadone is used in addiction treatment, it is still an opioid and users may become physically dependent on it. If methadone use is stopped suddenly, a user would experience the same intense withdrawal symptoms associated with other opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers. While methadone is considered a safer alternative to other narcotics, the drug still has a high risk for abuse and side effects. Individuals can abuse methadone by taking more frequent or higher doses than prescribed and can become addicted.

Short-Term Effects of Methadone

Methadone comes with the risk of side effects even when taken as prescribed, and the patient’s condition should be carefully monitored by trained medical personnel. The short-term side effects can include urinary retention, drowsiness, dizziness/fainting, itchy skin or rashes, dry mouth, upset stomach, sexual dysfunction, tremors, slowed or irregular heartbeat, or decreased respiration rate, as well as hallucinations, depression, insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and trouble concentrating. Then there is the ultimate side effect — death by overdose.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributes over 5,000 deaths each year to methadone overdose.

Methadone is considered safe for long-term use when taken correctly, and it has some solid, long-term benefits. It can help control cravings and prevent relapse, both during withdrawal and on an ongoing basis. Methadone can help people stay in treatment longer and use fewer opioids. It also reduces overdose deaths when use is monitored. In many cases, people who have been taking methadone for years have tapered off completely and have had no adverse long-term effects.

Long-Term Side Effects of Methadone

As with any drug, using methadone long-term can cause problems whether using it illegally or as a prescription maintenance drug. Anyone taking methadone should be supervised by medical professionals who understand methadone and its long-term risks. While some stay on methadone for years, the drug is meant for short-term use. Over time, the doctor should decrease the dosage, eventually reducing it to zero.

Long-term methadone use may cause nerve, liver, and brain damage.

Methadone abuse can cause chemical changes in the brain, leading to mood swings, difficulties dealing with emotions, and possibly increasing sensitivity to pain.

One of the most common long-term effects of methadone use is lung and respiratory problems. Methadone is a depressant — it slows down the respiratory and nervous systems. Other potential long-term effects include changes in mood, nausea/vomiting, trouble concentrating, or cardiovascular problems.

Long-term use in women has been known to disrupt menstrual cycles. Both women and men report a lower sex drive or issues with sexual performance while using methadone. Using methadone to treat opioid addiction during pregnancy must be monitored by a healthcare provider.

The value of methadone treatment should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, the benefits far outweigh the risks — particularly when use is monitored by trained medical professionals. However, the risk of addiction is always present no matter how carefully monitored.

Treatment For Methadone Addiction

Addiction to methadone is beatable. It is best done under the care of an addiction specialist or physician who understands how methadone works. Detox is the first step, along with individual counseling and support group meetings. Once clean, follow up with a strong support network — outpatient treatment, a therapist, and/or support groups.

Bridges of Hope is a Joint Commission-accredited dual-diagnosis adult substance abuse treatment program. Our program is designed to achieve long-term recovery. We are licensed by the State of Indiana Department of Mental Health & Addiction.

Our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. We leave nothing to guesswork as we utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices. We place superior patient care as our highest priority and offer them all-inclusive treatment services.

Contact us to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.