Is Methadone an Effective Treatment for Opioid Addiction?

Learn more about methadone treatment, what it is, and how it is an effective method to treat opioid addiction.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a prescription medication often used as part of an addiction treatment program. While methadone is classified as an opioid drug, it is prescribed to help people taper off opioids safely.

Methadone Therapy

Methadone therapy works because it “replaces” other opioids in the body. When someone takes an opioid, such as heroin, the drug attaches to specific receptor sites in the brain known as opioid receptors—which is how the relaxation and pleasure effects occur. Methadone medication binds to the same receptor sites, preventing the illicit opioid from producing desirable effects.

 
Methadone therapy has been used for over forty years to help individuals struggling with opioid addiction. While medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is not for everyone, it may help many who have a severe addiction or a chronic relapse overcome an opioid use disorder.

Methadone Treatment for Opiate Addiction

Opioid abuse and addiction is a serious issue and affects millions of people each year. In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged twelve and older reported opioid misuse, with 9.7 million misusing prescription opioids and 745,000 using heroin.1

Thus, effective treatment for opioid and opiate use disorder is crucial. Fortunately, methadone treatment helps people struggling with opiate addiction, including heroin, oxycodone, and codeine, overcome dependency as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

 
It is important to remember that methadone medication alone is not a standalone treatment for substance use disorders. Methadone therapy is effective with a full treatment program that includes detox, therapy, and aftercare.

methadone treatment

Methadone Side Effects and Risks

Although generally safe to use in most cases, methadone can produce side effects. The side effects of methadone can be severe in some cases, so it is important to participate in methadone therapy in a monitored addiction treatment program.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects of methadone include:

  • Constipation
  • Restlessness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed breathing
  • Itchy skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Weight gain
  • Flushed skin
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Problems with sexual function 

Severe Side Effects

In more severe circumstances, the side effects of methadone may include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling faint
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures 

Methadone Risks
Methadone treatment is proven to decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms in those recovering from severe opioid addiction. Although using methadone for opioid addiction treatment is highly effective, it is worth noting that several long-term effects of methadone can occur in some people. Because the potential long-term effects of methadone use can be severe, the drug is not typically prescribed for long-term use.

Long-Term Consequences

Examples of potential long-term side effects of methadone use include:2
  • Cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Liver or kidney diseases
  • Difficulties with urination
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Lung disease
  • Heart rhythm disorders

In addition, long-term use can lead to dependency and methadone addiction.

What Methadone Treatment Can Help With

Methadone can be an effective option for several situations; these will be detailed below.

Opioid Addiction

In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methadone as an opioid addiction treatment medication. Although new drugs for medication-assisted treatments have entered the market in the past forty years, methadone for opioid addiction often remains the first course of treatment for many. It is estimated that over 115,000 people have received methadone treatment for opioid addiction thus far.3

Relapse and Alternative Options

In addition to helping those struggling with a severe opioid addiction, methadone can help those who relapsed after completing addiction treatment, tried other treatment methods, and tried other forms of MAT without success.

Pain Management

Methadone can also be used for pain management. Patients who experience severe or chronic pain may be prescribed methadone to help reduce symptoms. This prescription is closely monitored by a doctor and tailored to the individual.

 
It is essential to remember that while methadone has many beneficial uses, the dangers of methadone should not go unnoticed.

How Effective Is Methadone Treatment?

Methadone's medical uses are well documented. Significant evidence shows that methadone helps reduce opioid use and symptoms connected to opioid use disorders. For example, one study found that people on methadone had 33% fewer opioid-positive drug tests and were 4.44 times more likely to stay in treatment compared to controls.4

Decreases Deaths From Overdose

Because methadone affects how opioids act on the brain by directly inhibiting their ability to impact dopamine release, it vastly reduces the risk of death from an opioid overdose. When methadone is used as part of a drug treatment program, the use of opioids like heroin does not produce the same desirable effects. Therefore, the risk of harm and overdose death declines.

Crime Reduction

Methadone drug treatment can reduce criminal activity related to opioid use and abuse. Because the need to obtain and use opioid drugs declines with methadone-assisted treatment, the urge to seek opioids through illegal means also declines. This inevitably leads to less involvement with law enforcement.

Decreased Spread of Blood-Borne Illnesses

Methadone treatment may also reduce the spread of AIDS and other blood-borne illnesses. Because methadone helps people overcome heroin addiction, intravenous (IV) drug use may also decline, reducing potential exposure to blood-borne viruses such as HIV and AIDS.

Improved Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health

Methadone drug therapy helps individuals struggling with opioid addiction overcome their dependence on substances. As a result, physical, emotional, and spiritual health is vastly improved. In addition, as part of a methadone addiction treatment program, participants learn more about the root causes of addiction and how to manage relapse triggers after treatment is complete safely. This leads to a greater sense of health and well-being.

Is Methadone an Opioid?

It is important to remember that despite it being highly beneficial as part of an opioid addiction treatment program, methadone itself is an opioid. Thus, when methadone is prescribed, the dose, duration, frequency, and patients’ well-being are highly regulated.

 
In addition, those who have a history of opioid dependency are at a higher risk of developing a methadone addiction. So, it is important for medical professionals to regularly monitor and observe any symptoms of addiction or methadone dependency.

Will Methadone Abuse Illicit a Similar Response as Other Opioid Dependencies?

Methadone abuse does not produce the same effects as heroin or morphine because the drug is explicitly manufactured to work as an opioid agonist. Therefore, when the body is exposed to an opioid while receiving methadone treatment, the methadone will block the effects of the drug. Nonetheless, methadone can produce similar (but not as potent) euphoric effects, making methadone abuse a common struggle.

Can Methadone Overdose Occur?

Remember, methadone overdose can occur, so it is important to know and recognize the symptoms of methadone overdose to seek medical help as soon as it happens.


Common methadone overdose symptoms include effects on the central nervous system, such as:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Weak pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
methadone treatment

Find an Opioid Abuse Treatment Program at San Diego Detox

Overcoming an opioid addiction should not be done independently. Opioid drugs often produce intense and overwhelming withdrawal symptoms, so seeking help at a professional detox facility like San Diego Detox is the best option for recovery.

Detox

At San Diego Detox, we offer medication-assisted therapy to ensure clients safely and successfully wean off of opioid drugs under the care and supervision of trained medical staff. In addition to monitoring vital signs, medical professionals usually administer medications, such as methadone, to help reduce the intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms during detox.


Using MAT as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program allows our clients to focus on healing and recovery rather than painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Post-Detox Treatment

After detox, clients will transition into a therapeutic program designed to help them learn more about addiction and how to remain sober once treatment ends. As part of various therapy models, they will learn more about co-occurring disorders, safe coping mechanisms, and vital relapse prevention tools to safely and successfully stay sober.

 
As treatment comes to a close, the treatment team will help clients develop a comprehensive aftercare plan to ensure a long continuum of care beyond a primary treatment program.

Regaining Autonomy Over Your Life At San Diego Detox

Contact us at San Diego Detox today if you or a loved one is ready to put struggles with opioid addiction in the past and would like to learn more about medication-assisted treatment and how methadone can help.

Learn More About San Diego Detox

Our team is standing by to discuss your situation and options. Your call is fully confidential, and no obligation is required.