What is Methadone?

methadone-scienceAccording to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, methadone is an opiate analgesic prescribed for the treatment of severe pain. It is primarily prescribed to people who are expecting to be in pain, such as after a medical procedure, or those who are unable to be treated with other types of medication.

Furthermore, a growing number of people are using methadone as a means of beating an opiate addiction.

How is Methadone Made?

Anybody who will rely on methadone, regardless of the reason, will want to learn more about the drug. This includes how it is made. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health notes the following:

“Methadone is a “synthetic” opioid, which means that it is made from chemicals in a lab. Methadone was developed in Germany during the Second World War and was first used to provide pain relief.”

How does Methadone Work?

Now that you understand the basics of methadone, including why it is prescribed and how it is made, it is time to learn more about the way the drug provides relief to the patient.

Just the same as all medications, you may never fully understand the finer details of methadone, including how it works. However, it is important to have a basic understanding.

On a basic level, methadone treats pain by changing the way the nervous system and brain respond to pain.

How should Methadone be used?

Methadone-40mgNo matter who you are or why you are taking methadone, it is extremely important that you follow the direction of your doctor. This is a powerful drug that should only be taken as prescribed.

Methadone is commonly prescribed in a tablet form, however, it is available in a dispersible tablet and a liquid.

If methadone is prescribed to relieve pain, it may be taken every eight to 12 hours or as directed by your medical team. In the event that you are taking the drug as part of a treatment program, you may follow a different schedule.

Note: it is important to always take methadone as directed, as taking too much of the drug can lead to serious side effects.

While you are taking methadone, regardless of the reason, it is not uncommon for your doctor to alter your dose. For example, your dose may decrease as your treatment continues.

If you believe it is time to stop taking methadone, check with your doctor first. In most cases, you want to slowly decrease your dose. If you stop without warning, you could experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms.

Common Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms

Regardless of your reason for taking methadone, you should follow through with the treatment for the duration. Stopping without warning can lead to a number of withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be both painful and uncomfortable.

Note: it is common for your doctor to decrease your dose over time. This helps fight against serious withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the most common symptoms include: restlessness, teary eyes, sweating, yawning, runny nose, muscle pain, anxiety, irritability, joint pain, backache, weakness, difficulty sleeping, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite.

Long Term Impact of Methadone

Over the years, many myths have circulated in regards to the long term effects of methadone use. In short, some people believe that using this drug for too long can take a toll on their body. More specifically, that it will damage their thyroid gland and liver while also causing memory issues.

There is no concrete evidence that long term use of methadone is unsafe. In fact, it is believed to be 100 percent safe if used at the correct dose.

In many cases, methadone use can actually improve your health. For example, if you have a condition that requires methadone maintenance treatment, the use of the drug can help you better deal with pain and discomfort.

Common Methadone Myths

In addition to the myth that long term methadone use can be harmful, here are several others to be aware of:

  • Methadone will lead to a high. Unlike other drugs that get you high, methadone does not have the same impact on your body. When you first take the drug, it may make you sleepy or lightheaded for a couple days. However, you will quickly develop a tolerance. When taking methadone, you can expect to feel normal most of the time.
  • Methadone can and will make you sick. As noted above, you may feel strange when you first start taking methadone. This is particularly true if your dose is not high enough. If you do begin to feel sick, it will only be mild. At that point, your doctor can adjust your dose and you will begin to feel better soon enough.
  • Methadone will lead to weight gain. This is one of the primary myths that scare people away from using the drug. Here is what you need to know: not everybody packs on a few pounds when they begin to take methadone. That being said, this could happen. The reason for this is that methadone improves your health, which naturally leads to eating more.

Before taking methadone, it is important to understand “fact” and “fiction.” This will ensure that you are comfortable with the approach to your illness, how you feel, and what the future holds.

Methadone Overdose

In a previous section, we examined the long term impact of methadone use. In addition to this, it is important to understand that taking too much of the drug can lead to an overdose. If this happens, a person will experience a variety of side effects. Even more so, death by overdose is a possibility.

In the event that a person takes too much methadone at one time, some or all of the following side effects could set in:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Low body temperature
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Poor circulation
  • Seizures
  • Clammy skin
  • Coma

As you can see, these overdose symptoms are serious enough to end poorly. For this reason, if you or somebody in your presence is experiencing these symptoms as the result of taking too much methadone, it is important to immediately call an ambulance or visit an emergency room.

Methadone Maintenance

For many people, methadone maintenance treatment has been the difference between a life full of addiction and becoming clean sooner rather than later.

With this type of treatment, methadone is prescribed over the long term to help a person overcome an opioid addiction.

Note: anybody who is taking part in methadone maintenance treatment will also receive care by way of counseling, therapy, and psychological services. Put together, this makes for a comprehensive treatment program that has been proven successful.

Those who have never undergone methadone maintenance treatment have a difficult time understanding the benefits. However, once you learn what it can do for you and your addiction, you may be willing to give it a try.

By taking methadone the body is able to better deal with the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Once the level of methadone reaches a particular level, the person know longer experiences such intense cravings. Over time, tolerance to methadone develops slowly. As a result, patients are able to use methadone maintenance treatment for an extended period of time.

Studies have shown that methadone maintenance treatment can cause a reduction in:

  • The future use of opioids
  • Criminal activity
  • High risk behavior
  • Mortality

Furthermore, this treatment can improve a person’s quality of life, mental and physical health, social functioning, and ability to complete a treatment program. Furthermore, and most importantly, it gives them a better outlook for the future.

When you get involved with a methadone maintenance treatment program, you will be watched by an experienced medical team, which typically includes physicians as well as on-site counselors, nurses, and a pharmacist. In other words, you are in good hands as you rely on this type of treatment to beat an opioid addiction.

Methadone Alternatives

Buprenorphine-SuboxoneWhile there are many benefits of taking methadone, there are other medications that can be substituted when treating opioid dependence. These include Buprenorphine and LAAM (L-alpha-acetyl-methadol).

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic narcotic substance. It also adds the following:

“Unlike the other treatment drugs, Buprenorphine produces far less respiratory depression and is thought to be safer in the event of an overdose. In addition, it does not produce significant levels of physical dependence or discomforting withdrawal symptoms; so discontinued use is easier than methadone.”

LAAM, on the other hand, is used instead of methadone as its impact lasts longer, meaning that patients only need to take the drug three times per week, not every day.


All in all, methadone is used by millions of people the world over. Some people use this drug for all the right reasons, while others become addicted thanks to illicit use.

If used the right way, methadone can help relieve pain. It can also be used to treat people with an opioid addiction. Subsequently, if abused, methadone is addictive and has the ability to cause a variety of side effects.

2 Replies to “Methadone”

  1. Well organized, easily understood and good information about methadone.

  2. Avatar David Stone says:

    This is a good educational piece, and hopefully will help readers more clearly understand some of the basic facts about methadone. I think it could be improved a little bit by adding something about the preferred length of methadone treatment as a means to withdraw from an addiction to opiates. This could help address one of the long-standing controversial topics in the field, which is that substituting one drug (methadone) for another (e.g. heroin).

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