DRUGS: WHAT YOU
NEED TO KNOW Booklet
Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Addiction
Starting in the 1960s, as the result of the 1966 Narcotic Addiction Rehabilitation Act, methadone began to be prescribed as a treatment for heroin addiction. The theory was that the administration of methadone would keep a heroin-addicted person from going into withdrawal and help them avoid the crimes associated with obtaining and possessing heroin.
It was assumed that once a person began taking methadone they would spend the rest of their lives on the drugs.
The Administration of Methadone as an Addiction Treatment
For many people, the only way to receive methadone as part of a treatment program is to show up at a methadone clinic every morning. Doses are rarely given out for those in treatment to take home. Each individual is given a liquid dose of methadone to consume on the spot. Once it is guaranteed they had consumed their dose, there was no chance they could sell it to anyone else.
There are obvious drawbacks to this method of treatment. The person in treatment can never miss their dose at the clinic, no matter what happened. They can never travel out of town. Methadone clinics have a reputation for being located in less-desirable parts of town. There is also a significant stigma attached to this form of addiction treatment.
Methadone is also available on the illicit drug market in pill form and more liberal methadone clinic policies have allowed increased amounts of methadone to be taken home from clinics.
Signs a Person Is Misusing Methadone
According to the DEA, the number of people misusing methadone has been dropping in the last few years, coming down from more than 500,000 in 2015. The most recent figure available for people misusing methadone is 256,000 for 2018.1
Methadone is a synthetic opioid pain reliever; therefore, when a person is addicted to this drug, they will show the classic signs of opioid addiction. For example:
- Poor memory or concentration
- Difficulty urinating
- Slowed breathing
- Slow reactions and actions
- Mood swings
- Sexual problems3
Long-term opioid use, misuse or addiction is hard on the health of an individual. The lungs may function less efficiently. Lung edema is possible in a person misusing methadone. The heart rate will slow down and low blood pressure can make a person dizzy or faint. Their intestinal functions will slow down as well, which can lead to constipation requiring laxatives.
Pneumonia is also possible. However, because methadone is a painkiller, a methadone-addicted person may not even realize they are sick and may not seek treatment. Methadone and other opioids have been reported to decrease the effectiveness of a person’s immune system, putting them at risk for infections.4
When looking for signs that a person may be addicted to methadone, it may be possible to find prescription bottles in their possession labeled Methadose, Dolophine or simply methadone. Methadone used in opioid treatment programs is usually dispensed as a red or green liquid. It can also be found in tablet or diskette form or as a clear, injectable liquid.
When a person has overdosed on methadone, these signs are likely:
- Loss of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Loud snoring
- Brown fluid coming from the mouth or nose
- Interference with the function of the heart
Methadone overdose death is even more pronounced among those who abuse more than one drug. This is especially true if the other drugs interfere with breathing or cardiac function, like alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates or other opioids.5
Because methadone is a long-lasting drug, it can take longer to completely withdraw from this drug than it does to withdraw from another opioid like heroin or hydrocodone. It’s not uncommon for a person to take a few weeks to a month to fully break free from the effects of methadone.
At that point, it’s important for the formerly-addicted person to benefit from a complete rehabilitation program that will help them develop the skills they need to stay sober. Withdrawal from an addictive substance is not enough, all by itself.
The symptoms of methadone withdrawal include:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Compulsive yawning
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Stomach cramps
Recovery from Methadone Addiction
Once on the other side of methadone withdrawal, it is possible to establish a new, opioid-free life for oneself, free from the opioid effects on lungs, heart and general health.
It is possible to enjoy a life without reliance on addictive substances when a person gets the right support. A family with a loved one who is addicted to methadone or other drugs should not stop until they find an effective rehab. A good rehabilitation program will help the formerly-addicted person develop healthy habits and attitudes to sustain their sobriety.