Signs and Symptoms of Methadone Abuse

MethadoneMost people know that methadone is used not only as treatment for opiate addiction but also as a pain reliever. When a person begins use of methadone for pain, they are carefully monitored as the dose is adjusted to the right level, sometimes in a hospital or hospice setting. It is quite dangerous to give a person too-high a dose and ineffective in handling pain if they are given too little. When a person abuses methadone, however, they have no such protection. They are on their own to try to work out how much of the drug to abuse so that it won’t kill them.

Methadone can come as a small pill that is intended to be swallowed or dissolved, or as a liquid to be drunk, diluted or injected. Methadone is not expected to cause the same initial euphoric rush as heroin and other drugs, but the person who is abusing methadone is probably still going to feel high when they first start abusing it. As they develop a tolerance, if they don’t increase their dosage, they will probably just feel numb and drugged without the high.

Because of this lack of euphoria, a person new to abusing methadone may take more and more of it in an attempt to achieve the rush. They may manage to overdose by doing so, which can result in death.

Methadone is a very long-lasting medication which is why it is used for the relief of severe pain. By taking doses too close together, either in this attempt to get high or because of an unfamiliarity with the drug, it is easy to overdose. In fact, thousands of people suffer these accidental deaths each year.

Side Effects Are a Guide to Detecting Abuse

One way methadone abuse can be detected is by looking for the side effects methadone can cause. Many of these symptoms are common to many opiates and so could be a sign of the abuse of any one of several drugs, such as heroin, OxyContin, hydrocodone, morphine or others as well as methadone.

Opiates often cause drowsiness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and constipation. The opiate user often has trouble sleeping so goes onto an unusual sleep schedule. The user may also have a headache, dry mouth, itchiness and lack of appetite. They may sweat, flush and gain weight. Their moods may swing through unusual patterns.

They may complain about skin rashes, water retention or difficulty urinating.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a long-lasting synthetic opiate pain reliever. It acts on the opiod receptors in the brain much like morphine or heroin, but it is chemically different. Unlike morphine or heroin, it does not wear off in a couple hours. It can last anywhere from 8 to 59 hours depending on the dose and tolerance of the user.

Because it produces similar effects to heroin, methadone treatment is commonly used to help heroin addicts detoxify. Methadone detox involves supplying heroin users with a daily dosage of methadone to suppress heroin cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Because methadone is released more slowly and lasts longer than heroin, only one dose a day is used for methadone detoxification.

Use of methadone to treat heroin addiction, however, has become controversial in recent years. Methadone use causes as much of a physical dependence as heroin use, and detoxing from methadone is as difficult if not more difficult than detoxing from heroin. Methadone withdrawal symptoms are similar to heroin withdrawal symptoms and in many cases they are more severe. Additionally, methadone overdose is a real danger and can be fatal. In fact, methadone has become the fastest growing cause of drug deaths in the country.

While medically assisted treatment for opiate addiction is still the preferred treatment method, buprenorphine-based drugs are a far safer option. These drugs include Suboxone and Subutex. With buprenophine, the euphoria obtained is much less significant, and withdrawal symptoms are much less severe. Consequently, buprenorphine addition is less likely than methadone addiction. When combined with appropriate counseling, buprenorphine-assisted treatment for heroin addiction has better long-term prognosis for long-term drug-free living than methadone treatment.


The person who does not tolerate this drug well or who takes too much will suffer dangerously slow breathing and an irregular heartbeat. He may have difficulty breathing and feel dizzy or faint, and manifest confusion. He or she may not be able to think, walk or talk normally. This person should be rushed to their doctor or ER.

If a woman who is nursing a baby also abuses methadone, these symptoms can be seen in her baby as well.
A person abusing methadone may be unable to safely drive or operate machinery.

The other manifestation of a person using methadone is that when withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in, they will generally become obsessed with getting more of the drug. A person starting withdrawal may manifest yawning, muscle aches, restlessness and dilated pupils. They may sweat and their eyes may tear. They probably will be unable to sleep. If withdrawal proceeds, they may have vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. If a person with these symptoms is insistent on getting some money and leaving the house or office, you may be looking at abuse of methadone or another opiate.

Methadone is a synthetic opiate pain reliever that acts on the opiate receptors in the brain just as heroin, morphine and other opiates do. When taken, it produces a euphoric high. Unlike these other drugs, however, methadone effects last for quite a while (up to 59 hours). Methadone releases into the bloodstream more slowly than heroin or morphine. Because it lasts so long, methadone is most commonly used in the treatment of heroin addiction. There are some potentially dangerous methadone side effects, however, including breathing difficulties and changes to the heartbeat that the FDA warns against.

Like with other opiates, the body can become tolerant to methadone. Over time, a higher dose may be needed to produce the same pain relief or to curb withdrawal symptoms. This effect can contribute to physical dependency on methadone. A physical dependency can, but will not always, progress to a methadone addiction. A methadone addiction is similar to a heroin addiction and some even say that it is worse. Methadone cravings can be powerful, and methadone withdrawal symptoms can be relentless. Many of those who use methadone remain on the drug indefinitely to prevent having to go through detoxing off methadone.

Methadone detox side effects can be prevented using Suboxone (buprenorphine). Suboxone, which is also used for detoxification from oxycodone, heroin and other opiates, is much milder than methadone and less addictive. It prevents both cravings and withdrawal symptoms by kicking other opiods off the opiod receptors. By replacing methadone with a less destructive and addictive drug, users can gradually become drug-free.

Removing Residues of Drug Abuse

Even after a person stops using methadone, they may find that they do not bounce back all the way to the clear thinking they experienced before addiction. Their mood may also not recover. One reason for this is that residues of past drug or alcohol abuse often become lodged in fatty tissues of the body where they can remain for years. These residues have also been found to be involved in the triggering of cravings at any time. Getting back to the way they were before addiction requires eliminating these residues.

As part of the overall Narconon addiction recovery program, the Narconon New Life Detoxification Program provides the time in a sauna, nutritional supplements and moderate daily exercise that flushes out these toxins. The result is a brighter outlook and clearer thinking. Many people say their cravings are greatly reduced or gone. This helps greatly in maintaining long-term sobriety.