Commonly prescribed to treat heroin addiction, methadone is a synthetic form of opioid that can also be used for the relief of moderate to severe pain.
When obtained via prescription, methadone usually resembles a green liquid that is swallowed. However, in some instances, methadone can be prescribed in pill, injection or wafer form.
The effects of methadone are similar to that of highly addictive opioids such as heroin but with a lower risk of overdose, making this medication a good option for those who wish to recover from a heroin addiction but do not want to experience the withdrawal symptoms that come with quitting cold turkey.
However, while methadone is a less addictive counterpart to heroin, it still comes with its own addictive properties and overdose risk. This is more apparent when this medication is obtained illegally and taken without a prescription, and as a result, there is a growing epidemic of people addicted to methadone.
What makes methadone so addictive?
While methadone is less addictive than its opioid counterparts such as codeine and fentanyl, it still has the potential to become habit-forming particularly when used outside of medical guidance.
Methadone works similarly to other opioid medications, by binding to receptors in the brain in order to reduce the sensation of pain. However, while drugs such as heroin also cause immense feelings of euphoria and pleasure, methadone does not have the same effect on opioid-addicted individuals.
Instead, this medication activates slowly and has longer-lasting effects that can include drowsiness and relaxation. While this method can be a positive factor as it reduces the frequency of the dosage, it can also be addictive in many people.
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be struggling with a methadone addiction, speak to our team at OK Rehab for guidance and support while you consider your treatment options.
What are the signs and symptoms of methadone addiction?
The signs of methadone addiction can be difficult to spot, particularly if the individual is taking this medication as part of a prescription treatment plan for heroin addiction. Many people will eventually be weaned off methadone over a period of time, but others may switch from heroin addiction to a methadone addiction and continue their prescription for life.
When a person is taking methadone without a prescription, the signs of addiction may be more apparent. If they have attempted to reduce or eliminate the dosage of methadone but have been unable to, or have experienced negative consequences relating to their methadone use but continue the behaviour, they may have developed an addiction to this substance.
Physical symptoms of a methadone addiction include:
- Frequent bouts of drowsiness and fatigue
- Poor personal hygiene and lack of grooming
- Lowered sex drive and difficulty performing
- Digestive problems
- Tremors and shakes
- Feeling dizzy, fainting spells
- Irregular heartbeat
- Feeling light-headed
Psychological symptoms of a methadone addiction include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Insomnia and nightmares
- Extreme feelings of paranoia
- Difficulty concentrating
- Experiencing delusions
- Visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations
- Thoughts of suicide
Behavioural symptoms of a methadone addiction include:
- Visiting a number of doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Becoming isolated and withdrawn
- Neglecting responsibilities at school, work and home
- Appearing defensive when questioned about methadone use
- Poor performance at school or work
- Suddenly spending time with a new group of friends
- Spending the majority of their time obtaining or using methadone
What are the long-term effects of a methadone addiction?
As methadone is a form of opioid, the long-term effects of this medication as similar to those such as fentanyl and heroin. If you take methadone over a long period of time without a prescription, you are at a higher risk of developing a number of side effects that in some cases may be permanent. 
Long-term effects of a methadone addiction include:
- Damage to the heart and ongoing cardiovascular issues
- Impaired judgement, increase in risky behaviour
- Respiratory issues
- Collapsed veins
- Fertility issues – impaired sexual performance in men, changes to menstrual cycle in women
- Sleep problems including insomnia
- Memory loss and trouble retaining information
Can I take methadone while pregnant?
Many women following a methadone treatment plan may fall pregnant during the process. As the effects of methadone are generally safer than other opioid-based substances as well as the risk of withdrawal or relapse, it is often recommended that these women continue with their methadone treatment under careful medical supervision. 
If you have been following a methadone prescription and have recently discovered that you are pregnant, it is important that you do not suddenly stop taking this medication as this could cause withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous to both you and your baby. Instead, speak to your doctor about your options.
It is possible that a pregnant woman who is taking methadone could give birth to a methadone-addicted baby. In these cases, the baby is often given a low dosage of this medication at birth and is slowly weaned off over a short period of time.
As the levels of methadone found in breast milk are extremely low, it is safe for a woman who is taking methadone to breastfeed her baby. 
Can I become addicted to methadone even when prescribed by a doctor?
Becoming addicted to prescribed medication is more common than many people believe. If you take methadone as directed by your doctor and are subject to careful monitoring then it is unlikely that you will become addicted, particularly if your doctor is attempting to slowly wean you off this medication over time.
However, when used differently than intended, methadone has the potential to be addictive. If you take more than you are prescribed, ingest more frequently than recommended or obtain multiple prescriptions of methadone, you may have developed an addiction to this medication.
The body can quickly build up a tolerance to opioid-based medication, meaning that the effects will be dulled over time, and you may feel the desire to take more than the recommended dosage in order to experience the initial effects.
Some people believe that methadone does not have the potential to be harmful, simply due to the fact that they have been prescribed this medication by a doctor. However, taking too much methadone or using it in a way that is not intended can have serious consequences, including overdose and even death.
Can I die from using methadone?
When taken as prescribed and subject to careful medical monitoring, the risk of death from methadone is low. However, the misuse of this medication can be extremely dangerous.
If you have not been prescribed methadone and are simply ingesting it in order to experience the effects, you are putting yourself at risk of overdose. Taking the full dose of someone else’s medication can be lethal as the dosage was specifically formulated for that individual who has likely built up a stronger tolerance to opioids. An overdose can also occur if the methadone is ingested at various points throughout the day, particularly when combined with other substances such as alcohol. 
Even the individual selling their methadone is at risk of overdose through this behaviour, as their body becomes used to smaller or less frequent doses. If they are required to take the full dose in a medical setting, they could overdose as their body has lost their initial tolerance to this medication.
Common signs of methadone overdose include:
- Extreme drowsiness and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Clammy skin
- Blue-tinted skin, lips and fingernails
- Slow breathing
If you are concerned that someone has taken an overdose of methadone, call 999 and seek urgent medical treatment immediately. If possible you will need to inform the medical staff of exactly what the individual has taken so that they can provide the most effective care.
Recovery and withdrawal from a methadone addiction
If you are following a methadone prescription and have become concerned that you may be developing an addiction, speak to your doctor straight away. Do not attempt to wean yourself off or completely stop your dosage of methadone, as this can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms and could lead to a relapse.
Common methadone withdrawal symptoms include:
- Flu-like symptoms including runny nose, fever and muscle aches
- Intense cravings for methadone
- Body chills and goosebumps
- Feelings of anxiety and depression
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Gastrointestinal problems including diarrhoea and cramps
- Excessive perspiration
- Nausea and vomiting
There are a number of treatment programmes available for people who have become addicted to methadone, including those that have been ingesting street methadone on a regular basis.
When considering treatment options, look for a rehabilitation centre or recovery programme that offers a combination of detoxification, counselling and aftercare. It is important to address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction in order to increase the chances of long-term recovery, and an effective aftercare programme including attendance at local support groups and ongoing counselling can reduce the risk of relapse and minimise feelings of isolation and loneliness.