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Understanding Methadone Use and Its Effects
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people take Methadone to aid in the recovery from Opioid addiction. Methadone is an Opiate agonist that is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help people reduce or quit their use of Heroin or other Opioids, although it is only effective when combined with counseling and other support. Methadone is also sometimes used as a pain reliever for conditions that have been difficult to manage with other medications. Methadone is a Schedule II narcotic and works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. The intended effects of Methadone are to lessen the painful symptoms of Opioid withdrawal and block the euphoric effects of Opioid drugs such as Heroin and Morphine, as well as semi-synthetic Opioids like Hydrocodone.
Methadone is available as either a pill, liquid, or wafer form that is taken once daily. Pain relief from a dose of Methadone typically lasts anywhere from four to eight hours, but its effects last for up to 24 hours when used in Methadone maintenance programs.
Like other Opioids, Methadone binds to opioid receptors in the central nervous system and activates them, leading to pain relief. However, unlike other Opioids, Methadone’s effects are much more gradual and milder. Methadone purposefully does not have the chemicals present in other opioids that cause a euphoric state. While Methadone is effective at managing cravings for Opioid drugs and reducing withdrawal symptoms, it can still be abused and cause addiction in consumers when misused. As a result, patients who are prescribed Methadone for MAT are often strictly monitored with drug testing and required to visit a clinic daily to get their dose of the medication. In fact, patients taking methadone can only legally receive the medication through an Opioid Treatment Program.
What Are the Effects of Methadone Use?
As with most medications, there are many benefits to using Methadone, particularly for those in recovery for Opioid addiction. However, there is also a variety of potentially harmful effects that comes with the drug as well. Even if someone only uses Methadone briefly, they may notice some unpleasant physical side effects, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Vision problems
- Shallow breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased heart rate
In addition to these physical side effects, Methadone can also induce some troubling psychological effects, including:
- Mood swings
- Decreased sex drive
- Suicidal ideations
In instances that the side effects are too debilitating, the dosage of Methadone will be lowered, or the person may be switched to a different medication, such as Buprenorphine. If someone is abusing Methadone, these symptoms will often worsen and can lead to overdose, resulting in a coma or possibly even death.
Symptoms of a Methadone Overdose
A Methadone overdose often occurs when users combine the drug with other central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines or alcohol. Unlike most other Opioid-related deaths, two-thirds of all Methadone deaths involve the use of multiple drugs, such as Oxycodone and alcohol.
Because the drug remains in the body for an incredibly long period of time, many users do not even realize that they are mixing drugs. Methadone has a long half-life and stays in bodily systems much longer than other Opioids. The rate at which the drug is released from the liver and other tissues into the bloodstream is extremely slow, and this can result in a buildup of toxicity in the blood. If toxic levels are reached, both respiratory depression and central nervous system (CNS) depression can occur due to low levels of oxygen in the brain. Even after several hours have passed and the pain relief from the drug has subsided, Methadone is not clear from the body.
Symptoms of overdose may develop slowly so it’s important to know what to look for. Side effects should be taken seriously, as some may indicate an emergency. Patients should stop taking Methadone and contact emergency services right away if any of the following occur:
- Extreme chest pain or tightness
- Difficulty or absence of breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Weak heartbeat
- Cold or clammy skin
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils
- Weak pulse
- Muscle spasms
Please be aware that signs of a methadone overdose may not appear for up to 10 hours after use.
The Long-Term Consequences of Methadone Use
Despite the fact that Methadone is relatively milder Opioid drug, it’s important to realize that it is still a narcotic with a high risk of abuse and addiction. When a person takes Methadone in any form, they run the risk of developing a physical dependence on the drug. Methadone addiction can develop through both illicit use, which is any use without a prescription, and intentional misuse of the drug, (i.e., taking more than is prescribed or combining the drug with other substances of abuse). An addiction to any substance can have incredibly dangerous effects on a person, and an addiction to Methadone is no different. Long-term use of the drug can cause irreversible damage to a person’s nerves, liver, and even brain.
The long-term consequences of Methadone use are much like those of other Opioids, including:
- Cardiovascular issues such as collapsed veins
- Menstrual cycle changes in women and sexual dysfunction in men
- Impaired memory and cognitive function
- Respiratory issues like reduced breathing rates
- Re-occurring insomnia and hypersomnia
- Issues with judgment and a tendency to engage in risky behaviors
Finding Treatment for Methadone Addiction
Although Methadone is a life-saving drug for some, the medication still poses a high-risk for abuse and dependency. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to Methadone, contact a dedicated treatment provider and receive assistance in finding the best treatment options for you. Methadone addiction is extremely treatable and you shouldn’t feel any shame in getting help. Reach out and take the first step to an addiction-free life today.
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