What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid prescribed for moderate to severe pain. It is also commonly used to treat opiate addictions, especially addiction to heroin.

Methadone acts on the same opioid receptors as morphine and heroin to stabilize patients and minimize withdrawal symptoms in the case of an addiction.

Methadone is a federally designated Schedule II drug, meaning it has a legitimate legal use but also a high likelihood of its users developing a dependence. This also means that it is illegal to use methadone to get high, and that abuse can lead to severe mental impairment and physical dependence. Other Schedule II drugs include hydrocodone and morphine.

Methadone Abuse

While methadone is used as a way to curb addiction and reduce cravings, it is a heavily-regulated drug. It is so regulated that patients who are prescribed methadone in an outpatient setting have to go to a clinic every day to be administered their dose. It is a powerful opiate with potentially addictive qualities. People who start using methadone to overcome their heroin addiction are at a higher risk of abuse because they already have a history of opioid dependency. Some addicts, in fact, prefer methadone as their substance of choice. Any time someone uses more methadone than they are prescribed, or uses it without a prescription, they are abusing the medication.

Methadone does not create the same euphoric effects as heroin or morphine because it is designed to do the opposite; the drug is formulated to block the pleasurable sensations of other opiates. If an individual who is being treated with methadone attempts to get high by using heroin, the methadone will block the euphoric effects of the heroin (and of all other opioids). However, methadone does have some euphoric effects. They are limited; however, they are also great enough that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has indicated that methadone users aren’t “fit to drive” due to the side effects of methadone.

Some of the side effects of methadone include sedation, euphoria, decreased reaction time and attention span, drowsiness, droopy eyelids, dry mouth, muscle weakness, decreased body temperature and blood pressure, and little to no reaction to light. In high doses of methadone, an actual “high” can be created. The euphoric effects can also be increased via method of administration, such as intravenous use.

Statistics Of Methadone Abuse

  • The number of poisoning deaths involving methadone increased from 790 to 5,420 between 1999 and 2006 (due to the drug’s increased use as a pain medication).
  • In 2008, there were 750,000 methadone prescriptions written for pain relief.
  • Between 2000 and 2001, the number of people treated for abuse of “other opiates” (including methadone) increased from 28,235 to 36,265.
  • Methadone is involved in one third of opiate painkiller-related overdose deaths.


As a powerful opioid, methadone can cause an overdose. An overdose occurs when someone takes too much of the medication, often without a prescription or beyond medical limits. An overdose is a dangerous situation which requires medical attention, so it’s important to recognize the signs.

The symptoms of a methadone overdose include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Discoloration in the nails and fingertips
  • Dizziness
  • Hypertension
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Respiratory depression (fatal in extreme cases)

Methadone Addiction

Addiction to methadone can be a bit of a taboo topic, as many people in the medical community see the drug as a necessary aid in helping heroin addicts recover. But as with any opiate, addiction is an all-too-common side effect. An addiction to methadone can come about because the drug eases a user’s pain. As time goes on and tolerance builds, more of the drug is needed for the same effect.

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Methadone And Other Drugs

Methadone is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, and there is a very high risk of negative complications when it is combined with other depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. Some people struggling with a methadone addiction are also alcoholics. This is a potentially deadly combination, as the two substances combine to cause dangerously low blood pressure and respiratory depression. It is never safe to use methadone together with any other substance, even some herbal remedies (particularly St. John’s Wort).

Overcoming Methadone Addiction

Methadone, like any other opioid, can be very challenging to quit. Even though the drug isn’t known for being as powerfully addictive as heroin, quitting methadone can lead to withdrawal symptoms that can be hard to overcome on your own. Fortunately, there are recovery centers throughout the world where people can get help with withdrawal and overcome addiction once and for all. If you or someone you know has an addiction to methadone or any other substance, contact a treatment provider today for more information on where to go to get help.