What are the Long-Term Effects of Methadone?

by | Nov 4, 2020 | MAT

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Methadone is a common drug used to treat severe, chronic pain. It’s also used as a prescription drug to treat those that have become addicted to opioids, such as OxyContin, fentanyl, or heroin. It helps decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms when coming off the opioids. It also helps people stay off the more dangerous opioids like heroin.

Whether you’re interested in learning more about methadone for pain management, or you’re seeking it to help aid you with addiction recovery, there are some long-term effects of methadone you should be aware of.

The Basics Of Methadone

Methadone has been used as a pain killer for many years.  The first time it was synthesized and used by doctors was in Germany in World War II.  Initially, the medical field used it because they agreed that it wasn’t as addictive as morphine. Later, in the 70’s, physicians began using methadone to treat those who were addicted to opioids, as it helped curb intense detox symptoms.

Today, the healthcare field uses methadone mostly for opioid management.

Methadone Side Effects

Due to varied side effects, it’s important that methadone use be monitored by trained physicians. Those that use methadone legally or illegally may experience side effects, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Digestive issues
  • Constipation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased sweating
  • Weight gain
  • Lack of libido

Of course, the degree of side effects will vary depending on different factors.  Those that are misusing or abusing methadone may experience more intense side effects.  Other factors include:

  • Dose of methadone
  • Severity of addiction
  • Age, weight
  • Polydrug use

Long-Term Effects Of Methadone

As with any drug, using methadone long-term can cause problems.  Whether you’re using it illegally or as a prescription maintenance drug, you can become addicted to methadone.  Then, when you want to stop using the drug, you may run into some harsh withdrawal symptoms.

Anyone using methadone should be strictly supervised by healthcare professionals who understand methadone and the long-term risks. While some people stay on methadone for many years, the drug is meant to assist people get off opioids without suffering from the severe detox symptoms. Then, over time the doctor should be decreasing the dosage, weaning the person off.

Nerve, Liver, and Brain Damage

There are various long-term effects of methadone. According to a study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior in 2011, long-term methadone use may cause nerve, liver, and brain damage. The study was conducted on rats, but researchers propose that the results found could occur in humans who use methadone long-term too.

Reproductive Health & Libido

Long-term effects of methadone on women have been known to disrupt menstrual cycles. Also, women and men have reported a lower sex drive and/or sexual performance while using methadone. Regarding pregnant women, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends treating opioid addiction with methadone.

Women who are pregnant and do not receive treatment for opioid addiction risk severe health issues for the baby. However, using methadone to treat opioid addiction during pregnancy also comes with some risks. This is why it’s imperative for women to be monitored regularly by a healthcare provider who can adjust the dosage as necessary.

Methadone In The Blood

Long-term effects of methadone on the blood can be severe, including death. This is a unique risk, as there’s no way to really know who can be affected in this way.  Essentially, because methadone is toxic, if a person does not metabolize the drug for some reason, there can be a buildup. Over time, that buildup could get high enough to cause the person to overdose.

Though it’s not exactly clear the risk factors, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have found that African-Americans tend to be more at risk than Caucasians due to genetic factors.

Other potential long-term effects of methadone include:

  • Problems with the respiratory system
  • Changes in mood
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble focusing
  • Not as attentive
  • Cardiovascular problems

Those that abuse or misuse methadone also put themselves at a higher risk of overdosing. This happens mainly because you don’t get the euphoric feeling that you normally get when taking opioids.  This can cause some to think that taking more might get them “high”, but it doesn’t.  Using increased methadone dosages, therefore, can lead to an overdose, which could be fatal.

How To Get Off Methadone

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to methadone, or you simply want to know how to get off methadone, know that you absolutely can.  However, it’s best to get off methadone under the care of an addiction specialist or physician who understands how methadone works.

There are also reputable addiction recovery rehabs and treatment centers that can help you get free from methadone. Using comprehensive, customized treatment plans, you will receive unique, holistic care to help you stop using methadone and work on other life goals too.

The first step will be to detox from methadone. This usually takes between 5 and 10 days.  During this time, as well as after, you will receive around-the-clock monitoring.  You will likely receive individual counseling and perhaps attend some support groups as you continue to recover. If you’re struggling with a mental health issue, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or something else, you can receive treatment for that as well.

The amount of time spent in treatment can vary. Typically, people stay for around one month before returning home. Others may finish treatment and then live in a sober living home until they feel strong enough in their recovery to go home.  It’s whatever your specific needs are at the time. It’s recommended that you follow up with a strong support network, such as outpatient treatment, a therapist, and/or support groups.

Reach Out For Help

Methadone can be a great tool for opioid addiction recovery or pain management, but it can have long-term side effects and health consequences. If you’d like to learn more about methadone or addiction recovery, please call Soul Surgery today (833) 568-6619 and talk to an addiction specialist to discuss your options.

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani
Dr. Ravi Chandiramani is a Naturopathic physician with over 15 years experience working with those struggling with addiction and alcoholism. Over those 15 years he has worked with over 7,000 patients. He is the founder of the Integrative Addiction Medicine (I-AM) model which combines evidence-based conventional addiction medicine with the nurturing and rebuilding modalities inherent to the practice of Naturopathic medicine.

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