Methadone is a prescription opioid medication used to manage opioid drug withdrawal and cravings or as a maintenance medication during recovery. It also has a lesser known use to treat pain. Due to methadone’s potency as an opioid, some individuals choose to abuse this drug. Prescribed and recreational use may lead to a variety of long-term adverse health effects, including tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, addiction, and overdose. Physical effects include constipation, sexual dysfunction, sleep disruption, respiratory problems, and more.
Why Do People Use Methadone?
As an analgesic, methadone is used as an alternative to morphine and other opioid painkillers for the treatment of chronic and severe pain. In these instances, it’s often used for people who haven’t had a good response to other opioid medications. It is also used to treat pain around the clock.
As a pharmacotherapy, or medication to treat drug abuse, methadone is used as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). As explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this approach entails the use of various behavioral therapies, ensuring for a “whole patient” approach.
Within these programs, it can be used during detox to treat withdrawal and cravings, or for long-term use as a maintenance medication. In the latter case, methadone blocks illicit opioids from creating their pleasurable effects and “allows people to recover from their addiction and to reclaim active and meaningful lives,” as explained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As a maintenance drug, it can only be prescribed by a physician in a heavily-monitored program.
Unfortunately, as an opioid, there is still potential for abuse and addiction. Methadone’s opioid effects are such that if misused at a higher dose or frequency, user’s can create a high or pleasurable effect. Despite the fact that this is a prescribed medication, this misuse is considered abuse and could lead to addiction and numerous adverse health effects.
How Long Do People Typically Take Methadone For?
The duration of methadone use varies and is dependent on why the drug is being used.
Detox: Within detox, methadone is used for the short-term, with use gradually being decreased through a taper. This may take up to several weeks or even months.
Maintenance: According to NIDA “for methadone maintenance, 12 months is considered the minimum, and some opioid-addicted individuals continue to benefit from methadone maintenance for many years.”
Pain relief: When used as an analgesic, duration of use varies dependent on the individual’s specific needs. Some people may be prescribed methadone for a matter of months or years, while others report taking it for a decade.
Recreational use: The length of time a recreational drug user abuses methadone for varies. However, as methadone is extremely addictive, frequent use could quickly lead to an addiction. As with any drug addiction, the longer a person uses for, the greater the dangers and severity of adverse side effects. Without treatment, a person’s addiction could continue for years.
As you can see, the latter three categories could place a user within long-term patterns of use.
Can Long-Term Use Be Beneficial?
Drug addiction and recovery can be rocky and confusing times. For many users, the concept of using an opioid drug to treat an opioid addiction may seem only as if you’re trading one addiction for another. This is not true.
When used properly as prescribed, methadone can be part of an effective treatment and recovery program. Also, as noted by the director of NIDA, when used this way it does not cause a person to become sedated, intoxicated, or “high,” effects associated with drug abuse and addiction. An archived NIDA resource comments on this, asserting that “methadone is medically safe even when used continuously for 10 years or more.”
Long-term methadone use can positively impact a person’s life by reducing cravings and blocking the euphoric effects of opioids, thereby reducing or stopping illicit opioid drug use. Further, methadone has been shown to increase treatment retention rates and decrease both relapses and addiction-related deaths.
As individuals begin building a more solid foundation from these positive impacts, their overall health, well-being, and social functioning begin to improve. Self-care, nutrition, relationships, and a general sense of life fulfillment are all reported to become more enhanced, as individuals begin to become more invested within their lives.
From this, as explained by a Western Journal of Medicine article “There is increasing evidence that long-term methadone use in patients who are dependent on opiates has substantial societal benefits, including diminishing illicit opiate use, reducing the transmission of HIV and hepatitis, and decreasing criminal activity and healthcare costs in this population.” Not only does it reduce criminal activity overall, but NIDA also reports that it decreases the number of individuals who return back to criminal enterprises as well.
Lastly, treatment outcomes are better for the babies of opioid-addicted women who are treated with methadone. Specifically, when used within MAT, the time within the hospital is shorter and neonatal abstinence syndrome becomes less severe.
But, like any medication, methadone does carry certain side effects which could affect a user within long-term, prescribed use.
What Are The Side Effects Of Long-Term Methadone Use?
From prolonged periods of use, individuals taking methadone for prescribed purposes may experience certain side effects. These could include:
- Dry mouth
- Cognitive changes
- Decreased levels of certain vitamins
- Disruption to menstrual cycle
- Fluctuating weight
- Harmful drug interactions
- Opioid-induced hyperalgesia
- Sleep troubles
- Respiratory and lung complications
- Reduced libido
- Sexual dysfunction
Also, the Center for Substance Abuse Research also notes that there could be “pregnancy complications if users reduce dosage levels during pregnancy.”
Addicted individuals will likely face many of these side effects in addition to those which accompany opioid addiction in general. A person’s executive functions could decline, impacting their memory, cognitive functioning, and attention. Rates of methadone-related overdose climb as well, including coma, brain damage, and death. Users also face greater risks of methadone-related illness and disease, such as infectious disease and organ damage.
Discover Your Treatment Options
If you’d like to learn more about methadone as a treatment option for an opioid addiction, contact us now. Your call is confidential, and DrugRehab.org’s compassionate advisors can direct you to the best treatment today for your or your loved one.
For More Information Related to “Long-Term Effects Of Taking Methadone” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From DrugRehab.org:
- Heroin and Opioid Addiction Statistics
- The Psychological Effects Of Methadone
- The Most Commonly Abused Opiates
- Using Naltrexone To Treat Opioid Addiction
- Opioid Addiction in Cancer Patients
- Methadone vs. Suboxone: Pros And Cons Of Both
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction
PLOS ONE — Long-Term Effects of Methadone Maintenance Treatment with Different Psychosocial Intervention Models