How Does Methadone Make You FeelAnna Ciulla
Most people are smart enough to realize that indiscriminate use of prescription medications is risky and could be life-threatening. This is especially true with powerful opiate drugs such as methadone. Not only are opiates highly addictive, they come with a long list of nasty side effects, possible interactions with other drugs you might be taking and may result in unwelcome physical and psychological changes that threaten daily functioning as well as your health. If you’re thinking about trying methadone to get high, or you’re taking it now under a doctor’s prescription and toying with upping your dose, doctor-shopping to get more prescriptions, or buying it on the street, you’re going down a dangerous path that may do more harm than just filling you with regret later.
WHAT IS METHADONE?
Methadone is a synthetic opiate initially launched as a painkiller in 1939 and introduced to treat opiate dependence in 1964. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methadone for long-term pharmacology treatment for opiate dependence in 1973. It is currently used in drug rehab facilities to reduce symptoms of withdrawal from opiates and sometimes as an alternative to drugs such as heroin, certain painkiller medications and other opiates.
While methadone may be prescribed as a transition drug from opiates such as heroin, it is possible to become addicted to methadone.
CAN YOU GET HIGH ON METHADONE?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), those who are on maintenance treatment for opiate dependence and addiction do not get a rush or the same type of euphoria associated with heroin and other opiate substitutes. That’s because methadone (and buprenorphine that is also used in treating opiate addiction in medication-assisted treatment, or MAT) produce stable levels of the medication in the brain and have gradual onsets of action. In addition to blocking euphoria, methadone also helps to significantly reduce craving (the desire to use opiates).
When someone is taking prescribed methadone, under a supervised methadone maintenance program, the “narcotic blockade” in methadone prevents heroin addicts from getting high from injecting heroin. The crucial difference between taking methadone under medical supervision and taking it recreationally or trying to self-medicate is that you can’t possibly adjust the dosage and timing of dosing safely. In fact, you’re risking your life every time you take methadone on your own without a doctor’s supervision. Is the potential brief high – if it even happens at all – worth such a risk?
How do you Feel on Methadone?
Everyone is different when it comes to how they feel on methadone. Yet a major contributing factor is whether you’re already addicted to opiate drugs (either illicit or prescription) and are currently taking methadone to stay away from taking the other opiates. Taking methadone as a replacement drug for your opiate drug that’s caused addiction can take away cravings for the original opiate.
Methadone is still an opiate medication, though. As such, it’s generally going to numb you out with respect to some pain, general physical feelings, emotions and cognition. You may experience an increased appetite or find that you seem generally slower to make decisions, think things through, even physical movement may be somewhat affected. Some methadone users report having an increased desire for sweets or sugars. Addiction treatment experts note that while methadone usually exerts a calming effect, it can also provide an energy boost and some measure of motivation at the time when the dosage is taken each day.
Taking methadone for the purposes of getting high, however, is much too dangerous. You could die as a result of breathing that slows too drastically and then stops. You could have an accident because the methadone makes you so sleepy that your coordination suffers.
When you’re on methadone maintenance therapy for opiate addiction, your doses are closely monitored and adjusted, helping to minimize the negative effects of methadone while keeping you more stable and functional and better able to participate in behavioral therapies designed to steer you clear of addictive behaviors and develop a healthier lifestyle.
Methadone Abuse: Why do People do it?
If the euphoric effects of methadone aren’t really there, why do people abuse the drug? What’s the attraction? For one thing, methadone is less expensive and likely more readily available than other opiate drugs – both prescription and illicit. Granted, methadone can only be dispensed in clinics and treatment centers under tightly-regulated restrictions and by personnel who’ve been sufficiently trained and certified to prescribe such medication. That won’t stop someone from doctor-shopping or using fake names and identification to obtain methadone doses that they’ll then use to inject the drug in hopes of staving off withdrawal and/or getting a methadone high from increased dosages.
Some people will do anything to get high, no matter the risks. With methadone, however, a very powerful drug, taking more of it to chase the high is often a futile attempt. Furthermore, taking too much of this extremely addictive drug can prove fatal. Methadone use in combination with taking benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, accelerates the risk of life-threatening medical conditions.
Methadone Addiction: The Risk is Real
An important cautionary note is that, even when taking methadone as prescribed by a doctor, the risk of dependence, addiction, abuse and misuse, overdose and death is real. Methadone is highly addictive and frequently diverted. The possibility of accidental death due to respiratory depression is greatest when first starting methadone, or when the dosage is increased. Other dangers include the risk of arrhythmia, and potentially life-threatening effects when combined with benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressants, including alcohol.
Taking doses either too close together or in increasing quantities greatly magnifies the risk of overdosing on methadone.
WHAT IS METHADONE MAINTENANCE?
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1973 as long-term pharmacotherapy for addiction to opiates, methadone maintenance is one of the most effective therapies for managing opiate addiction.
A number of studies looked at the side effects of methadone maintenance. A 2014 study published in Psychiatrische Praxis found that the most frequently named side effects of opiate maintenance treatment with methadone and levomethadone were sweating and sedation. Noting that dosage was significantly higher with levomethadone than methadone and side effects were more pronounced with levomethadone, researchers recommended methadone as a first-line of treatment for opiate maintenance therapy.
Other short-term side effects of methadone can include:
- Depressed breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Sexual dysfunction
The most serious short-term effect of using methadone is death. Illicit methadone, which is often administered via injection into the bloodstream, subjects users to increased risks from a number of diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Methadone injection is not part of opiate maintenance treatment.
Long-term side effects of methadone use can include problems with lungs and respiration. Women may experience changes in menstrual cycle or discontinuation of cycles, as well as complications during pregnancy if methadone dose is reduced while the woman is pregnant.
METHADONE ADDICTION, TOLERANCE, WITHDRAWAL AND DEPENDENCE
Although methadone is a highly effective medication used in a methadone maintenance program for heroin addiction, the methadone itself can prove physically addictive if used over a long period of time. However, under the close supervision of a doctor or treatment professionals, methadone addiction is less likely. Constant monitoring and adjustment of methadone dosage will also help prevent tolerance to the medication. Tolerance is a significant risk factor for relapse and the onset of cravings.
According to experts, methadone withdrawal symptoms are not as common or harsh as those experienced during heroin withdrawal. On the other hand, long-term methadone use can lead to both physical and psychological dependence. Those under methadone maintenance therapy are still using an opiate, but they’re not plagued by the uncontrolled, disruptive and compulsive behavior characterizing heroin addiction.
It is important to note that, in a 2014 study published in Substance Use and Misuse, researchers reported that, on average, patients in long-term opiate maintenance therapy said it was more difficult to detox from the medication used (such as methadone) than heroin.
The process of withdrawing from methadone can range in duration from 3-6 months, or much longer in the case of chronic, long-term methadone use or addiction. The important thing to remember is that methadone has a place in addiction treatment and recovery. It may not be for you and your treatment team may have alternative medications and therapies to help you get off opiate drugs. Recovering from methadone addiction itself, undergoing medically-supervised drug detox and methadone rehab, can mean taking certain medications and undergoing prescribed behavioral therapies to help you function more normally and learn how to lead a drug-free life in recovery.
For more about methadone, addiction and recovery, check out these articles:
Centennial-Rockefeller University Hospital. “The First Pharmacological Treatment for Addiction: Methadone Maintenance.” Retrieved from http://centennial.rucares.org/index.php?page=Methadone_Maintenance
Center for Substance Abuse Research. “Methadone.” Retrieved from http://cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/methadone.asp
Drugs.com. “Methadone.” Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/pro/methadone.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition.” “Is the use of medications like methadone and buprenorphine simply replacing one addiction with another?” Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/use-medications-methadone-buprenorphine
Psychiatrische Praxis. “[Methadone and levomethadone – dosage and side effects.]” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27246839
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Methadone.” Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/methadone
Substance Use and Misuse. “Why do patients stay in opioid maintenance treatment?” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24328842
WebMD. “What is Methadone?” Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/what-is-methadone#1