Warning Signs, Symptoms and Signs of Methadone Addiction

This Page was last reviewed and changed on June 15th 2021

Content Overview

While methadone is typically used to help those with a heroin addiction withdraw from the drug safely, it also has the potential to be abused. Many individuals will go on to swap the one addiction for the other without realising. It is therefore vital that the signs of abuse and addiction can be recognised early. Knowing the warning signs may help to prevent an addiction from developing.

Although typically prescribed for the treatment of another opioid addiction, methadone is also an addictive drug itself, being part of the opioid family. It is therefore very possible that those who take this substance will develop a tolerance to it, possibly starting to abuse it, which could then result in physical dependence.

If you are taking methadone, it is important to be aware of the potential for abuse and hence be alert to the warning signs. Knowing how to recognise the symptoms and warning signs of methadone abuse and addiction can help you to avoid your life from spiralling completely out of control.

When Does Drug Use Become Drug Abuse or Addiction?

When methadone is used as part of a controlled programme in the treatment of another opioid addiction, it is generally considered safe. The drug is regulated, and doses are controlled by medical professionals. However, when methadone is taken without a prescription or combined with another substance, it is then classed as abuse – and this is when problems arise.

In general, prescription drug use becomes drug abuse when you take more than the recommended dose or when you take it in a different way to that which it was intended. Nevertheless, most people do not realise that they are abusing prescription medication, mainly because they do not see these drugs as harmful in any way. This is mainly to do with their preconception that anything prescribed by a doctor must be completely safe to take.

When an opioid drug is taken for a prolonged period, the brain and body adjust to its presence and will subsequently alter their response to it. In a nutshell, this means that the drug tends to become less effective with time. So, what might then happen is that when you are not getting the expected relief from a drug, you might be tempted to increase the dose.

This may provide the relief at the time, but it is classed as abuse and has the potential to be very dangerous. It can raise the risk of overdose and it might lead to an addiction. The more of a drug that you take, the more likely it is that you will become physically or psychologically dependent on it – or, indeed, both. When this happens, you could then experience withdrawal symptoms that might end up being quite unpleasant whenever you try to quit the drug. It is often these symptoms that trap users in a cycle of abuse.

Addiction is generally characterised by a compulsive need to use a drug. Therefore, if you are compelled to use a substance despite knowing that in so doing it will cause harm to yourself or others, you more than likely have an addiction.

Negative Effects

As you might expect, methadone addiction can cause many problems. The goal is to taper the dose of methadone over time until the affected individual is no longer using any mood-altering chemicals.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that people end up taking methadone long-term, which subsequently has many negative implications in various aspects of their life. Those taking it for prolonged periods are more likely to develop, for example, sexual dysfunction, breathing problems, and impaired judgement. They are also more likely to suffer an overdose from mixing methadone with other substances.

Chronic use of methadone can also have an adverse impact on day-to-day life and relationships. Your social interactions may become affected, and you might suffer financial problems because of your drug use and the inability you have to perform well at work.

How it Can Change Your Loved One

If you care about someone using methadone, you might well have noticed changes in his or her behaviour as use turns to abuse and then addiction. Under the influence of methadone, your loved one is likely to be a completely different person to the one you knew before substance abuse became an issue.

As the need for methadone takes over, the affected person might have little time for anything that does not help him or her achieve getting the drug. All that will matter is the next fix and everything else will pale into insignificance. This will include responsibilities at home and at work, relationships with loved ones, and hobbies or activities that once brought joy.

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Shifts in Behaviour

The individual’s behaviour is likely to change dramatically because of addiction. You may notice that he or she has become more concerned with privacy. This will likely be an attempt to hide the addiction from others. Together with this need for privacy might be a tendency to isolate or withdraw from others. Addicts often spend a lot of time alone or with other addicts only. This allows them to continue with their addictive behaviour unchecked.

Your loved one might also become more prone to mood swings and anger. Mood-altering chemicals such as methadone have a profound impact on brain function. Continued use of methadone can start to affect the ability to experience pleasure without chemicals. As such, mood swings will become quite common. Many addicts suffer periods of depression that are only shifted when methadone is taken.

Methadone Addiction and the Brain

Addiction to methadone can severely affect the brain and can cause changes in cognitive functioning. It can also result in learning difficulties and problems with memory. With continued abuse of methadone, the brain starts to learn to rely on the drug for ‘normal’ functioning.

Methadone, as with other opioid drugs, binds to the brain’s opioid receptors to provide pain relief, but one side effect of this is a sense or feeling, of euphoria. The long half-life of methadone means that it can stay attached to the brain’s opioid receptors for up to twenty-four hours. Conversely, it is this that makes it an ideal substitution for heroin.

However, too much methadone means increased tolerance as the brain gets used to it. So you may start to find that it is less effective than it was, so you will need higher doses to achieve the effects that you want. So as you already know, you might then develop a psychological or physical dependence on it, which will mean withdrawals if you then try to significantly try to cut down on your use or stop taking it suddenly. These withdrawal symptoms are typically caused by the brain and body having to learn how to function on their own without methadone.

Signs of an Overdose

If you take too much methadone, or if you mix it with another sedative substance, your risk of overdose will increase dramatically. Some of the signs of overdose are:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal spasms
  • disorientation
  • shallow breathing
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • weakness
  • limp muscles
  • blue fingernails and lips
  • cold clammy skin
  • respiratory problems
  • coma

If you notice any of the above signs after taking more methadone than advised to by your doctor or if you have combined it with another sedative substance, it is vital that you get help immediately.

Overdose Prevention

Methadone overdose is actually a growing problem, particularly among those abusing it without a prescription. Indeed, taking street methadone massively increases the risk of overdose, as does taking it with another opioid, barbiturate, benzodiazepine, or alcohol. Mixing different depressant substances increases the risk of breathing problems and cardiac arrest, which as you can imagine could result in fatal consequences.

To prevent methadone overdose, it is important that you seek help for your addiction as soon as possible. The sooner you can address your physical and psychological addiction, the sooner you can get your life back on track. As well as this, your risk of overdose will reduce significantly.

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Early Warning Signs of Teen Methadone Use

Teenagers often abuse mood-altering chemicals and they do this for a variety of reasons. It may be that they are feeling curious and want to see what drugs are like for themselves, or it could be that they have been pressured into it by their peers.

If you are worried about your teenage son or daughter, it is important to be alert to the signs of substance abuse. You might have already noticed some behavioural changes, such as an increased need for privacy or suddenly becoming withdrawn. He or she may have also lost interest in activities and hobbies once enjoyed, and you may have seen a dip in performance at school.

Regardless, if you have noticed these changes, you should look for physical signs that might indicate methadone abuse. It may not be as easy to spot the signs because the substance is a longer acting opioid; nevertheless, you could still look out for dilated pupils and them complaining of feeling nauseous. Other signs you can look out for include sweating, drowsiness, and confusion. If you suspect methadone abuse, it is crucial to seek help for the teen as soon as possible.

Common Physical Warning Signs of Methadone Addiction

For your information, methadone addiction can result in a number of physical symptoms. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • constipation
  • slow breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • drowsiness
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • dry mouth
  • urinary problems
  • sweating
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness

Common Emotional and Social Warning Signs of Methadone Addiction

While methadone addiction causes problems for physical health, it can also have an impact on other areas of life. If you are affected, you are likely to suffer mood issues while you may experience periods of anxiety or depression. You might become isolated and withdrawn and start spending less time with those you care about. This will obviously have a massive effect on your relationships with family members and friends.

Behavioural Warning Signs of Methadone Abuse

One of the most common behavioural signs associated with methadone abuse is prioritising methadone use over everything else. This includes forgoing spending time with family members and friends and possibly not taking part in activities or hobbies once enjoyed.

You might also neglect other responsibilities and commitments while performance at work or school could take a nose-dive. If your use of methadone is beginning to interfere with your ability to go about daily life, it is extremely likely that you need help to get better – and to get it as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Methadone Withdrawal

Whether you have developed a physical dependence to methadone or a full-blown addiction, you are likely to experience a range of withdrawal symptoms should you try to quit suddenly or else significantly reduce the amount that you use.

You might experience symptoms that are similar to having the flu, and these can make you feel unwell. Your symptoms could include chills and muscle aches as well as fever, nausea, and vomiting. As your brain and body adapt to the removal of the drug they have learned to depend on, you may suffer other symptoms including depression and anxiety; you might even experience hallucinations or paranoid delusions.

Unlike with other opioids such as heroin or morphine, the withdrawal symptoms associated with methadone tend to be moderate rather than severe. Either way though, they can be effectively managed in a dedicated detox facility.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do drug abuse and addiction develop?

There are many reasons people abuse drugs. Some do so because they are looking for a way to escape reality due to issues in daily life or possibly past events that are painful to remember. Others do not intentionally abuse drugs – they are often taking prescription medication and develop a tolerance to it.

An increased tolerance to drugs tends to occur irrespective of whether the substance is being used for recreational or medicinal purposes. Electing to increase the amount of the drug being taken may well help to achieve the desired effects, but it can also lead to a physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. This often results in an addiction due to being caught in a cycle of drug abuse when trying to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

How to know when your teen has a drug problem?

Teenage drug use can be easily missed in the early days as many of the symptoms associated with drug use, such a moodiness and isolation, can be a natural part of growing up. However, if you notice a sudden change in your teenager, it is important to be vigilant and to look for other signs. Physical symptoms that cannot be easily explained may indicate a drug problem, especially if coupled with sudden emotional and behavioural changes.

Are heroin and methadone the same thing?

Both heroin and methadone come from the same family of drugs, but they are not the same. Methadone is a prescription-only drug used in the treatment of opioid withdrawal and pain relief. Heroin is an illegal opioid with no medicinal benefits at all.

How can you know if a family member is addicted to methadone?

If someone you love is using methadone and you are worried that he or she might have developed an addiction, there are certain signs to look out for. For example, he or she might become preoccupied with the drug and start neglecting spending time with family members and friends. You could also notice that he or she continues to use methadone even though it is having a negative impact on his or her health or other aspects of life.

What does methadone treatment involve?

Methadone treatment typically involves a programme of detoxification in the first instance. This is where the physical addiction is tackled, and the drug is withdrawn. Detox should ideally take place in a supervised facility as it will be safer and more comfortable in such a facility. After detox, rehabilitation is necessary to deal with the psychological addiction. Rehab usually involves a combination of behavioural and holistic therapies and medication, if appropriate.

What to do if you are concerned for a loved one?

If you are worried that someone cares about has been abusing methadone, you will need to tackle the issue head-on. Although you may be hoping that you are wrong or that things will get better by themselves, the sooner you deal with the problem the better. Pick a time when your loved one will be more open to discussing the issue and stay calm while you express your concerns. Even if the affected person gets angry or denies the problem exists, you will have still planted a seed in his or her mind.

If methadone abuse or addiction is indeed a problem, your loved one is more likely to come around to the idea eventually. If you do nothing, he or she will probably continue with the addictive behaviour for as long as possible.

When to go to rehab for methadone addiction?

Rehab is an essential part of methadone addiction treatment, so if you have developed this illness, you will need to consider it if you want to get better. Rehab usually takes place once detox has been completed. This is because your mind and body need to be free from drugs before you can tackle the emotional issues associated with the addiction.

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