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methadone abuse facts

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Methadone withdrawal can be long-lasting and difficult to endure. Even though the medication is meant to be part of the answer to opioid addiction, it has a high-risk potential for abuse, and many people get addicted to it. Some people abuse this medication to get high or relieve pain, while others simply take it as prescribed for so long that their bodies become physically dependent on it. Whatever the case may be, the best way to quit and get sober is to go to a methadone detox program.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid drug that was originally developed during World War II to treat people with extreme pain. Today it is sometimes used to treat people who are addicted to opioids in an addiction treatment program. The drug works by changing the way the brain and body respond to pain. It also prevents people from being able to get high on other opioids, like heroin, morphine, oxycodone, or codeine.[1] This is why it is used to help treat cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

While methadone is sometimes used in addiction treatment, it is a potent and highly addictive drug. When taken frequently or at high doses, tolerance and physical dependence can develop rapidly. This means users will have to take increasingly high doses of the drug. They will also need to use the drug in order to feel normal.

Once a person’s body becomes dependent on methadone, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to quit taking it abruptly. Since methadone withdrawal is fairly severe, it’s always best to detox in a medical setting.

symptoms of methadone withdrawal

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The symptoms, how intense they are, and how long they last will vary from person to person. Some factors that may influence the duration and severity of withdrawal include age, weight, gender, length of methadone use, regular dosage, and frequency of methadone abuse. A person’s individual medical history and health conditions may also impact this.

Methadone withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of heroin, morphine, and codeine and are flu-like in nature. Common symptoms include:[2]

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Muscle aches, pains, and cramping
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • Drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Stomach cramps
  • Digestive issues

Although detoxing from methadone is generally not life-threatening, there is a very real risk for relapse. Instead of trying to stop cold-turkey or alone, individuals are always encouraged to attend a professional methadone detox program.

methadone withdrawal timeline

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Detox |  Back to top

Methadone is a fairly long-acting opioid, so it may take anywhere between 24 hours or several days for a person’s symptoms to begin. People can expect their symptoms to be at their worst for the first week, however, some individuals may not see their symptoms peak until after 7 days. 

While the methadone withdrawal timeline varies from person to person, here is what most people can expect while detoxing.[3]

  • Days 1-3: Symptoms can take 30 hours or more to set in, so some people may feel fine up until day 2. After that, minor symptoms like chills, fever, and muscle aches will develop.
  • Days 4-9: Symptoms should peak between days 4-9 with symptoms such as strong cravings, anxiety, aches and pains, insomnia, and irritability.
  • Days 10-14: After peak withdrawal symptoms pass, a person’s symptoms should begin to subside. They will still experience stomach problems, discomfort, cravings, and depression.
  • 2+ Weeks: Some symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and drug cravings will persist for 2-3 weeks. After 3-6 weeks, some people will experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS is a condition where minor withdrawal symptoms return and linger for several months to two years.

Since methadone withdrawal can last for such a long time, it can be extremely helpful to detox in a medical setting or at a local rehab center.

symptoms of methadone detox

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Back to top

The safest way to detox from methadone is to do so in a drug treatment or medical hospital setting. The standard protocol for methadone detox involves slowly tapering individuals off of the drug by reducing their dose over a course of several weeks. Rather than quitting cold-turkey, an effective methadone taper can prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.

Others choose to do a rapid detox where they stop taking methadone abruptly. There is no approved treatment for methadone withdrawal, so this must be managed on a holistic basis using coping strategies, therapy, and over-the-counter medications. While this may be faster than tapering, tapering is considered the safest and most effective way to get off methadone.

Find a Methadone Detox Center Near You

Even though methadone is used to treat addiction, it is still an opioid that people can get addicted to. Medical detox centers have teams of medical and clinical experts who specialize in addiction and are qualified to help people safely stop taking methadone. 

If you or someone you know is addicted to or physically dependent on methadone, know that you don’t have to detox alone. Pick up the phone and contact one of our dedicated treatment providers today to locate a methadone detox program near you.