Methadone is an opioid that is used for the treatment of addiction to other opioids and the management of chronic severe pain. Although methadone does not produce euphoric effects like other opioids, it still possesses a high potential for abuse. Prolonged use of methadone during the treatment of addiction to other opioids or due to the abuse of methadone can result in the development of dependence on methadone.

Dependence on methadone involves adaptation of the brain to the use of the drug, making methadone use necessary for normal functioning. Discontinuation of methadone use following the development of physical dependence on the drug can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms, although not life-threatening, are severe enough to cause a relapse. Treatment at a detox center can help the individual cope with these severe adverse symptoms.

Methadone Withdrawal

Methadone has a longer half-life than most opioids and thus has a more gradual mode of action than other opioids. The longer half-life of methadone is partly due to its absorption by proteins in various tissues and its subsequent gradual release in the circulation. Methadone does not produce euphoric effects like other opioids due to its longer half-life and hence, is used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms caused by other opioids.

The use of methadone for the treatment of opioid addiction involves maintaining the individual on methadone for several months until they recover. Such prolonged use of methadone results in the development of dependence on methadone. Similarly, methadone is also used over a prolonged duration for the treatment of chronic pain. Besides its therapeutic uses, methadone has a high potential for abuse and repetitive use can lead to dependence and addiction. Discontinuation of methadone use after prolonged use results in withdrawal symptoms that cause significant discomfort.

Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms of methadone withdrawal are usually not life-threatening but can be very unpleasant. The symptoms of methadone withdrawal are described as flu-like and can lead to relapse due to their severity. The symptoms of methadone withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Watery discharge from eyes and nose
  • Hot and cold flashes

The withdrawal symptoms listed above are generally observed during the acute withdrawal phase that lasts for about three weeks after discontinuation of methadone use. Some of the symptoms of methadone withdrawal persist for up to six months after discontinuation of methadone use. This phase of withdrawal symptoms is referred to as the protracted withdrawal phase and involves symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, agitation, fatigue and sleep disturbances.

Methadone Withdrawal Timeline

Methadone has a longer half-life than most opioids, and hence, the symptoms due to methadone withdrawal tend to emerge later and last longer relative to short-acting opioids.

The withdrawal symptoms of methadone tend to emerge between 36 to 48 hours after discontinuation of drug use.

The symptoms of methadone withdrawal tend to peak approximately three days after their onset and may last for about three weeks. The symptoms of protracted withdrawal may persist for several weeks or months (up to six months) after abstinence from methadone use.

Methadone Detox

The symptoms of methadone withdrawal tend to be difficult to cope with and often lead to relapse. Hence, it is not advisable to undertake withdrawal from methadone at home. Enrollment at an inpatient detox is recommended. Treatment at an inpatient or medical detox involves round-the-clock medical supervision to help the individual cope with methadone withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxification involves gradually tapering the dose of methadone. The tapering regimen will be tailored to the severity of the methadone dependence, and the psychological and physiological characteristics of the individual.

Medications may also be administered to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Some of the medications used during detoxification from opioids like methadone may include loperamide for diarrhea, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen for muscle cramps, promethazine for vomiting, and clonidine or lofexidine for high blood pressure.

Finding Help for Methadone Abuse in Orlando, FL

Use of methadone in a way other than prescribed, i.e. misuse or its abuse for recreational purposes can lead to dependence and addiction. Addiction to opioids like methadone can be difficult to overcome and enrollment at a rehabilitation center is necessary for the treatment of methadone addiction.

Treatment for methadone addiction involves detoxification to cope with the withdrawal symptoms followed by psychological and pharmacological treatments for the addiction. Treatment at a rehabilitation center can provide the intensive care and treatment required to address the psychological and social issues underlying the drug use.

If you or a loved one are dependent on or are addicted to prescription opioids like methadone, Orlando Recovery Center can help. The Orlando Recovery Center provides evidence-based detoxification and rehabilitation services for substance use disorders delivered by experienced and accredited professionals.

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World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Manag[…]e in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed November 7, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treat[…]Specific Substances.” 2006. Accessed November 7, 2019.

Shah, Mansi; Huecker, Martin R. “Opioid Withdrawal.” NCBI Bookshelf, June 2019. Accessed November 7, 2019

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.