While a methadone is approved to treat opioid use disorder, a methadone addiction is rare but possible. These signs can indicate whether they’re using or abusing methadone.
From the major cities to suburbs and rural areas, the opioid crisis continues to impact thousands of lives. When taken in high doses, opioids create a euphoric rush, making them highly addictive for some people. Opioid addiction can have severe consequences, including brain damage, overdose, coma and death.
While methadone is approved as a medicinal treatment for opioid addiction and dependence and has value in certain situations, there can also be problems with this drug. Often people wonder how they can know if someone is on methadone without a prescription, or if they’re abusing it.
What Is Methadone and Its Intended Use?
When someone has a dependence on opioids, they may be referred to a methadone clinic. A methadone clinic is a specially regulated facility where people are treated for their dependence with another type of opioid: methadone.
Methadone is used as a treatment for withdrawal symptoms related to other opioids. The goal is to help people struggling with opioids to function normally under the careful supervision of a care provider. It’s often part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) used to recover from their addiction.
What Are the Signs Someone Has Taken Methadone?
It takes longer and can be harder to see signs of using methadone compared to other opioids. Methadone has a long half-life of 22 hours in opioid-tolerant patients and an even longer 55 hours if the person has never taken opioids before. This makes it less potent than drugs like heroin but also tougher to tell if someone is on methadone.
When someone is on methadone as part of a carefully supervised methadone maintenance therapy program, there may not be any signs of their use at all.
When someone first starts taking methadone, even as a treatment for opioid dependence and addiction, they may have some symptoms, such as dizziness and a slight high. These symptoms often go away or diminish after using it the first time. Other adverse signs are similar to other opioids and can include:
- Small pupils
Taking methadone in small doses may help someone avoid these symptoms altogether and live their life normally. If they build a tolerance and take higher doses, they may appear tired and sluggish to the people around them.
How Do You Know if Someone Is Addicted to Methadone?
If methadone is being administered as part of an opioid cessation program, it may not be a cause for concern. However, concern may arise if there are red flags that someone is addicted to methadone or it has become a replacement for the original opioid the individual was addicted to.
Signs someone is on methadone and potentially addicted include:
- Tolerance: As with any drug, one of the very first outward signs that someone is addicted to methadone is building a tolerance. Regardless of why someone is on methadone, if they start to adjust to the drug, they may chase the original effects it had on them. The person will take more of the drug or take the drug more frequently, often even without realizing what’s happening.
- Withdrawal: When the body is physically dependent on any substance, including methadone, physical symptoms will occur if a person suddenly stops taking it. Since the half-life of methadone is so long, it can take several days for someone to show signs of withdrawal. The signs someone is in withdrawal from methadone can include soreness of the muscles and general achiness, diarrhea, cramping, chills, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, fatigue and restlessness.
- Loss of Control: When people are on methadone and start abusing this opioid, they may lose their sense of self-control. They tend to start using it more than they wanted to or doing illegal things to obtain the drug.
- Focus on the Drug: A person struggling with a methadone addiction puts a lot of their time and energy into obtaining the drug. They may try to buy methadone illegally, or they might visit multiple doctors who can give methadone.
- Stockpiling: Since methadone is so highly regulated, if people are addicted to the drug, they will often start collecting doses and skipping them when they’re scheduled. This will allow them to gather more and then take higher doses at one time for a greater effect.
While methadone use signs are different for everyone, some of the biggest red flags that someone is abusing methadone include:
- Increasing their dosage without being advised to by their doctor
- Starting to hide their drug use
- Visiting doctors and exaggerating symptoms to get more or higher doses
- Purchasing methadone illegally
- Developing an emotional attachment to using it
- Combining methadone with other substances
Methadone addiction is treatable with an evidence-based, comprehensive approach that addresses the psychological and physical reasons the person took methadone in the first place. If you know someone who is showing signs of abusing methadone, Contact The Recovery Village. Our addiction experts can help them on the path to long-term recovery.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Information about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).” February 14, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2021.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Methadone.” MedlinePlus, February 15, 2021. Accessed August 13, 2021.
O’Malley, Gerald F. & O’Malley, Rika. “Opioid Toxicity and Withdrawal.” Merck Manuals, May 2020. Accessed August 13, 2021.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, May 10, 2020. Accessed August 13, 2021.
World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Manag[…] in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed August 13, 2021.
Grissinger, Matthew. “Keeping Patients Safe From Methadone Overdoses.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics, August 2011. Accessed August 13, 2021.
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