What are the Pros and Cons of Taking Methadone?

Amy Hunter

Taking methadone is a tested method of dealing with opiate addiction. While it does provide relief for many people suffering from addiction, allowing them to live a full, productive life, there are drawbacks as well. Methadone users must refrain from taking any other drugs and drinking alcohol to prevent life threating drug interactions. They must also be willing to work with their healthcare provider to determine the most effective dosage, which can take several weeks. Methadone may also cause unpleasant side effects.

Heroin addicts might be treated with methadone.
Heroin addicts might be treated with methadone.

Heroin, as well as the prescription drugs hydrocodone, dilaudid, and oxycontin are considered opiates. Opiate addiction is problematic because users are often unable to hold jobs and maintain a functional lifestyle. In addition, individuals addicted to opiates are at an increased risk of hepatitis B and C, HIV infection, and several other mental and physical problems.

Detoxing from methadone is as difficult as detoxing from heroin.
Detoxing from methadone is as difficult as detoxing from heroin.

Methadone works by filling the brain receptors that normally respond to opiates. By doing this, it relieves opiate withdrawal symptoms and blocks both the sedating and euphoria-inducing sensations of opiate drugs. Methadone does this without causing feelings of intoxication or euphoria, when taken at the proper doses, and is excreted by the body slowly, so it only requires a once daily dosage. Methadone treatment is a long process, with the minimum treatment time being 12 months. Many people remain on methadone for several years.

Taking methadone requires a commitment on the part of the patient to quit taking drugs. While methadone relieves cravings for opiates, many users also abuse crack, cocaine, or alcohol. Patients cannot participate in methadone therapy if they are using any other substances. Methadone treatment centers will conduct drug and alcohol tests before providing methadone.

Potential side effects of taking methadone include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme fatigue, feeling lightheaded, sweating, and a skin rash. These symptoms typically occur early in methadone therapy and resolve as therapy progresses. They should not hinder an individual's therapy plan.

Less common side effects of this drug include headaches, visual disturbances, dry mouth, constipation, changes in sex drive, and joint pain and swelling. These side effects can make it difficult to remain in methadone therapy for some patients. Many individuals drop out of methadone treatment and find themselves abusing drugs again because of the unpleasant side effects of methadone.

Methadone treatment was developed in the 1960s. At the time, methadone therapy was combined with vocational training and resocialization programs in an attempt to provide people suffering with addiction the best chance of successful treatment. Individuals who support taking methadone for the treatment of opiate addiction point to the benefits of reducing addiction levels. Benefits include reducing the risk of needle-transmitted diseases, overdose, lower levels of criminal activity in a community, and lower rates of drug-related deaths.

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