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Methadone as a Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT)

Methadone is an FDA-approved medication used to treat opioid use disorders (OUDs).1 Methadone is a highly regulated prescription drug that is typically administered by a practitioner, typically at a clinic or in a rehab setting.1 It is considered safe when taken as prescribed and can be a powerful tool for treating opioid use disorders. 1 Understanding how methadone works and how it can be an important part of treatment for opioid use disorder, helping you to achieve and maintain recovery.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic, long-acting opioid agonist, meaning it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and blunts or blocks the euphoric effects of illicit opioids.1 As it is an opioid agonist, there is potential for diversion and misuse, but methadone can be extremely effective in managing cravings and eliminating or reducing symptoms of opioid withdrawal.1 Treatment with methadone is specifically tailored to each person who uses it, and doses are continually adjusted and readjusted, particularly during the induction phase, which lasts a few weeks. 1 Methadone generally comes in a liquid concentrate, a powder that is dissolved in water, or a tablet. 2

How Does Methadone Work?

Methadone acts on opioid receptors in the brain in much the same way that other opioids like heroin and morphine activate those receptors. However, methadone occupies and acts on these receptors more slowly, meaning it is does not produce euphoric sensations in someone who is opioid-dependent.3 This makes methadone a useful maintenance drug for those struggling with OUDs, as methadone can help diminish cravings, eliminate and reduce withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse. 5

Methadone Side Effects

As with any medication, there are potential side effects. Common adverse side effects of methadone are similar to the side effects of other opioids and may include: 5

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Constipation.
  • Edema (in arms and legs).

Methadone Interactions

Methadone is an opioid, and although it’s possible to experience an overdose, it is safe to use as prescribed by a doctor. Your prescriber will likely advise you to avoid alcohol and other CNS depressants like Xanax or Valium (commonly prescribed benzodiazepines), as these drugs can interact with methadone and other opioids and may result in severe respiratory depression and potentially fatal overdose. 5 Other interactions can occur when methadone is combined with tricyclic antidepressants, certain heart medications, or antipsychotic drugs, causing irregular heart rhythms that can be dangerous. 5

Some medications can also increase or decrease the effectiveness of methadone. For example, antidepressants like Paxil or Prozac may increase the effects of methadone, while certain antiviral and seizure medications can decrease the effects. 5 Your prescribing doctor or pharmacist can help you determine which medications may interfere with methadone or other medications for OUD.

Methadone Treatment for Addiction

Methadone’s effects can last for days due to the long acting nature of the medication.6 Because of this, methadone tends to produce minimal tolerance and alleviates cravings, reducing compulsive drug-seeking behaviors. 7

Research indicates that methadone treatment for opioid use disorders is associated with lower overdose mortality rates, reduced criminal behavior, decreased likelihood of HIV and hepatitis infection, lower rates of cellulitis. 2  Methadone has also been shown to improve treatment retention and outcomes vs. treatment without medication. 7

Many people benefit from medication as well as additional behavioral therapy to help support discontinuing heroin or other illicit opioids. Effective treatment needs to address the individual needs of each person. Medication may help a person become more open to behavioral therapy, which may include individual, family, or group counseling.8

How to Find Medication for Addiction Treatment

Many treatment facilities offer medication for opioid use disorder treatment with methadone. Communicating with your doctor or healthcare provider can help to determine the best course of treatment to fit your needs. To find treatment services in your area, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a convenient treatment locator on its website; just type in your city, address, or zip code to find treatment facilities near you.

Addiction helplines are another way to connect with people who can help you explore treatment options. American Addiction Centers has a 24/7 helpline with admissions navigators to help guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have. Call today.

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