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Methadone for Drug Abuse

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
methadone Dolophine, Methadose

Methadone is available as a tablet, liquid, or an injection.

How It Works

Methadone works on parts of the brain and spinal cord to block the "high" caused by using opiates (such as heroin). It also helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms caused by opiate use. The action of methadone is similar to other synthetic (man-made) medicines in the morphine category (opioids). Substances that are derived directly from the opium plant (such as heroin, morphine, and codeine) are known as opiates.

Why It Is Used

Methadone is commonly used to treat addiction to opiates (such as heroin). Taken once a day, methadone eases opiate withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours, decreasing the chance of relapse.

How Well It Works

As a treatment for opiate addiction, methadone reduces the cravings and withdrawal symptoms caused by opiate use by blocking the "high" and preventing the intense euphoric rush of these drugs. This effect allows people to avoid the physical and psychological highs and lows caused by changing levels of opiates in the blood, decreasing the chance of relapse. In some cases of opiate addiction, methadone treatment may be needed for several years or longer.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Signs of an overdose, including:
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Severe nervousness or restlessness.
  • Severe dizziness, drowsiness, or weakness.
  • Slow breathing.
  • Seizures.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • A fast, slow, or pounding heartbeat.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Redness or flushing of the face.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Constipation.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Methadone is a long-acting medicine, and each dose stays in the body for a long time. For this reason, dosages should be adjusted with caution, ideally by an addiction specialist. It may take a couple of days after the medicine is started before the dose of methadone is fully effective.

In some people methadone impairs balance, coordination, or the ability to think. Do not drive or operate any type of equipment if you are taking methadone.

Do not drink alcohol or use other drugs while you are taking methadone.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
Current as of March 12, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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