Methadone: A Common Form of MAT

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Methadone is one of the most common medications used in MAT (medication-assisted treatment) programs. Used primarily for the treatment of alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) and opioid addiction (opioid use disorder or heroin use disorder), the medication is dispensed in a licensed and accredited methadone clinic. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) uses the term OTP (opioid treatment program) to describe methadone clinics.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is mainly used to treat opioid addiction as part of an MAT program. Less frequently, methadone is prescribed for pain management. 

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The medication gained FDA approval in 1947. Initially approved for analgesic or antitussive applications, methadone was found to treat opiate addiction effectively in the 1960s. The FDA approved methadone for this use in 1972. 

When methadone is taken only as directed, it is safe and proven effective, encouraging abstinence from opioid abuse and promoting sustained recovery. 

Methadone is always used as one component of an overarching treatment plan alongside counseling and psychotherapy.

It is important to note that not all clients will receive methadone or other forms of MAT, it will be given on a case-by-case basis.

What is methadone used for, then? 

What is it Used For?

First used to treat heroin addiction, methadone is now prescribed for the treatment of all types of opioid use disorder, including addiction to opioid painkillers. 

Methadone is classified as a long-acting opioid agonist with a mechanism of action that blocks the effects of opioids to inhibit further abuse, while at the same time reducing the intensity of cravings for opioids and withdrawal symptoms during detox. 

Like all opioid agonists, methadone targets the opioid receptors in your brain without triggering the euphoric effects associated with opioids. Methadone is a synthetic opioid in slow-release formulation, meaning it will activate opioid receptors less aggressively than medications like Suboxone (a full opioid agonist). 

Available in liquid, powder, or disc form, methadone treatment involves daily doses at a methadone clinic, sometimes called SUDS (substance use disorder services clinics) or OTPs (opioid treatment programs). Methadone clinics are also licensed to dispense naltrexone and Suboxone as well as methadone. All of the 1,700 OTPs in the U.S. are SAMHSA-certified and DEA-registered.

An image of a man staring into the sunset, considering the use of a methadone to treat opioid addiction

Common Methadone Side Effects

If you take methadone as part of an MAT program or for pain management, you may experience any of the following common side effects. Most of these side effects will subside as your body becomes accustomed to the medication and do not require medical attention. 

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Reduced libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Impaired sexual performance
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Tunnel vision
  • Blindness at night
  • Confusion
  • Weight changes
  • Restlessness
  • Constipation
  • Distorted color perception
  • False sense of well-being
  • Loss of strength
  • Heightened sensitivity to lights
  • Swelling or soreness of the tongue
  • Welts

If any of these side effects present when taking methadone, consult your healthcare provider immediately: 

  • Darkening of the skin
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Blood in stools or urine
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Bleeding gums
  • Cough
  • Confusion
  • Reduced urine output
  • Breathing problems
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight gain
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Dilated neck veins
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Unusually fast or slow heartbeat
  • Itching
  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Increased thirst
  • Appetite loss
  • Pale lips
  • Muscle cramps
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Insomnia
  • Tingling in hands or feet
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Puffiness around the eyes, lips, tongue, or face
  • Seizures
An image of a woman experiencing the troublesome side effects of methadone, a common form of MAT

Dangers of Methadone

Although considered generally safe when used as directed, there are some dangers associated with methadone. Death can occur from any of the following: 

  • Drug interactions
  • Improper titration
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiac side effects

Among these, respiratory depression is the main danger that can manifest during methadone administration. Methadone induces effects of respiratory depression that present later and last for longer than the peak analgesic effects of the medication. The chance of respiratory depression is most acute during initiation of treatment or following a methadone dose increase. 

To mitigate these risks, methadone can only be dispensed in approved hospitals, pharmacies, and methadone clinics. 

Methadone also carries the risk of misuse, abuse, and dependence. 

Fatal overdose can occur from the accidental ingestion of a single dose of methadone, particularly if ingested by a child. 

Using methadone at the same time as opioids, benzodiazepines, or CNS depressants like alcohol can trigger respiratory depression, profound sedation, coma, and death. 

You should seek emergency medical assistance in the event of these symptoms of methadone overdose: 

  • Altered consciousness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Increased sweating
  • Decreased responsiveness or awareness
  • Clammy or cold skin
  • Swelling in ankles or legs
  • No muscle movement
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Irregular breathing
  • Fast or slow breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Blue tinge to lips, skin, or fingernails
  • Irregular or slow heartbeat

Methadone Withdrawal

Methadone withdrawal can be challenging, and you should consider engaging with a supervised medical detox.

That said, methadone withdrawal symptoms are not especially intense, although they are broadly similar to the classic symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The length of time that methadone stays in your system means that withdrawal symptoms will not present as rapidly as with other opiates.

Expect any or all of the following withdrawal symptoms: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Muscle aches
  • Appetite loss
  • Watery eyes
  • Tachycardia
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea

Medications like naloxone, buprenorphine, and clonidine may help minimize cravings for methadone and withdrawal symptoms.

If you require methadone treatment to address addiction to opioids, we can help you here at California Detox.

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Medication-Assisted Treatment at California Detox

If you have opioid use disorder, heroin use disorder, or alcohol use disorder, MAT can be an invaluable component of a comprehensive treatment plan. At California Detox, we deliver medication-assisted treatment at all levels of intensity as follows: 

  • Medical detox – kickstart your recovery with a supervised medical detoxification program at our luxury beachside facility.
  • Inpatient rehab – residential programs for those with severe addiction, co-occurring mental health conditions, or unstable home environments.
  • PHP – partial hospitalization programs bridging the gap between inpatient and outpatient rehab are ideal for those with moderate addictions.
  • IOP – intensive outpatient programs offer more support and structure than a traditional outpatient program without as much time commitment as a PHP.
  • Outpatient rehab – our traditional outpatient treatment programs, you can engage with a few hours of weekly therapy sessions to address mild addictions.
  • Virtual IOP – if you are unable or unwilling to access our Orange County rehab center, engage with remote therapy instead using online videoconferencing software to connect with our licensed therapists.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment – if you have an addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder, benefit from the integrated treatment of both conditions here at California Detox.

You can take advantage of medication-assisted treatment from detox and throughout your ongoing treatment. MAT is more effective if delivered alongside behavioral interventions, such as: 

  • Individual counseling 
  • Group counseling
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapies like CBT and DBT)
  • Family therapy

Whether you need methadone or another FDA-approved medication to streamline withdrawal and recovery from opioid addiction or alcoholism, California Detox can help.

It is important to note that not all clients will receive methadone or other forms of MAT, it will be given on a case-by-case basis.

Call admissions today to discuss your options at 949.567.8790.


Methadone is classified as a long-acting opioid agonist. The medication has a mechanism of action that reduces cravings for opioids and blocks the rewarding effects of opioids to discourage further use. Methadone is used for the treatment of opioid use disorder as part of an MAT program. Less frequently, physicians prescribe methadone for pain management. As part of a comprehensive treatment plan, methadone can help you to achieve and sustain recovery from opioid addiction.
No, methadone and Suboxone are different medications with different ingredients. Methadone is an opioid agonist that fully activates opioid receptors in the brain that contains a single ingredient (methadone hydrochloride). Suboxone is a combination medication that contains naloxone and buprenorphine known as a partial opioid agonist for the way it mildly activates opioid receptors in the brain. Both medications reduce cravings for opioids, and both medications trigger similar side effects.


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