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How Does Methadone Maintenance Treatment Work?

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

March 19, 2019

Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist medication intended to prevent withdrawal symptoms and block the effects of opiates. When used as an outpatient sobriety maintenance program, studies have revealed a higher success rate in patients recovering from opioid addiction. Methadone is administered in licensed clinics that operate across the nation to aid in recovery.

The Discovery Of Methadone

Methadone (formerly Dolantin) was discovered in the late 1930s by German chemists Gustav Ehrhart and Max Bockmuhl. The drug was introduced in the US in 1947, then later used to aid in the detox process of rehabilitation from opioid substances. In 2005, Methadone was added to the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines (WHO). WHO is a list of the most essential medications in the healthcare field. When used as directed by a physician, Methadone can be a powerful tool in recovery from opioid dependence.

Who Does Methadone Help?

Methadone treatments have been used to treat heroin addiction for decades. With the significant increase in opiate dependency across the US, the need for a feasible treatment is more necessary than ever. Methadone is most effective when combined with psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which works to increase skills for overcoming relapse triggers. This process also works to modify brain patterns in preventing counter-productive recovery behaviors.

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The Initial Opioid Recovery Process

In the early stages of recovery, the body undergoes a multitude of adverse reactions. The withdrawal process can lead to many physiological and psychological changes that can be controlled through medical monitoring. Methadone helps to curb these reactions through its analgesic and synthetic opioid qualities.

Some of the initial symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:

  • Muscle aches, restlessness, and anxiety
  • Teary eyes, runny nose, and excessive sweating
  • Insomnia and yawning
  • Diarrhea and cramping
  • Goosebumps, nausea, and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils and visual obstruction
  • Heart palpitations and high blood pressure

These symptoms typically begin after 12 hours and continue for 72 hours following the last opiate consumption. After about a week, the residual symptoms of withdrawal should subside. Methadone is intended to help these symptoms, easing the transition into sobriety and lessening the discomfort felt during detoxification.

Methadone Administration And Side Effects

Methadone hydrochloride is a white powder or colorless crystals commonly available in tablet or liquid form. Common brands for Methadone include Diskets, Dolophine, and Methadose. An injectable version of the drug is less common, although some physicians may recommend this method to avoid the uncommon gastrointestinal distress experienced with oral administration. Some additional side effects of Methadone include:

  • Drowsiness, sedation, and dizziness
  • Mood swings and altered sensory perception
  • Strong analgesia, dry mouth, and headache
  • Flushing, nausea, constipation, and respiratory distress
  • Decreased heart rate, pupil constriction, and muscle weakness
  • Tolerance following extended use

The effects of methadone are typically experienced within 10-20 minutes following injection. Oral administration takes a little longer, approximately 30-60 minutes following dosing. Oral dosing also results in lower peak concentration and longer duration of action. The effects of oral administration may last 6-8 hours, and increase to 24-48 hours in cases of heavier dosing.

Methadone Overdose

Methadone is a medication which must be carefully monitored by an administering physician. While in recovery from opiate or opioid addiction, it is important to follow up with your physician to avoid adverse reactions and accidental overdose. Identifying and understanding overdose symptoms can be lifesaving. Some symptoms of a Methadone overdose include:

  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Constricted pupils, disorientation, nausea, and lethargy
  • Coma, heart dysrhythmia, and death

In the event that Methadone overdose occurs, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Improper dosing can be very harmful and even deadly in some cases. Unfortunately, 25 percent of opioid deaths are a result of Methadone overdose.

Alternative Treatment Options

There are many medicinal options for treating opiate addiction in patients. The most commonly used medication is buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist which works to block symptoms of withdrawal and stifle opiate cravings. The most common buprenorphine brands are Suboxone and Subutex. Another medication for opioid or opiate addiction treatment is the opioid antagonist Naltrexone, which works to block opioids from activating receptors.

Methadone For Recovery

The initial effects of withdrawal can be disheartening for many people in recovery. Methadone offers many patients relief from the discomfort, allowing for an easier transition into sobriety. For maintenance care, Methadone offers a solution to the unfortunate recurrence of relapse in many individuals. While there is a certain stigma attached to methadone treatments, the results are often worth trying to regain control of your recovery.

We Can Help

Methadone is a proven method of treatment for opiate addiction. If you or someone you know is considering methadone treatment, you may wonder where to begin. The friendly staff at is here to help guide you in the right direction and assist in finding rehabilitation options in your area. Contact us today with any questions you may have. We’re here to help you.

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