Long Term Side Effects of Methadone You May Experience

According to the National Institute of Health, methadone has been used in the treatment of heroin and opioid abuse for over 40 years. Known as Methadone Maintenance Treatment, or MMT, this treatment has helped many people overcome their addiction to heroin or opioids. However, studies have also shown that long term use of methadone comes with serious side effects. Long term side effects of methadone you may experience are physical, mental, social, and secondary.

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Physical Side Effects

methadone dangers

Methadone treatment is not for everyone. Learn the potential side effects.

Methadone is an opiate derivative and, as such, has similar side effects. The list of the physical side effects of methadone is not exhaustive. The most common physical side effects can be organized into two groups. These groups are the physical side effects of methadone treatment and withdrawal, and long term physical problems associated with methadone use. The physical side effects of methadone treatment and withdrawal include:

  • breathing problems such as respiratory depression, pulmonary edema, coughing, and dry nose,
  • heart problems such as irregular heart beat and chest pain,
  • dizziness and a light headed feeling, particularly upon standing,
  • skin problems such as rash, hives, and color change,
  • sedation and lethargy,
  • severe pain,
  • chemical dependency,
  • urinary and bowel movement problems such as bloody urine and stools, urine retention, and constipation,
  • digestive issues including nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite, and
  • gaining weight.

These are the most common side effects. In addition to these side effects, there are also chronic physical problems associated with long term methadone use, including:

  • addiction,
  • possible permanent muscle coordination impairment,
  • chronic breathing issues,
  • heart problems including endocarditis, heart valve ruptures, and irregular heartbeat,
  • reduced libido and sexual dysfunction related to lower testosterone,
  • menstrual issues, also due to reduced testosterone, and
  • drug interactions with benzodiazepines and alcohol, even after stopping methadone use.

While there are a lot of physical side effects, they are by no means the only side effects. There are also mental side effects to long term methadone use.

Mental Side Effects

Long term methadone use causes many mental side effects, mainly due to the way it changes how the brain works. Methadone attaches to the opiate receptors in the brain, preventing opiates from giving their desired effect, and reducing the cravings for them. While this is effective in treating opiate addiction, it creates another set of problems. These include:

  • euphoria and hallucinations,
  • moderate to severe mood swings,
  • depression,
  • impaired motor control,
  • poor decision making ability,
  • mania,
  • suicidal thoughts and actions,
  • anxiety, and
  • complications in treatment of other mental disorders the patient may already have.

Again, this is not a complete list, and other mental side effects may present themselves in different people. For instance, according to the National Library of Medicine, some patients have even reported that opioid painkillers no longer work for them after methadone treatment, greatly reducing the treatment options for injuries, and accentuating the mental effects of pain. The mental side effects of long term methadone use contribute most to another set of side effects, social side effects.

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Social Side Effects

The social side effects of long term methadone may be the most severe to deal with. There is a stigma attached to drug use of any variety, and methadone is no exception. Especially since it is well known that methadone is used in the treatment of opiate addiction. Methadone users may be seen as unreliable, dishonest, and untrustworthy. This can have many consequences, such as:

  • Loss of family,
  • Loss of friends,
  • Loss of business contacts,
  • Loss of social standing,
  • Difficulty making and keeping new friends, and
  • Difficulty re-integrating into society even after stopping methadone use.

The social side effects of methadone use, while devastating, are also influenced by, and contribute to, the last set of side effects associated with long term methadone use: secondary side effects.

Secondary Side Effects

In addition to physical, mental, and social side effects, there are also secondary side effects to long term methadone use. These side effects are often forgotten. Secondary side effects can be divided into two groups. These groups are judicial consequences and financial consequences.

  • Judicial consequences:
    • Arrest related to illegal possession of methadone.
    • Arrest related to illegal sales or trafficking of methadone.
    • Arrest for driving under the influence of methadone, even if it is prescribed.
    • Arrest for vagrancy or panhandling due to the financial consequences below.
  • Financial consequences:
    • Expense of methadone treatment.
    • Loss of employment due to methadone use.
    • Expense of buying methadone illegally due to tolerance and/or dependency.
    • Fines, court costs, and lawyer fees due to judicial consequences.
    • Homelessness due to loss of income and expenses related to use of methadone.

These consequences, when combined with the physical, mental, and social side effects of methadone use, make long term methadone use extremely dangerous.

Methadone Pros and Cons

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Methadone Maintenance Treatment remains one of the best, if not the single best, means of treating opiate addiction. The way in which methadone works with the brain to reduce dependency to, and cravings for opiates helps thousands of people a year kick their opiate addictions. The key to true effectiveness, and a reduction or management of the side effects, is participation in a rigorous and closely monitored treatment program administered by healthcare and psychological professionals. However, this will not necessarily eliminate the dangers of methadone use. Methadone has its own potential for dependency, and its effects last longer, and are more difficult to treat than those of heroin.