Are there Long Term Effects of Methadone to Worry About?

For more than 50 years, methadone’s use as an opiate addiction treatment has helped chronic opiate users overcome the pull of addiction. Methadone can be used during detox treatment as well as a long-term maintenance therapy.

According to the University of Maryland, methadone exists as a synthetic opiate medication, producing many of the same effects as other opiate narcotic drugs. Unlike addictive narcotic drugs, methadone doesn’t produce the types of euphoric effects that breed addiction.

With long-term maintenance therapy, it’s not uncommon for a person to remain on methadone for months or even years at a time. Under these conditions, the risks of experiencing long term effects of methadone increases considerably.

While methadone treatment offers a range of therapeutic benefits, the long term effects of methadone should be considered before entering into this line of treatment.

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Methadone’s Mechanism of Action

long term methadone dangers

There are a few effects of methadone on the long term that potential users should be aware of.

Opiate drugs, in general, work by stimulating the release of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain and central nervous system (CNS). Opiate effects depress or slow down chemical interactions throughout the body, which accounts for the type of “high” users experience when abusing these drugs. Likewise, methadone produces similar effects in the brain and CNS without inciting euphoria.

The long term effects of methadone develop out of its effects on brain chemical functions. Not unlike addictive narcotic opiates, the brain soon acclimates to methadone’s effects over time.

Methadone Effects

Methadone Detox Treatment

As a detox treatment, methadone mimics the effects of addictive opiates, which enables it to relieve the severe drug cravings and withdrawal effects experienced during detox. According to Columbia Health, methadone triggers a slow release of neurotransmitter chemicals as opposed to the out-of-control flood of chemicals into the brain.

When used only for detox purposes, there’s little to no risk of experiencing the long term effects of methadone. On the other hand, anyone who needs methadone at the detox stage is likely coming off a severe opiate addiction so he or she will likely require long-term methadone maintenance therapy after completing detox.

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Methadone Maintenance Therapy

Chronic and/or severe opiate addiction can leave the brain in a perpetual state of chemical imbalance for months or years after stopping drug use. This imbalance accounts for why it’s so hard for those in recovery to maintain abstinence for any length of time.

For these reasons, methadone maintenance therapy can run for months or years depending on a person’s treatment needs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The potential of developing long term effects of methadone increases the longer a person remains on the drug.

Long Term Effects of Methadone

Health Effects

Methadone’s ability to depress chemical activities throughout the brain and CNS can have adverse health effects when used on a long-term basis. While each person’s chemical make-up differs, long-term effects of methadone may take the form of:

  • Breathing problems
  • Lung problems
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Decrease in testosterone production
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Reduced libido
  • Chronic constipation

Not surprisingly, the long term effects of methadone on a person’s health closely mirror those of chronic opiate use in general.


As with any opiate-type drug, recovering addicts can develop a tolerance for methadone’s effects. Rising tolerance levels contribute to the likelihood of experiencing long term effects of methadone.

Throughout the course of methadone maintenance treatment, patients will likely require dosage adjustments to compensate for the brain’s rising tolerance levels, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Consequently, increased dosage levels further increase the likelihood of developing long term effects of methadone as it will take that much longer to taper off the drug once a person completes methadone treatment.

Physical Dependence

Methadone maintenance treatment acts as a type of replacement therapy, enabling addicts to gradually wean off the effects of addictive opiates. In effect, the brain becomes physically dependent on methadone, which accounts for why addicts start to experience withdrawal effects when missing a dose or taking too low a dosage amount.

This long term effect of methadone makes for an especially long tapering phase once a person is ready to stop taking the drug. Tapering phases can run anywhere from three months to a year depending on the dosage level a person takes.

Addiction Potential

Regardless of the drug’s therapeutic benefits, the long term effects of methadone result from its opiate-based ingredients. As with other opiate-type drugs, the potential for methadone addiction increases the longer a person remains on the drug.

This long term effect of methadone can be especially disheartening considering the drug’s intended purpose works as an addiction treatment. In some cases, people who complete methadone maintenance therapy require addiction treatment in order to get off methadone.

Drug Interactions

For many people, chronic opiate addiction causes other medical and/or psychological conditions to develop during the course of an addiction. As a result, people in need of methadone maintenance therapy often take various medications as treatment for other conditions.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, methadone interacts with a range of different drug types, such as CNS depressants and CNS stimulant-type drugs. Over time, this long term effect of methadone can slow or even thwart a person’s recovery efforts.

Long Term Effects of Methadone During Pregnancy

While methadone is an accepted standard treatment for opiate addiction during pregnancy, the long term effects of methadone on the mother and the developing fetus are many, according to the U. S. National Library of Medicine.

Long term effects of methadone during pregnancy include:

  • Anemia
  • Hemorrhaging during the postpartum stage
  • Premature delivery
  • Malnourishment on the mother’s part
  • Spontaneous abortion

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The widespread brain chemical imbalances left behind by chronic opiate addiction result from damage done to the brain’s cells and structures. This degree of damage accounts for why opiate addictions in particular carry such a high relapse rate.

Without some form of physical support in place, recovering addicts fight an uphill battle in recovery. While the long term effects of methadone due warrant consideration, repeated relapse episodes only make it that much more difficult to break an opiate addiction.

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