How Methadone Works in the Brain
Methadone might seem almost too good to be true, at first.
A drug that prevents you from getting high on other drugs? Can it really be so simple?
Yes, it can.
Methadone has helped millions of people get over their addiction to opiates such as heroin since it started being used in the 1960s.
In order to truly understand just how effective methadone can be, it’s important to learn how it works in your brain. Even if you’re not a scientist, still having a basic understanding of the function of methadone can help you feel more informed and safe when you take it.
Are you ready to get started with treatment? We can help.
Methadone works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. But what are opioid receptors?
They are specific areas in the brain that regulate the transmission of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. Normally, they are stimulated as a part of the reward pathway as a result of you completing some activity helpful for survival, such as eating or engaging in sexual activity. That’s why these things feel good to you.
However, when you take opioid drugs, they stimulate these receptors regardless of what you are doing. In the case of heroin or other opioids, this is what causes the euphoric high feeling that keeps you coming back for more.
With methadone, though, the stimulation process works a bit differently. Methadone doesn’t attach to all of the receptors, preventing your brain from having a complete flood of reward activity.
This allows you to function normally while still satisfying your brain’s addiction to opioid stimulation.
Areas of the Brain Affected by Methadone
Because opioid receptors are spread throughout the brain, there are different regions that are more affected by methadone than others.
For example, the thalamus is the area that sees the most opioid activity. Unsurprisingly, this is the area that regulates pain, which is what accounts for methadone’s pain-relieving abilities.
Other areas which are triggered include the amygdala, the caudate and putamen, and the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.
Each of these areas controls a specific function or part of the body, which is why there are such specific side effects when it comes to methadone.
Side Effects of Methadone
As methadone begins to affect your brain, you’ll begin to notice some side effects in other parts of your body. These can include:
- Dizziness or tiredness
- Mood swings
- Dry mouth
- Nausea or constipation
As long as you are taking a controlled dose of methadone, these side effects should not be serious. However, always talk with your doctor just to make sure.
Tolerance and Withdrawal
Like other opioid drugs, you can and will become tolerant on methadone.
Over time, your brain will get used to having its opioid receptors constantly stimulated. This is what’s known as tolerance, and it means that your brain will begin to depend on having methadone in its system.
With other opioid drugs, increased tolerance means you have to take more and more to get the same high as before.
However, because methadone does not produce any euphoric effects, you won’t be tempted to try and increase your dose at all.
Along with tolerance comes withdrawal if you try to stop taking methadone. This might cause:
- Stomach cramps and diarrhea
- Chills and sweating
- Muscle cramps
Now that you better understand the function of methadone in the brain, it probably seems a lot less scary.
In fact, it might have inspired you to get started on your own methadone treatment.