What Are Some Long Term Side Effects of Methadone?
When used for treatment purposes, methadone works well as a pain relief agent and also as an opiate addiction treatment. While effective on both counts, prolonged use can expose a person to the long term side effects of methadone.
Methadone belongs to the opiate class of drugs, most of which carry certain risks for abuse and addiction. These risks become more so pronounced the longer you keep taking the drug.
For most people, the long term side effects of methadone develop out of its ability to interfere with the brain’s normal regulatory functions over time.
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How Methadone Works
Like most all opiate-based drugs, methadone works by slowing down chemical activities throughout the brain and central nervous system. It’s pain relieving effects stem from slowed nerve signal transmission rates that essentially work to block pain sensations from reaching the brain.
According to the Western Journal of Medicine, as an opiate addiction treatment, methadone works by occupying the same brain cell receptor sites as addictive opiates, such as oxycodone, Dilaudid and heroin. Whereas addictive opiates cause damage to cell sites over time, methadone exerts a controlled effect that helps to support cell functions and eliminate brain chemical imbalances left behind by chronic opiate abuse.
Long Term Side Effects of Methadone
With long term methadone use or abuse, the brain develops a tolerance to its effects. In the absence of larger drug doses, a person will no longer experience the desired effects of the drug.
The risk of developing this long term side of effect of methadone increases considerably when using it as a pain relief treatment. Once the brain’s tolerance levels start to rise, a person is much more likely to start abusing methadone in an attempt to experience the pain-relieving and/or “high” effects of the drug.
Methadone’s slowing effects not only affect nerve-signal transmission rates, but also the body’s respiratory functions. Over time, the cumulative effects of methadone can start to compromise normal breathing processes.
This long term side effect of methadone in particular can be danger as respiratory depression and even death can result when ingesting too large a dose of the drug, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Methadone’s effects on neurotransmitter activities can disrupt a number of bodily systems, one of which being hormonal levels. Consequently, hormonal imbalances become yet another potential long term side effect of methadone.
People who develop hormonal imbalances will likely experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Reduced sex drive
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Reduced testosterone production
As with any opiate-type drug, the risk of developing a dependence on methadone increases the longer a person keeps using it. As a pain relief treatment, physical dependence can easily turn into a full-blown addiction when left untreated.
As an opiate addiction treatment, a certain degree of physical dependence on methadone is to be expected considering the role it plays in stabilizing the brain’s chemical environment.