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Methadone Abuse Symptoms

Methadone abuse symptoms range from physical issues like constipation and nausea to behavioral signs like using more than prescribed. Dangers include respiratory system depression, seizures, mental health problems, and risk of overdose.

Struggling with Opioid Addiction? Get Help Now

Methadone abuse symptoms include strong cravings for the drug, an inability to stop or moderate use, physical problems like constipation or nausea, and negative consequences in other areas of life due to methadone abuse.

As a potent opioid, methadone abuse is dangerous. It can result in damage to virtually every area of life, overdose, addiction, and even death.

What Are the Most Common Signs of Methadone Abuse?

The most common sign of methadone abuse is consuming the medication in a way other than how it was prescribed. This generally means any of the following:

  1. Using more methadone than prescribed
  2. Using the drug more frequently than prescribed, such as taking doses closer together
  3. Using any methadone that was not prescribed to you

Signs and symptoms of methadone abuse include the following:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Heavy sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Agitation or mood changes
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Mood swings
  • Constipation or other digestive issues
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Vision issues

What Are the Dangers of Methadone Abuse?

Side effects of methadone use include the following:

  • Itchiness
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort 
  • Reduced appetite
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Breathing changes
  • Constipation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight gain

If methadone is abused, the risks become more severe. Repeated abuse of methadone can result in the following physical issues:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Fainting
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Balance and coordination difficulties
  • Depression of the respiratory system
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Mental and emotional risks associated with methadone abuse can include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Depression and anxiety

The American Psychiatric Association says people who abuse substances can also experience significant social problems, such as the following:

  • Inability to complete major tasks at home or work
  • Reduced time spent in leisure activities to make more time for drugs
  • Absences at work or school due to drug use, which could lead to expulsion or job loss
  • Strained or ruined social relationships

How to Recognize Methadone Addiction

If you suspect that someone you know if abusing methadone, look for these signs of methadone addiction:

  • Frequently discussing methadone and how to locate it
  • Consuming other substances when methadone is not available, such as other opioids like Vicodin or Percocet
  • Purchasing methadone illegally or stealing methadone from someone with a legitimate prescription
  • Talking about quitting use but being unable to do so
  • Financial difficulties related to drug use
  • Impaired social relationships or a loss of interest in responsibilities due to preoccupation with methadone

People who are regularly abusing methadone or other opioids may be able to hide their symptoms for a while, but as their addiction deepens, they will eventually be unable to disguise the associated issues.

Since overdose is always a risk with methadone abuse, it’s imperative to start a conversation. It could save their life.

What Does Proper Methadone Use Look Like?

Methadone is a prescription medication doctors use to help people struggling with opioid addiction. Doctors assess their patients, ensure they’re healthy, determine the proper dose, and provide the medication. People enrolled in these programs typically take a daily dose of methadone as a pill or liquid.

In the past, people using methadone were required to take their medications in supervised clinics. In 2024, the federal government loosened regulations and allowed doctors more freedom to give patients take-home doses of their medications. This shift could make using methadone more convenient, and it could help some people stay in treatment.

However, when some people are using methadone at home, it can be confusing. Are they abusing the drug?

People using methadone under a doctor’s direction take the dose as described. They don’t take too much, use the medication too often, or take it in a manner other than prescribed.

People who take methadone regularly can develop physical dependence. When they try to stop taking the drug, they feel sick. Physical dependence is not the same as addiction.

As experts writing in Annals of Medicine in 2021 explain, people with physical dependence don’t crave the drugs when they have successfully stopped using them, and they don’t return to them. However, people with addiction experience cravings and often return to drugs, even when they have managed to quit them.

This table can help you understand the difference in symptoms between methadone use and abuse:

SymptomsMethadone UseMethadone Abuse
Experiences withdrawal symptoms when quitting abruptlyXX
Feels sick when too long has passed between dosesXX
Craves the drug X
Buys illicit methadone X
Takes methadone in an unusual way (like injecting it) X
Uses other substances (like Vicodin) when methadone isn’t available X

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the questions we often hear concerning signs of methadone abuse:

Is withdrawal one of the key signs of methadone abuse?

Not exactly. Anyone who uses methadone regularly, including people who use the medication per a doctor’s orders, can experience withdrawal when they quit. If a person has withdrawal and no other signs, that might not be enough for a doctor to diagnose addiction.

Can people use methadone without getting addicted to it?

Yes. People who use this medication as directed by a doctor are not abusing it and do not have an addiction. Many people fall into this category.

How is a methadone addiction treated?

People who have abused methadone can get better. Treatment teams might use medications like buprenorphine to ease withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Counseling and therapy can help people learn to identify and handle their triggers. With treatment, people can quit abusing methadone for good.

Updated May 10, 2024
  1. Combined Ethanol, Cocaine, Heroin, and Methadone Abuse: A Deadly Mix, Review of the Literature. (2020). Asia Pacific Journal of Medical Toxicology.
  2. Effect of TRV130 and Methadone on Fentanyl-vs.-Food Choice and Somatic Withdrawal Signs in Opioid-Dependent and Post-Opioid-Dependent Rats. (July 2022). Neuropsychopharmacology.
  3. Methadone. (2023). United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
  4. Methadone Matters: What the United States Can Learn From the Global Effort to Treat Opioid Addiction. (February 2019). Journal of General Internal Medicine.
  5. Methadone. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  6. Methadone. (April 2023). StatPearls.
  7. The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. (July 2002). Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.
  8. Methadone Maintenance Treatment. (2009). World Health Organization.
  9. Methadone Treatment Gets First Major Update in Over 20 Years. (February 2021). Stat.
  10. Drug Dependence is Not Addiction and It Matters. (November 2021). Annals of Medicine.
  11. What Is a Substance Use Disorder? (December 2020). American Psychiatric Association.
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