How does methadone work?

Methadone works by changing how the brain and body perceive pain. More on Methadone’s uses, side effects, and dangers here.

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Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid analgesic that works in drug treatment and detoxification programs.  In fact, Methadone is an opioid based medication that’s used to treat addiction to strong opiates like heroin.  How long methadone stays in urine is about 2-4 days after use but how exactly does methadone affect the body and brain? Does methadone have the same effects for everyone? What are the dangers and side effects of methadone use? We’ll explore all those questions here and invite your questions about methadone at the end.

How does methadone affect the brain and nervous system?

Methadone is a prescription drug used both to relieve moderate to severe pain and to help treat opioid dependence.  Specifically, Methadone works by “occupying” the brain receptor sites affected by heroin and other opiates. The result is that methadone blocks the euphoric and sedating effects of opiates while relieving cravings and symptoms associated with withdrawal from opiates.

While highly debated, methadone potentially can cause a euphoric “high” when it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain. However, methadone high effects are less intense than other, similar medications. The decreased addiction liability for Methadone have made Methadone Maintenance Programs a popular form of addiction treatment since the 1960’s.

How does methadone work in the body?

Methadone is excreted slowly so it can be taken only once a day. So what are methadone’s effects on the body?

Methadone slows activity in the brain, and thereby, the body. As a central nervous system depressant, methadone can have some of the following effects:

  • abnormal heartbeat
  • changes in menstrual periods
  • confusion
  • constipation
  • decreased sexual desire or ability
  • fainting
  • flushed or red skin
  • loss of appetite
  • mood changes
  • impaired coordination
  • shallow breathing
  • slowed heart rate
  • snoring
  • stomach pain
  • sweating
  • vision problems
  • weight gain

If you take methadone as directed by a doctor, you’re less likely to suffer any severe side effects. Most serious adverse reactions to methadone are the result of abusing the medication. However, some side effects of taking methadone are emergencies. You should stop taking methadone and contact a doctor or emergency services right away if you experience:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
  • fast or pounding heartbeat
  • feeling light-headed or faint
  • hallucinations or confusion
  • hives or a rash
  • swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat

How fast does methadone work?

Methadone is detectable in the blood within 30 minutes of ingesting the drug, although it doesn’t reach peak concentrations until after about 4 hours. How long it takes for methadone to work can vary between individuals, but it can take several hours before onset of action.

How long does methadone work?

Methadone’s effects can last anywhere from 24-36 hours, depending on the opioid tolerance of the individual. For pain management, it should be taken throughout the day as directed by a doctor. When used to help treat opiate and opioid withdrawal, it’s only given once a day.

What makes Methadone work better

Methadone works best when it’s taken in the doses prescribed by a doctor. Because it can take so long to notice the effects of the medication, it’s important not to assume it “isn’t working” and take more for pain management purposed – this can easily cause an overdose and even death.

Does Methadone work for everyone?

No, methadone is not right for everyone. When taken as prescribed, methadone is safe and effective. But all medicines have risks. The physical effects of methadone must be managed in order to get the maximum benefits of the medication. And because methadone is habit-forming, it’s not always the best choice for someone who wants to quit drugs altogether. Methadone can also have serious side effects in some individuals, including allergic reactions. You may be taking other medications which interact with methadone. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about methadone being right for you.

How methadone works questions

Please leave us your questions about methadone below. We will try our best to answer your questions ASAP with a professional and personal response.

Reference Sources: CDC: Methadone Maintenance Treatment
Department of Justice: Methadone Maintenance

NHTSA: Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets: Methadone
Department of Justice: Methadone Fast Facts
ToxNet: Methadone
Division of Pharmacologic Therapies, SAMHSA: Methadone Safety
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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