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Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Opioid use disorder can be challenging to treat, and some addicts may struggle to avoid relapse due to intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms. However, methadone is one of several drugs that can help safely treat opioid use disorder under medical supervision. Methadone can treat cravings and withdrawal symptoms while blocking the effects of other opioids should a relapse occur.

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What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a long-acting, synthetic opioid used for treating pain and opioid use disorder. It is often used as a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for individuals struggling with opioid dependence.

Methadone is also known by the brand names Dolophine® and Methadose®.

When methadone is used in addiction treatment for opioid abuse, it is typically referred to as methadone maintenance treatment (MMT). Methadone has been used in opioid treatment programs since the 1950s and has proven to be effective in helping opioid addicts enter recovery.

Does Methadone Maintenance Treatment Treat Opioid Addiction?

Methadone works as an opioid agonist, meaning it blocks other opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, or heroin from activating the brain’s opioid receptors. Methadone also changes how the nervous system processes pain, providing pain relief caused by withdrawal symptoms.

While some people may point out that trading one opioid for another seems counterproductive, methadone is not like other opioids. Methadone is very slow-acting and rarely causes the intense euphoria other opioids do.

The use of methadone in treatment centers is usually focused on addressing withdrawal symptoms during detox and as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help avoid relapse.

Opioid Withdrawal Treatment

The first step in most treatment plans for substance abuse with opioids is to undergo medical detoxification. Not all opioid addicts will require a medical detox, but many will due to the intense withdrawal symptoms that can arise when quitting opioids.

Methadone is often prescribed during this stage to help treat cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Treating withdrawal symptoms, especially intense cravings, is essential to helping patients remain committed to their recovery.

Ongoing Management

Methadone completely blocks the effects of other commonly abused opioids. As the addict undergoes therapy, their healthcare provider may keep them on methadone as part of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).

Patients may stay on their MMT for one to several years, depending on their recovery progress and risk of potential relapse. Depending on the state, MMT can only be carried out under strict doctor supervision as a take-home treatment or through a methadone clinic.

Although methadone is an opioid, the risk of dependence is lower when MMT is followed as prescribed. According to Harvard Medical School, around 25% of opioid addicts admitted to a methadone maintenance program will become abstinent from methadone over time.

Other Types of Addiction Medicine

Methadone is one of several medication-assisted treatments (MAT) approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Currently, MATs are only approved to treat alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder.

MATs used for alcohol use disorder include:

MATs used for opioid use disorder include:

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Are There Side Effects of Methadone Treatment?

Methadone is a very safe drug used for the treatment of pain and opioid use disorder. However, the drug does have potential side effects that your doctor will inform you of before treatment begins.

Common side effects of methadone use include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Weight gain
  • Restlessness
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy sweating and flushing
  • Slower breathing
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Vision problems

Methadone Misuse and Addiction

Although methadone can be life-changing for the treatment of opioid use disorder, there is no avoiding that methadone does carry its risks of misuse and drug addiction. MMT is typically carried out through a tightly controlled and monitored regimen, but misuse can still occur.

Methadone Overdose

Patients taking methadone for opioid use disorder are typically under close supervision. However, patients may still gain access to illegal methadone and take more than their body can handle.

When too much methadone is taken or the drug is mixed with other sedatives, an overdose can occur.

Signs of methadone overdose include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Drowsiness
  • Convulsions
  • Clammy skin
  • Coma

If someone near you is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately and stay with them until help arrives. Take note of their symptoms and have any information ready for the first responders, such as age, dose taken, or medical history.

Things to Know Before Starting Methadone Treatment

Methadone is safe for most people. However, there are a few things to keep in mind while taking methadone.

Never take methadone with other sedatives like opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol. Drug use that combines sedatives can lead to unintentional overdose.

Although methadone is safe to be taken while pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about it first, as small amounts of methadone can be passed through breast milk, so breastfeeding mothers require extra attention to ensure their baby doesn’t experience negative effects.

Individuals with the following health conditions should inform their doctor before taking methadone:

  • Certain mental illnesses or conditions treated with sedatives
  • Trouble urinating
  • Gallbladder, pancreas, or thyroid problems
  • An electrolyte imbalance
  • Heart disease or heart rhythm disorder
  • Breathing problems or lung disease
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • A history of brain tumor, head injury, or seizures

Find Methadone Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Treating drug abuse issues with opioids can be extremely challenging for addicts and their loved ones. However, there are treatment programs ready to guide you through the process of detox and recovery.

If you think methadone may help you address your opioid use disorder, talk to your doctor about whether methadone is right for you.

You can also check out SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 to see what treatment centers or addiction specialists prescribing methadone are available in your area.

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FAQs About Methadone Treatment

How does methadone compare to other addiction medications for opioid addiction?

Methadone is somewhat similar to buprenorphine in that they are both opioid agonists that block the effects of other opioids. Buprenorphine is weaker than methadone, however, as it is only a partial agonist.

Other MATs for opioid use disorder include naltrexone, a non-opioid drug that also blocks the effects of opioids, and naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses when administered.

How long does it take for methadone treatment to be effective in recovery?

Methadone begins working as soon as it’s first taken, with the drug lasting 24 to 36 hours. The dose of methadone used for methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) may vary, as doses are small in the beginning and may change throughout treatment.

The recommended duration of MMT is 12 months, although some people stay on methadone for years, depending on the challenges they face during recovery.

Is methadone an antidepressant?

No. Methadone is an opioid agonist that relieves pain and blocks the effects of other opioids. Methadone does not treat depression; the drug is used for pain management, opioid withdrawal symptoms, and treatment of opioid use disorder.

What should you not take with methadone?

Other sedatives should not be taken with methadone. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other opioids can be dangerous when mixed with methadone.

Is it dangerous to take methadone to treat opioid addiction?

No. Generally, taking methadone to treat opioid addiction is safe and effective. However, there are some risks to taking methadone. Talk to your doctor about any medical conditions you may have so they can determine if you’re safe to take methadone.

Is methadone treatment just trading one addiction for another?

No. Although methadone is an opioid and can be habit-forming, using methadone is far safer than other opioids. Opioid use disorder makes addicts vulnerable to overdoses, HIV, and other life-threatening situations due to injecting opioids or taking contaminated pills or powders.

Methadone is very slow-acting and seldom ever causes the “high” other opioids do. In addition, methadone treatments for opioid use disorder are strictly controlled and monitored. Depending on your state, you may go to a clinic to receive methadone or be sent home with small amounts.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Harvard Medical School. (2019, June 27). Treating Opiate Addiction, Part I: Detoxification and Maintenance. Harvard Health.
  2. Methadone. SAMHSA. (2024, February 5).
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, April 13). How Do Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder Work? National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  4. WebMD. (2022, March 17). Methadone: Purpose, Uses, Side Effects, and Risks. WebMD.
  5. What Is Methadone?. Psychiatric Research Institute. (2024).
  6. World Health Organization. (2009). Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings, Methadone Maintenance Treatment. National Library of Medicine.

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