Methadone is a synthetic opioid narcotic drug. Its primary use is to help people who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from other opioids, such as heroin, oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers. While it’s a powerful painkilling medication, it’s considered safe to take for extended periods of time, but it can produce side effects. Methadone does this by:

  • Eliminating cravings when regular, controlled doses are taken that are administered by medical professionals.  
  • Eliminating long-term cravings by acting on the same brain receptors that opioid or opiate abuse affected.

How Methadone Programs Help

People in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) take methadone doses that are raised incrementally until the dosage level reaches a threshold that stabilizes them. Participants in methadone programs who are stabilized have reduced physical and mental withdrawal symptoms.

Side Effects of Long-Term Methadone Use

The risks and benefits of taking this drug for long periods of time must be weighed, but many former opiate and opioid abusers do not experience long-term adverse effects. There have been reports of side effects that are commonly seen with most opioids. Side effects will vary for each person and also depend on dosage levels. Common side effects of long-term methadone use include:

  • Lung and breathing problems
  • Reduced levels of testosterone in both men and women
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in women when used for extremely long periods of time
  • Reduced sex drive and increased sexual dysfunction in men and women

There Also Are Less-Common Side Effects Of Long-Term Methadone Use

  • Sleepiness may occur but may lessen over time. Insomnia may take its place.
  • At times, methadone may upset the stomach throughout the course of treatment.
  • Other digestive side effects may occur in diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. These symptoms are generally less severe and will eventually subside on their own.
  • Constipation is a common, long-term side effect, and it’s also a very common result of taking any opioid. It’s recommended to try natural stabilizers to help regulate the body. Anyone still experiencing constipation could consider a laxative to alleviate constipation. However, using laxatives for long periods of time could have additional side effects.
  • Dry mouth may occur due to dehydration for some individuals. Drinking lots of fluids and avoiding caffeine helps relieve dry mouth.
  • Mood changes may occur that look like bipolar mood swings. Mood changes usually happen at the time a dose is taken. This also can happen when the medication is wearing off.

Weighing The Options

Usually, the benefits of methadone treatment are significantly more important than any side effects. For some people with addiction problems, methadone is the only thing that stands between them and returning to heroin abuse.

Methadone is formulated by pharmaceutical companies in controlled doses in a sanitary environment. Heroin comes from unknown sources, could contain toxic chemicals, and the number of opiates in a dose could be fatal. Side effects may go away after taking the medicine for some time. If side effects are still bothersome, speak to the health professional administering the drug, as the dose can be modified.