Symptoms and Timeline for Methadone Withdrawal

Jump to:

1. Use and Abuse of Methadone
2. Common Symptoms
3. Timeline and Treatment
4. Next Steps

Methadone is commonly prescribed to people who are recovering from an addiction to heroin. The drug works in much the same way as heroin, but it is considered much more benign in that it doesn’t cause an extreme sense of euphoria, and people don’t need to use needles in order to take the drug. While it can be a helpful medication for some people who can’t seem to stop abusing heroin in any other way, there are some people who find that they have developed secondary addictions to methadone, and they’d like to stop using the drug. These people may struggle with withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using methadone.

Use and Abuse of Methadone

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, methadone has been used as a treatment for addiction for more than 40 years. In the last 10 years, it has also been used as a treatment for chronic pain. The number of people who are using the drug has risen dramatically within the last several years, with increases ranging from 9 percent to 22 percent annually, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.

While it’s likely that many people are taking these drugs specifically to prevent any adverse physical signs of withdrawal from opiates like heroin, these people may be shocked to learn that the drugs they’re taking work in much the same way as heroin. The drug attaches to the same receptors, and triggers many of the same chemical reactions. As a result, the body can develop the same sort of dependence on methadone that it would develop to heroin, and when people stop taking the drug, terrible side effects can begin to take hold.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on individual chemistry as well as the length of time the person has been using methadone.

Common Symptoms Include:

  • Sneezing
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Trembling hands
  • Muscle aches

Most addiction specialists use a scale with which to measure how severe withdrawal symptoms are in people who are detoxing from opiates like methadone. This short opiate withdrawal scale (SOWS) has 10 questions, according to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, and it allows professionals to determine just how serious the symptoms are that a person might be facing. Some experts who have used SOWS for both heroin and methadone believe that the symptoms that people face during methadone withdrawal are more painful and more serious than the symptoms people face while dealing with heroin withdrawal.

Some people have also provided first-hand accounts that indicate how severe symptoms of methadone withdrawal might be. For example, in a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, researchers interviewed incarcerated addicts who were forced to go “cold turkey” from opiates when they were placed in prison. Some of these prisoners indicated that methadone detoxification was much more difficult to deal with, when compared to heroin. One prisoner said, “I knew a dude came in prison when I was in there and he was drinking methadone (when he got arrested)… I know with heroin, I’m saying in a week or so you straight. I’m talking about sixty days (later) he was still sick.” This statement might not reflect the experience of all addicts, but it does seem to indicate that some people have a harder time with methadone withdrawal symptoms, when compared to typical heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Timeline and Treatment

According to the website Clinical Knowledge Studies, methadone withdrawal symptoms typically peak in intensity two to four days after the last hit of methadone. People who take very high doses of methadone, however, may experience a peak when four to six days have passed. In both groups, symptoms tend to persist for 10 to 12 days.

Treatment programs can provide comfort for people going through withdrawal by providing:

  • Bland foods
  • Warm blankets for chills
  • Cool baths for hot flashes
  • Aspirin for sore muscles

Some treatment programs also provide a medication known as clonidine. This medication tends to soothe inflamed nerves and reduce a myriad of symptoms that people face while they’re going through methadone detox. It’s also quite effective. According to a study published in JAMA, people who were given clonidine during a detoxification program felt no symptoms of withdrawal after the medication kicked in. Not everyone needs medication to get through withdrawal, however. Some addiction specialists use the SOWS scale to determine how severe the symptoms are, and they give medications based on those objective scores. Some people may never produce scores that are high enough to merit medications.


Next Steps

People who are ready to stop abusing methadone can expect to feel a bit of discomfort during the detoxification process, but when it is complete, these people will be ready to move forward with their lives in a way that is free of addiction. It might be well worth the time and effort these people will put in, if sobriety stands on the other side.

At Alta Mira, we’re adept at helping people move through the detoxification process and into a program that provides complete care for addiction. We’re located in beautiful California, in lovely surroundings. To find out more about our services, please call us.