Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms: Don’t Detox Alone

Last Updated: May 12th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms: Don’t Detox Alone

Methadone is an effective drug that has helped thousands of people stop using heroin and other opiates over the last few decades. Methadone helps with addiction because it works slowly, produces no euphoria, and effectively blocks the effects of narcotics. 

It may seem weird that a drug used to treat addiction can be habit-forming, but methadone is actually a milder, less intense type of opioid drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified methadone as a Schedule II drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. This is why it is dispensed only in specialized clinics where use is carefully monitored. Unfortunately, methadone has found its way to the black market. 

If methadone has become a problem for you, you may be tempted to detox cold turkey. However, methadone withdrawal symptoms can be challenging, especially if you stop suddenly. Detox should be carried out gradually with the guidance of a physician or an addiction treatment professional.

The experts at 1st Step Behavioral Health can provide specifics about getting off methadone safely. 

Short-term Methadone Use for Opiate Withdrawal

Despite the potential dangers, methadone is relatively safe when used correctly, and many people continue to use it for years. However, methadone is sometimes used for short periods to block or reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, bone and muscle pain, and chills. 

Short-term methadone use, usually about three weeks, is long enough to help with detox, but not long enough to develop an unhealthy dependence and usually not long enough to experience uncomfortable methadone withdrawal symptoms. 

Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms Can Be Intense 

After stopping long-term use, methadone withdrawal symptoms generally start about 24 to 36 hours after the last dose and peak in four to six days. Symptoms of methadone withdrawal may include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Aching bones and muscles
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Trembling or shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Backaches
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability

How Long do Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Side effects of methadone withdrawal can last longer than withdrawal from heroin because methadone works slowly and remains in the bloodstream longer. As a general rule, severe methadone withdrawal symptoms diminish substantially in eight to ten days or less. You may, however, experience insomnia, restlessness, irritability, and fatigue for weeks, or even months. 

Stopping methadone in a step-down, or taper fashion can significantly lessen the severity of methadone withdrawal symptoms. Your physician may recommend that you reduce doses gradually for two or three weeks, or he may advise extending the tapering period.

Can Methadone Withdrawal Cause Death?

Although the effects of methadone withdrawal are rarely life-threatening, stopping the drug suddenly can lead to medical problems that may need immediate attention. For instance, diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive sweating can lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. 

In severe cases, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance may lead to irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, and sometimes seizures or coma. It’s also possible to aspirate vomit into the lungs, which may lead to serious lung infections. 

A physician will help you lower the dose gradually, which will lessen the severity of methadone withdrawal symptoms while preventing dehydration and other serious health problems.

Which Withdrawal Is Worse: Methadone Or Suboxone?

If you want to stop using methadone but you’re concerned about the side effects of methadone withdrawal symptoms, you may want to talk to your physician about switching from methadone to Suboxone. 

Methadone and Suboxone are both helpful in the battle against addiction, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Some people prefer Suboxone because it’s available by prescription, and you can take it at home. On the other hand, Suboxone is more expensive than methadone.

Your doctor can explain the pros and cons of switching from methadone to Suboxone, and they can help you devise a schedule for changing from one to the other. 

Methadone, Subutex, or Suboxone: What’s the Difference?

Methadone is a powerful opioid drug that helps by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing a rush. It remains in the bloodstream longer than heroin, which stabilizes people and eliminates rapid cycles of use and withdrawal. Unfortunately, getting off methadone is extremely unpleasant.

Suboxone, like Subutex, contains buprenorphine, which reduces cravings and withdrawal. The difference is that Suboxone also contains naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioid drugs, thus reducing the potential that Suboxone users will become addicted. 

While it’s still possible to become addicted to Suboxone, the risk is relatively low when it is used correctly.

Using Subutex For Methadone Withdrawal

Subutex is the brand name for buprenorphine, a medication commonly used to help with addiction to opioid drugs, including methadone. Although Subutex is an opioid with effects similar to methadone, any feelings of euphoria are milder and more manageable.  

The goal of Subutex therapy is to minimize cravings and other painful withdrawal symptoms so the addicted person can successfully engage in treatment. Once in treatment, it becomes possible to deal with compulsive behavior, stress, and loss of control. 

Subutex can help people wean off methadone, but it isn’t a perfect solution. Although the high created by Subutex is less pronounced, and the risk of misuse is lessened, the feelings of wellbeing can still lead to addiction. It’s also possible to experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe if you stop using Subutex abruptly. Tapering Subutex gradually, with the assistance of a medical provider, is preferable.

Methadone Withdrawal Help is Available: Call Today 

While getting off methadone is never easy, methadone withdrawal management is safer and more comfortable at an outpatient treatment center or rehab. At 1st Step Behavioral Health, we can help you or a loved one overcome a dependence on methadone. Our team of addiction professionals can come up with a gradual treatment plan, and counseling can reduce the risk of relapse. Give us a call today at 855-425-4846 or contact us here for more information. We’ll help you explore the various options for getting off methadone safely. 

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.