What are Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms?

What are Methadone withdrawal symptoms? Methadone is a synthetic opioid-related to the former prescription painkiller propoxyphene or Darvon. Methadone was developed in the early 1940s by the Germans during WWII. Methadone is a powerful opioid with a very long half-life. This means the drug remains active in the body for several days. It also builds up in the tissues and fat cells when used on a daily basis. Methadone withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids, but this drug has some real staying power. It takes much longer to detox and withdraws from methadone, and it’s for this reason that its withdrawal syndrome is actually worse overall than most other opioids.

Only buprenorphine comes in at a close second. Buprenorphine is the narcotic component of Suboxone. It also has a very long half-life, second only to methadone. Suboxone is also known as a particularly hard drug to kick.

The Introduction of Methadone

Circa 1941 in Germany: the Nazis grew especially concerned as the United States declared war on both Germany and Japan. Japan had attacked the picturesque Pearl Harbor with no warning and while defenses were down on December 7, 1941. The United States had resisted entering the war in Europe against Hitler, but as part of the attack on Pearl Harbor decided to fight a war on both fronts. Hitler was committing atrocities against the Jews and others and needed to be stopped. This included cutting off supplies of opium the Germans needed to make morphine for their injured troops. The German chemists, skilled in every way and every one of them, decided to create a synthetic drug not dependent on supplies of natural opium. That’s how methadone came to be. It was named Dolophine after their despotic leader Adolf and in his honor.

Methadone is a truly amazing drug. It’s active by mouth and is even better at relieving pain than morphine. It’s long acting, so less was needed. It could be produced at will from precursor chemicals available to the Germans at any time. Who needed morphine when they had methadone?

Like morphine and its analog heroin, methadone is highly addictive. Unlike morphine and heroin, though, methadone produces little euphoria. Although all three are full narcotics and all activate the brain’s mu opioid receptor completely, methadone appeared to be too slow-acting to produce much euphoria. It’s even been called “heroin without the high.” The drug is a truly stellar painkiller, but because it’s not very euphoric, it never really gained much popularity among opiophiles. They used it mainly to stave off withdrawal symptoms from their other opioid drug of choice when it wasn’t available.

Methadone withdrawal produces the same kinds of withdrawal synptoms common to all opioids:

  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Methadone is particularly known for its withdrawal bone pain
  • Intractable insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Extreme drug cravings
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Muscle tremors and twitches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sneezing and watering eyes
  • Goosepimples

Methadone withdrawal can easily last six weeks and beyond. It’s not uncommon for insomnia to last an entire month. No one in their right mind with access to opioids would go through it. People who have made it all the way through the withdrawal process for methadone are often those who were incarcerated and had no choice. Everyone else likely went back on the drug just to get relief. Methadone withdrawal is also unique in that often, only methadone will relieve the withdrawal syndrome adequately.

Problems with Methadone

Methadone is unique. It’s hard to dose, so many doctors outside the pain management medical community won’t prescribe it. It has killed in doses as low as 20 milligrams, just four times the amount of the 5 milligram therapeutic dose. It’s unpredictable. It’s a wonderful painkiller, but it’s most safely prescribed by doctors used to working with it. Its chemical cousin, propoxyphene, brand name Darvon, was removed from the American market some years ago amid concerns about overdose from small amounts.

Methadone withdrawal symptoms can be treated by slowly reducing the dose over time. Detox units and methadone clinics are familiar with how to safely do this. It will relieve the worst of the withdrawal syndrome and is worth doing. There is no need to endure unmedicated methadone withdrawal. It’s just too much to bear.

We Can Help

If you have questions about methadone, we’re here to help anytime at 833-820-2922. An experienced drug counselor will take your call and help you find the solutions you need to get your life back on track.