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A person holding a bottle of methadone medication.

Understanding Methadone Withdrawal: Symptoms and Timeline

Methadone is a synthetic analgesic used to replace other drugs such as fentanyl and heroin to avoid a harmful relapse. It’s often used as part of a harm reduction plan and can be quite effective when used as prescribed. 

However, users can easily become addicted to methadone due to its pain-relieving effects. When this happens, methadone withdrawal symptoms may be more difficult to manage, hence the need for methadone detox treatment

Keep reading to learn more about methadone, opioid withdrawal, and how you can support those you love on their journey toward recovery. 

What Is Methadone?

Canada has an undeniable opioid crisis. In 2022, there was a reported total of 7,328 deaths related to opioid overdose—that’s an average of 20 deaths per day

Enter methadone. This synthetic opioid is used primarily during opioid maintenance therapy and opiate detoxification. It is safer to use in these types of rehabilitation programs as compared to illicit opioids because it is taken orally, reducing the risk of bloodborne infection from shared needles. There is also no risk of contamination due to regulations. 

Methadone functions by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain, meaning it effectively reduces sensations of pain or anxiety. It is highly fat soluble, meaning users will experience the effects of methadone treatment almost immediately. It also has a significantly longer half-life than comparables such as heroin so the effects last much longer. 

When taken at the correct dose prescribed by a healthcare professional, methadone curbs drug cravings and lessens uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This, in turn, lowers the harm of drug abuse and misuse and increases stability in a user’s life.

Prescription drugs are addictive, though. Your body can quickly become dependent on methadone, supplementing one addiction for another, which can become a frustrating plateau in your treatment program.

A woman in bed holding her stomach in pain, visibly unwell

Methadone Withdrawal Symptoms and Stages

Abstinence doesn’t work for everyone—methadone maintenance treatment can be a foundational part of an effective harm reduction plan. However, understanding the symptoms and stages of withdrawal is crucial to ensuring success. 

Methadone is often used as a pain reliever for those experiencing extreme pain. The feelings it produces often drive people to take more of it than prescribed, especially as they build up a tolerance to the drug. This is a common pattern of behaviour in addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms will occur if you stop taking methadone once you have developed a drug dependence. They can also be triggered by taking less if you have reached a point of using a high methadone dosage.

The process of treating methadone withdrawal is different for everyone. Withdrawals from methadone typically begin around 8-12 hours following the last dose taken, when your body has broken down the drug. 

After your body has flushed it out and realizes it has not received another dose, it will trigger withdrawal symptoms to encourage you to take more. 

Early Stage Withdrawal 

The first symptoms of methadone withdrawal are known as the early stage. 

These withdrawal symptoms occur around 12 hours following the last dose and usually peak in intensity 24-48 hours later. You will experience withdrawal symptoms characterized by flu-like indicators that vary in severity and unpleasantness:

  • Muscle aches
  • Tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating

Most of these symptoms can be dealt with using common treatments for the flu, such as bed rest, rehydration, and acetaminophen. Depending on the severity of the addiction, however, withdrawal symptoms vary and may be more intense for others.

Late Stage Withdrawal 

Late-stage methadone withdrawal typically occurs around four to five days after the last dose and can last for several days. The withdrawal symptoms experienced in this stage tend to be more abdominal, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills or goosebumps
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dilated pupils

Unlike other opioid withdrawal symptoms, methadone withdrawal is not considered life-threatening. However, some users may report feeling extremely uncomfortable, which makes it harder for a drug user to stay on the path to sobriety.

Two people hugging while a third person watches.

How Long Does Withdrawal From Methadone Last? 

While the duration varies depending on the person, it is generally assumed you will experience withdrawal symptoms for at least two to three weeks. They could stop there, or continue to persist in decreasing severity for up to six months. 

The entire detox process must be supervised by a physician to ensure your journey to wellness is safe. There are also several ways to limit severe withdrawal symptoms and make the process less taxing on the patient.

Medical Detox 

A good option for opioid addiction is medical detox. This involves treating withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision in a safe and supportive environment. 

Patients are placed in 24-hour care by licensed medical professionals during opioid withdrawal, giving them the support they need in order not to relapse. Their heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature will be closely monitored, with certain medications being administered to reduce physical and psychological symptoms. 

Additionally, mental health professionals will perform regular checks to ensure the patient is not displaying any potentially harmful mental or emotional symptoms. They implement preventative steps if any risks are identified.

Your Journey to Recovery Starts Here 

Freedom From Addiction is one of the leading drug addiction treatment centres in the Greater Toronto Area, specializing in methadone addiction and withdrawal treatment. 

Our state-of-the-art medical detox facility allows our patients to get through withdrawal in a safe and supervised environment, and our fully accredited and highly regarded programs give them the tools they need to continue on their journey to sobriety.

If you’re ready to take that first step towards total wellness, contact us today.


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