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Methadone withdrawal

Methadone Withdrawal & Detox

Methadone withdrawal is one of the more common drug withdrawals in Canada and North America.

Once a drug user has made the decision to stop taking methadone, they will quickly enter a stage of detox known as withdrawal. There are actually several distinct stages to methadone withdrawal, marking different stages in the body’s fight to regulate following drug addiction.

So what are the stages of methadone withdrawal?

Methadone withdrawal shares many of the same symptoms as other opiate withdrawals, such as heroine, oxycontin, and codeine. We explain everything you need to know about methadone drug addiction and rehabilitation in our guide below.

What is Methadone?

Firstly, we should discuss what exactly methadone is in order to understand its withdrawal.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is used primarily during opioid maintenance therapy, and during gradual opioid detoxification. It is a preferred opioid compared to illicit opioids, such as heroin, as it is generally administered orally, avoiding the risk of bloodborne infection from sharing needles. It is also a highly regulated drug, meaning there are no issues of contamination, unlike in street drugs.

Methadone functions in much the same way as other opioids, by binding to μ-receptors in the body and lowering the sensation of pain or worry. Unlike other opioids, methadone is highly fat soluble and has a significantly longer half-life, allowing it to have a longer lasting effect with the same dose.

Methadone is also highly addictive and habit forming, much like any opioid. This means that the body quickly becomes reliant on it and more will be required in subsequent doses to achieve the same effects.

What are Methadone Withdrawals?

Once a person has become addicted to methadone, they will experience methadone withdrawals upon ceasing to take the drug.

Withdrawals are the physical and psychological symptoms associated with the body re-equilibrating following a dependence on a drug. All opioids, including methadone, are highly addictive and have an extremely high physical dependence quotient. This means that the body will become reliant on them very quickly, and more and more of the drug will be needed to maintain the same level of “high”.

Withdrawals from methadone typically begin around 8-12 hours following the last dose taken, as the body will have begun to breakdown the drug and require more to continue functioning normally. When it doesn’t receive the next dose, symptoms will begin to manifest in two main stages.

Early Stage Withdrawal

The initial symptoms of methadone withdrawal happen in what is known as the early stage.

Early stage withdrawal occurs around 12 hours following the last dose, and usually peaks in intensity between 24-48 hours later. This period of the drug addiction withdrawal process is characterised by flu-like symptoms that can vary in severity and unpleasantness, and typically include:

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

Most of these symptoms can be dealt with using common treatments for flus, such as bedrest, rehydration, and paracetamol. However, depending on the severity of the addiction, the symptoms may be more intense.

Late Stage Withdrawal

After the early stage withdrawal, a new set of symptoms present themselves in the late stage.

Late stage methadone withdrawal generally occurs around four to five days from the last dose, and can last for several days. Symptoms of late stage withdrawal tend to be more abdominal in nature, including:

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

Unlike some other drug withdrawals, such as alcohol withdrawal, the symptoms of methadone withdrawal are not considered life threatening. However, they can be extremely unpleasant and can make it hard for a drug user to stay on the path to sobriety. There are several options to limit the severity of the symptoms and make the withdrawal process less taxing on the patient.

Medical Detox

One option for limiting the stressfulness of methadone withdrawal is undergoing the process in medical detox.

Medical detox is the process of drug addiction withdrawal under medical supervision in a safe and supportive environment. Patients will be under 24 hour care by licensed medical professionals during withdrawal, allowing them to have the support they need during a difficult time. Close monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature allows for certain medications to be administered to reduce the severity of the symptoms. In addition, mental health professionals can perform daily checks to ensure the patient is not displaying any potentially harmful mental or emotional symptoms, and preventative steps can be taken if any risks are identified.

Medical detox can help drug users stick to their decision to choose sobriety, as they have the support they need to get through the unpleasant withdrawals without being tempted to use again.

Freedom From Addiction is one of the leading drug addiction treatment centres in Toronto, 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. Contact us today for more information.


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