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Methadone myths and realities

Methadone Maintenance Treatment: Client Handbook

Myth: Methadone will get you high.

Reality: If you’re looking for a high, you’ll be disappointed with methadone. When you first start treatment, you may feel lightheaded or sleepy for a few days, but you will quickly develop a tolerance to these effects. Expect to feel “normal” when you’re on methadone.

Myth: Methadone will make you sick.

Reality: The only time you might feel sick from methadone is at the beginning of your treatment, when your dose might not be enough to keep you free of withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, if you do feel sick, it’s mild. Your dose will be adjusted and you should feel better within a few days.

When you’re on methadone you can catch a cold or any other illness just like anyone else, but you’re much less prone to illness than illicit drug users. People on methadone are less likely to use needles, and more likely to eat well and take good care of themselves. When you’re on methadone you won’t wake up sick every morning. If anything, methadone will help you to get well.

Myth: Long-term use of methadone damages the liver, the thyroid gland and the memory.

Reality: Long-term use of methadone is safe. It will not damage your internal organs, and when you are on the correct dose, it will not interfere with your thinking. If you have a medical condition such as hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver, methadone maintenance treatment can improve your access to medical treatment, and help you to manage the illness.

Myth: Methadone rots your teeth and bones.

Reality: This is a common myth, and although it’s not true, the reasons behind the myth deserve some consideration.

One of the side-effects of methadone, like many medications, is that it gives you a dry mouth. This can make your teeth more prone to the production of plaque, which is a major cause of gum disease and tooth decay. To protect your teeth, follow the dental routine recommended for everyone: brush and floss every day, rinse your mouth with mouthwash, go to the dentist at least twice a year, and cut sugar from your diet. Drinking plenty of water can also help to relieve dry mouth.

If you’re on methadone, and you feel like your bones are rotting, it’s probably because you’re on too low a dose. Bone ache, which may feel like bone “rot,” is a symptom of methadone withdrawal. When your dose is adjusted correctly you should not experience any aching or other symptoms of withdrawal.

Myth: Methadone makes you gain weight.

Reality: Not everyone gains weight when they go on methadone, but some do. This is usually because methadone improves your health and appetite, and so you eat more. If you’ve been using drugs for a long time, you may be underweight and need to gain a few pounds.

Even though the methadone drink is not “fattening” like sweets and fatty foods, methadone can slow your metabolism and cause water retention, which can lead to weight gain. You can control weight gain by choosing healthy foods that are high in fibre such as whole grains and fruits and vegetables, and by exercising regularly. If you nourish your body, you’ll keep the pounds off, and more important, you’ll feel good.

Myth: It’s easy to get off methadone / It’s hard to get off methadone.

Reality: How could these both be myths? Well it isn’t easy to get off methadone, but it doesn’t have to be hard either. The symptoms of methadone withdrawal come on more slowly than those of heroin withdrawal, but with methadone, the withdrawal process takes longer. When you are ready to go off methadone, your dose will be “tapered,” or gradually reduced, usually at a rate that you determine. (For more information on ending methadone treatment, see Chapter 8.)

Myth: People on methadone are still addicts, even if they don’t use any other drugs.

Reality: People who take methadone as a treatment for opioid dependence are no more addicts than are people who take insulin as a treatment for diabetes. Methadone is a medication. Methadone treatment allows you to live a normal life, work, go to school, or care for your children.

Myth: Methadone is a cure for opioid addiction.

Reality: Methadone is not a cure; it is a tool that helps you to repair the damage caused by dependence, and to build a new life. Like any tool, you have to use it. Just as a builder uses a hammer to frame a house, or an artist uses a brush to paint a picture, you can use methadone to help you steer clear of drugs. Methadone will make the job easier, but it won’t make it easy.

“I should have started the methadone program ten years ago but I didn’t because of all the ignorance and all the talk, like you’re still addicted and methadone gets you high, and blah blah blah blah. So I wasted ten years of my life trying therapies where there was total abstinence. For me it only worked for a year and half and then I fell back into drugs and I was even more miserable and more bitter because the program didn’t work. What helped me was methadone...” — Marco, on methadone 15 months.

“The whole stereotype that surrounds methadone prevents so many people from getting involved. People need methadone, and they’re afraid of it. The medical community should be knowledgeable about the program; they should support it. My family doctor apologized to me; she said, ‘I’m sorry I recommended you for the methadone program because I only changed you from one kind of junkie to another.’ A doctor! It’s really sad; I mean, what other choice do we have? Cold turkey? You might be successful for a while... People need to know that methadone is okay, that it works.” — Beth, 39, on methadone four years.

Methadone Maintenance Treatment: Client Handbook

Methadone myths and realities

  1. Methadone and other options
  2. Learning about methadone
  3. Going on methadone
  4. Living with methadone
  5. Methadone and other drugs
  6. Counselling and other services
  7. Women, family and methadone
  8. Looking ahead on methadone

Resources

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