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How long does methadone withdrawal last?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on June 16, 2020.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com
  • The duration of methadone withdrawal varies from person to person but may last anywhere from two to three weeks to up to six months.
  • It may take 24 to 36 hours for withdrawal symptoms to start when methadone is stopped.
  • Initial withdrawal symptoms are usually mild and may include anxiety, restlessness, a runny nose, sweating, tiredness, and watery eyes.
  • Other withdrawal symptoms such as drug cravings, muscle cramps, severe nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and depression are likely to be at their worst over the first week.

Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid that may be used to treat opioid addiction and chronic pain. It helps reduce withdrawal symptoms for people who have become addicted to narcotics, such as heroin, and satisfies cravings without producing a high. It was discovered in Germany in 1937 and by the 1960s it was being used to treat heroin dependency in the U.S.

Although methadone is used to treat opioid addiction, it can be extremely physically addictive itself, especially when taken in high doses.

Although it may seem like you are trading one addiction for another, there are benefits for taking methadone over continuing misuse of other opioids, for example:

  • Methadone does not cause impairment or permanent damage to the brain and body
  • Because methadone is regulated it is not cut with other, unknown, substances
  • Because methadone can be legally obtained through a methadone clinic, it does not require its users to engage in secretive, illegal, and self-destructive behavior
  • Methadone is difficult to overdose on when taken as prescribed.

The length of time a person persists on methadone treatment depends of their situation. Some say that six months to a year is a good term for methadone maintenance. Others may stay on methadone indefinitely if it keeps them clean.

Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can occur when methadone is stopped in people who have been taking the drug long-term. Although some people find the withdrawal from methadone takes longer than that of heroin or other opioids, others do not, and in the majority of cases, the withdrawal from methadone is milder than that of other opiates and safer because it is usually undertaken under supervision.

Symptoms typically appear 24 to 36 hours after the last dose of methadone. The duration of methadone withdrawal varies from person to person but can last from two to three weeks to up to six months.

What are the symptoms of methadone withdrawal?

Initial symptoms of methadone withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Tiredness
  • Watery eyes
  • Yawning.

Other symptoms that occur within the first week may include:

  • Cramps
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Drug cravings
  • Goosebumps
  • Low energy levels
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea or vomiting.

What helps with methadone withdrawal symptoms?

Some people may find it difficult to tolerate methadone withdrawal symptoms.

Always talk to your doctor if you want to come off methadone, do not attempt to stop it yourself. Things that may help may include:

  • Keeping yourself well hydrated
  • Keeping occupied with movies, books, or other distractions
  • Physical activity
  • Treatments, such as clonidine, loperamide, meclizine, or oxybutynin to ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Complementary therapies such as acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicines
  • Slower tapering of the methadone dosage
  • Joining a support group or surrounding yourself with supportive people
  • Restarting methadone at a lower dose, then attempting to taper it off more slowly than before.
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