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Methadone Use in Adolescents: Guide for Parents

Teenage addiction to opioids has become an alarming crisis in recent years, posing significant challenges for parents and families. Methadone, a powerful opioid drug, operates as a partial opioid agonist, binding to the same receptors in the brain as opioids but without producing the intense euphoria or dangerous respiratory depression associated with drugs like heroin.

This unique mechanism helps alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms in adolescents struggling with addiction, enabling them to embark on recovery.

However, excessive use of methadone can lead to a new dependency. Understanding how this medicine works, as a lifesaver and a vice, is essential for parents to make informed medical decisions for their children.

Key Takeaways

Methadone is a partial opioid agonist. Here’s what you need to know about teenagers and methadone:

  • Methadone, a synthetic opioid, stabilizes opioid-dependent teenagers by activating brain receptors, reducing cravings, and preventing illicit opioid use.
  • Methadone can lead to dependency when not used under proper medical supervision.
  • Close monitoring and support from healthcare professionals are essential in ensuring safe methadone use as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan.

Contact us at (845) 539-0834 for personalized long-term growth and recovery assistance.

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is a synthetic opioid medication used for decades to treat opioid addiction.

It belongs to a class of drugs known as opioid agonists, which means it activates the same receptors in the brain that other opioids do, but in a safer and more controlled manner.

History and Development of Methadone

Methadone was first synthesized in the 1930s by German scientists, but its potential for treating opioid addiction was discovered in the 1960s. Since then, it has been an essential component of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs for opioid use disorder (OUD).

The use of methadone for addiction treatment is regulated and approved by government authorities in many countries, including the United States, where it is tightly controlled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Science of Methadone

Methadone is a synthetic opioid medication primarily used in the treatment of opioid addiction, especially for individuals who are dependent on drugs like heroin or prescription opioids. It works in several ways to help people with opioid use disorder:

Opioid Receptor Agonism

Methadone is a full opioid receptor agonist, which means it activates the same opioid receptors in the brain that drugs like heroin or prescription opioids do. This action helps to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings in individuals with opioid addiction.

When taken as prescribed, methadone can stabilize a person’s opioid dependence and prevent them from seeking out and using other opioids.

Tolerance Development

One unique feature of methadone is its long-acting effects. A single dose of methadone can relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings for up to 36 hours. This helps prevent the rapid highs and lows associated with shorter-acting opioids, reducing the incentive to abuse other drugs.

Blockade Effect

Methadone also has a partial blockade effect on opioid receptors. While it activates these receptors, it doesn’t do so as strongly as more potent opioids. This means that if someone tries to use another opioid while on methadone maintenance treatment, the effects of the other opioid are blunted. This discourages illicit opioid use.

Reduction of Cravings

Methadone can reduce cravings for opioids, making it easier for individuals to focus on recovery and rehabilitation rather than constantly seeking and using drugs.


Over time, methadone can help individuals stabilize their lives, as they are no longer preoccupied with obtaining and using opioids to avoid withdrawal symptoms of long-acting opioids.

Methadone Addiction Red Flags in Teens

When teenagers become dependent on methadone, they may exhibit various physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms.

Here are some common methadone addiction symptoms in teenagers:

  • Drastic changes in mood or behavior
  • Decline in academic or occupational performance
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Neglect of personal hygiene and appearance
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Frequent drowsiness or nodding off
  • Financial troubles or stealing to support drug use
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using methadone
  • Involvement in risky behaviors to obtain methadone
  • Physical signs like pinpoint pupils or weight loss

What Drives Methadone Abuse Among Teens

Methadone can also be misused and lead to addiction, including among teenagers. Several factors can contribute to methadone addiction in teens:

Prescription Medication

Some teens may be prescribed methadone to manage chronic pain or to treat opiate addiction. They may misuse or become addicted to the medicine if they take higher doses than prescribed or use it for recreational purposes.

Peer Pressure

Adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure. If their friends or acquaintances misuse opioids like methadone, they may be more inclined to experiment and develop an addiction.

Mental Health Issues

Teens experiencing mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or trauma may use methadone to self-medicate or numb emotional pain.


Adolescents are naturally curious and may experiment with substances to see their feelings. This experimentation can sometimes lead to addiction, especially when they experience the pleasurable effects of methadone.

Family History

Research suggests that a family history of substance use disorders can increase the risk of addiction in teens. Genetic factors may make some individuals more susceptible to developing addiction to opioids like methadone.

Environmental Factors

Living in an environment where drug use or a lack of supervision and support can also contribute to methadone addiction in teens.

Sensation Seeking

Some teens are naturally inclined toward sensation-seeking and risk-taking behaviors, which can lead them to experiment with drugs like methadone.

Lack of Education

Teens may not fully understand the risks associated with methadone use, especially if they believe it’s a safe medication a doctor prescribes. Lack of awareness about the potential for addiction can contribute to misuse.

3.2 million americans regularly misuse methadone and prescription opioids

Methadone Addiction: Toll on Teenagers

Methadone can seriously and negatively affect their physical, psychological, and social well-being.

Here are some of the adverse side effects of methadone addiction on teenagers:

Physical Health Effects

  • Withdrawal Symptoms: When addicted teenagers try to quit or reduce their methadone use, they may experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe muscle pain.
  • Infection Risk: Sharing needles or engaging in risky behaviors to obtain methadone can expose teenagers to infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
  • Tolerance: Over time, teens may build up a tolerance to methadone, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect, which increases the risk of overdose and other health risks.
  • Overdose: Too much methadone can lead to a life-threatening overdose, which can cause respiratory depression, coma, premature birth, decreased breast milk, and death.

Psychological Effects

  • Depression and Anxiety: Methadone addiction can lead to increased rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers.
  • Cognitive Impairment:  Studies claim that prolonged methadone use can impair cognitive functions, making it difficult for teens to concentrate, think clearly, and make sound decisions.
  • Mood Swings: Teenagers may experience mood swings, irritability, and emotional instability due to methadone addiction.

Social and Behavioral Effects

  • Isolation: Teens addicted to methadone may withdraw from their friends and family, leading to social isolation.
  • Neglected Responsibilities: Addiction can cause teenagers to neglect their responsibilities at school, home, and work, which can have long-term consequences on their education and prospects.
  • Criminal Activity: Some teenagers turn to criminal activities to support their addiction, such as stealing or selling drugs, which can lead to legal issues and incarceration.

Family and Relationships

  • Strained Relationships: Methadone addiction can strain relationships with family and friends, leading to trust issues and emotional distress.
  • Family Dysfunction: Families often struggle to cope with a teenager’s addiction, leading to family dysfunction and conflict.

Effective Methadone Recovery Treatments for Adolescents

Treating methadone addiction in teenagers can be challenging but is essential for their well-being and long-term recovery. 

Here are some steps and considerations for methadone treatment in teenagers:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment can be an effective way to treat methadone addiction. Buprenorphine or Suboxone may be replacement therapies to help manage cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms. A doctor will weigh the options of using medication and provide guidance to parents.

Residential Treatment

During residential treatment, teens spend time in a facility away from triggers and stressors of daily life. This allows them to make friends and form an identity around recovery instead of addiction. Teens are very responsive to social environments, so a change of scenery helps teens recover faster.

Counseling and Therapy

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management, can be crucial components of treatment. Individual and group therapy sessions with healthcare professionals can help teenagers address the psychological aspects of addiction, develop coping skills, and build a support network.

Life Skills Training

Access to supportive services such as vocational training, educational support, and housing assistance can be critical in helping teenagers rebuild their lives during and after treatment programs.

Get Help

If you’re suffering from methadone addiction, getting help as early as possible is essential. Methadone addiction is a severe illness that can lead to many problems. Getting help as early as possible can significantly improve your chances of recovery. Call us to get started with treatment.

Our resources are available to help you overcome your addiction with evidence-based therapies and innovative treatments proven by medical science to effectively manage your addiction. Our admissions counselors can help you learn more about the disease and how to keep it out of your life. Contact us confidentially today.

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Treatment for Teen Methadone Addiction

Is methadone dependence casting a shadow over your child’s bright future? It’s not too late to bring back the light.

We offer a comprehensive, holistic healing approach, blending diverse therapeutic modalities to support your child’s wellness journey. Our counseling provides personalized guidance, group therapy for peer support, educational workshops to equip teens with valuable life skills, and recreational activities to promote positive outlets.Don’t let your child battle this alone. Visit our website or call (845) 539-0834 to take the first step toward lasting recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does methadone do for a person?

Methadone, a member of opioid agonist treatment, is prescribed by healthcare providers and pharmacists to manage opioid addiction. It helps by relieving withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, enabling patients to taper off opioids gradually.
In addition, researchers have found it effective in reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, supporting a person’s recovery. It’s a crucial component of a comprehensive treatment plan, offering stability and reducing illicit opioid use.

What happens the first time you take methadone?

The first time someone takes methadone, they may experience effects similar to other opioid drugs, such as pain relief, relaxation, and mild euphoria. These effects can vary depending on the individual’s tolerance and prescribed dose.
However, it’s crucial to take methadone as prescribed by a medical professional to minimize the risk of overdose and dependence, as improper use can lead to serious health consequences.

What does methadone do, and how does it work?

Methadone, often in tablet form at methadone clinics, is used to treat alcohol, opioid, and heroin addiction and manage addiction to prescription painkillers. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as other opioids, reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the same intense high.
Its long-lasting effects help stabilize individuals, allowing them to function without needing stronger opioids, ultimately aiding addiction recovery and harm reduction.

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