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Fentanyl addiction: symptoms, side effects, withdrawal, and treatment

Reading time: 19 mins
Fentanyl addiction: symptoms, side effects, withdrawal, and treatment

Fentanyl addiction is a chronic and compulsive reliance on the synthetic opioid fentanyl, characterized by an inability to manage or cease use despite negative effects. Since fentanyl has a strong effect on the brain’s opioid receptors, it provides both intense pain relief and an increased likelihood of becoming dependent and addicted.

The symptoms of fentanyl addiction include chest pain or discomfort, loss of appetite, mood changes, numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or lips, confusion, and painful or difficult urination. 

The side effects of fentanyl addiction are classified into short-term and long-term, with short-term side effects including nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, convulsions, dizziness or lightheadedness, fatigue, and constipation, and long-term effects including respiratory problems, reproductive and hormonal problems in men and women, physical dependence, tolerance, psychological dependence, cognitive impairment, onset of addiction, and an increased risk of overdose. 

The symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include intense cravings for fentanyl, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, chills and sweating, anxiety, and irritability. 

Treatment options for fentanyl addiction are detoxification, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), behavioral therapies, support groups, and aftercare and relapse prevention.

What is Fentanyl addiction?

Fentanyl addiction is a severe illness that results from the compulsive and uncontrollable overuse of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with an approximate 100-fold potency increase compared to morphine. 

This human-made opioid was initially created for medical applications – such as for the management of intense pain, particularly post-surgical and in cases of advanced-stage cancer. 

A continuing education activity titled, “Fentanyl Transdermal” last updated in July 2023 on StatPearls stated that this synthetic form, like other opiates, works by interacting with specific receptors in the brain called Mu-opioid receptors. 

These receptors play a role in pain relief (analgesia) and also stimulate areas of the brain associated with addiction. Additionally, it has an impact on other types of receptors, known as delta and kappa receptors, although to a lesser extent.
The high potency of fentanyl increases the risk of overdose and adds to the complications of opioid addiction, a larger term for the chronic and hazardous use of opioid drugs.

How common is Fentanyl addiction?

Fentanyl addiction is extremely common, with 991,000 individuals aged 12 or older (or 0.4%) having either misused prescription fentanyl or used illegally made fentanyl (IMF) during the past year, according to the highlights for the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Among these, 686,000 people (or 0.2% of the population) specifically used IMF in the past year. The agency further stated that without consumers’ knowledge, IMF may be contained in products marketed as heroin or counterfeit prescription medications. As a result, care must be exercised to avoid misinterpretation of fentanyl usage and IMF use figures.

Why are so many people on Fentanyl?

So many people are on fentanyl because of its remarkable potency—roughly 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. The increased potency of this substance leads to an abrupt and intense euphoric impact, rendering it an exceptionally desirable substance among individuals in search of a potent high. 

Due to its synthetic origin, fentanyl is more easily produced than opioids obtained from natural sources, which adds to its broad availability. Economic factors play a crucial role, as the low cost of fentanyl in comparison to other opioids makes it an appealing alternative for both makers and consumers. 

The deadly trifecta of affordability, availability, and potency has resulted in a worrisome increase in fentanyl usage. This continues to exacerbate addiction rates and adds to the terrifying overdose crisis for years now.

What are the symptoms of Fentanyl addiction?

The symptoms of fentanyl addiction are discernible indications that demonstrate an individual’s compulsive and detrimental consumption of the synthetic opioid. The most common symptoms of fentanyl addiction are listed below. 

  • Chest pain or discomfort: As a potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl depresses the central nervous system (CNS), slowing down breathing rates. The heart, in response to reduced oxygen levels, works harder to pump blood and compensate for the respiratory impairment. This increased cardiac workload results in chest pain or discomfort. Furthermore, fentanyl is known to cause muscle rigidity, including the muscles involved in respiration. 
  • Loss of appetite: The way fentanyl affects the neurotransmitters involved in regulating appetite is thought to be the cause of appetite loss brought on by the drug. Fentanyl changes the usual balance of these neurotransmitters, which makes people less interested in activities like eating.
  • Mood changes: When fentanyl attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, it affects how dopamine and serotonin are released. These neurotransmitters are essential for controlling emotions, pleasure, and mood. Due to the drug’s potent analgesic effects, certain individuals experience feelings of euphoria and relaxation, which boost their mood. On the other hand, the sedative properties of fentanyl lead to feelings of drowsiness and lethargy as well, contributing to a more subdued or depressed mood.
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or lips: One explanation for this symptom is that fentanyl, like other opioids, leads to altered sensory processing in the CNS. This alteration manifests as a reduced ability to feel sensations, leading to numbness or tingling in extremities like hands and feet, and sometimes in the lips.
  • Confusion: The suppression of neurotransmitter activity by opioids like fentanyl leads to a slowing down of neural processes, resulting in cognitive impairment. This manifests as confusion, difficulty concentrating, and a general sense of mental fogginess. A complex syndrome known as opioid-induced neurotoxicity leads to a range of symptoms, including drowsiness, moderate confusion, delirium, hallucinations, and seizures, according to a case report by Romayne Gallagher published in the March 2007 issue of the Canadian Family Physician
  • Painful or difficult urination: Since fentanyl affects the autonomic nervous system and urinary tract function, it is associated with painful and difficult urinating. It has an impact on the control of several body processes, such as the bladder and the sphincters that hold urine. In fact, as per a 2022 study by Suchovsky et al., published in The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, urinary retention can be induced through the binding of opioids to mu and delta receptors, which inhibit the parasympathetic nerves responsible for innervating the bladder. This, in turn, diminishes the sensory perception of bladder distention.

What are the signs of Fentanyl addiction?

Signs of fentanyl addiction include observable symptoms that healthcare professionals use to assess the severity of an individual’s dependence on the synthetic opioid. The common signs of fentanyl addiction are listed below. 

  • Small, “pinpoint” pupils: When fentanyl’s CNS depressant effects intensify, it results in an overabundance of opioid receptor activation. The pupils constrict more severely as a result of this increased stimulation, giving the impression that they are pinpoint-sized and small. 
  • Respiratory distress: The effects of fentanyl on the breathing muscles, such as the diaphragm, make it more difficult to sustain regular respiratory function. In a 2005 case report from Topacoglu et al., published in the Annals of Saudi Medicine, for pain treatment, the patient received the first fentanyl dose consisting of 50 μg or around 0.5 µg/kg intravenously. After two minutes of fentanyl injection, the patient went into respiratory arrest and concurrent cyanosis 
  • Sleep disturbances: Findings from a 2014 study by Hartwell et al., published in the journal Addictive Behaviors revealed that prescription opioid dependent people had high rates of both poor sleep quality and sleep impairment. The severity of pain was found to be substantially connected to sleep quality. 
  • Using the substance in larger quantities or for longer periods of time than planned: This reflects a loss of control over fentanyl use, as individuals find themselves exceeding the initially intended dose or duration. The need to use more fentanyl or use it longer signals a transition from controlled and moderate use to a more risky and unhealthy connection with the drug.
  • Impulses or cravings: Having strong urges or cravings for fentanyl indicates a psychological dependence. Such urges go beyond mere desire and reflect a compulsive need to seek out and use fentanyl, often driven by the brain’s reward system.
  • Attempts to stop or reduce usage without success: Affected individuals are often aware of the detrimental effects of fentanyl on their health, relationships, and overall well-being. Despite this understanding, the impulse to stop or lessen usage is difficult to overcome, emphasizing the development of physical and psychological dependence. 
  • Obtaining, abusing, and recovering from substance use takes up a lot of time, energy, and money: Individuals in the grip of addiction often find that their daily lives revolve around securing and using the substance, with a significant portion of their time and energy dedicated to these pursuits. The financial strain resulting from the consistent need to obtain fentanyl further underscores the compulsive and all-encompassing nature of the addiction.
  • Failure to satisfy home, job, or school duties: Individuals typically find it increasingly difficult to combine their substance usage with essential life tasks as their addiction grows. The drug takes priority over important responsibilities, and as addiction gets worse, it gets harder for people to meet their commitments.

What are Fentanyl addiction side effects?

Fentanyl addiction side effects encompass a range of physiological, psychological, and behavioral consequences that arise from the prolonged use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The most common fentanyl addiction side effects are listed below. 

The short-term side effects of fentanyl addiction are listed below. 

  • Nausea and vomiting: Fentanyl binds to certain brain receptors, including those in the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ) and the vomiting center. The signals that are set off by this binding cause nausea and the reflexive reaction of vomiting. 
  • Blurred vision: Fentanyl affects the pupils, causing constriction (miosis), which contributes to reduced clarity of vision. A 2019 study titled, “Illicit drugs: Effects on eye” published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research stated that opioids such as fentanyl reduced pupil size, reduced constriction velocity in response to light stimulus, and caused dilation of pupils following removal of light stimulus. 
  • Convulsions: While fentanyl primarily exerts depressant effects on the CNS, in certain cases, it paradoxically leads to excitatory effects. This triggers abnormal electrical activity in the brain and results in convulsions or seizures. According to a 2017 study by Mahmoud El-Karamany published in The Egyptian Journal of Internal Medicine, as soon as fentanyl and its derivatives are administered, movements resembling epilepsy are seen. Though they don’t have any serious repercussions, these movements, which resemble generalized tonic-clonic convulsions, are nevertheless worrisome.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: The drug’s depressant effects lead to vasodilation, causing blood vessels to widen and resulting in a drop in blood pressure. This decrease in blood pressure, coupled with the sedative properties of fentanyl, contribute to reduced blood flow to the brain, leading to dizziness or lightheadedness. 
  • Fatigue: Fentanyl not only inhibits the transmission of pain signals but affects other neurotransmitters associated with alertness and wakefulness as well. The sedative qualities of the medication cause drowsiness and a general sense of exhaustion.
  • Constipation: Bowel motility is slowed down by fentanyl because it interferes with the intestines’ natural peristaltic motions. Constipation is a typical side effect of opioid use since fentanyl lowers the gastrointestinal tract’s general muscular activity, making it harder to pass stool. 

The long-term side effects of fentanyl addiction are listed below. 

  • Respiratory problems: Chronic fentanyl use results in a continuous suppression of the respiratory drive, which results in slower and shallower breathing. As time passes, this respiratory suppression contributes to an increased risk of respiratory infections, distressed breathing, and impaired lung function. 
  • Reproductive and hormonal problems in men and women: According to a 2019 study by Duca et al., published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, opioids disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, resulting in sperm production impairment and diminished testosterone levels. On the other hand, a 2011 study by Broussard et al., published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology discovered statistically significant links between maternal opioid use and a variety of newborn birth abnormalities, including spina bifida, conoventricular septal defects, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, gastroschisis, and atrioventricular septal defects.
  • Physical dependence: Prolonged use of fentanyl results in physical dependence as the body adapts to the drug’s presence, leading to withdrawal symptoms when usage is reduced or discontinued.
  • Tolerance: Long-term fentanyl use induces tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects. This phenomenon arises due to adaptive modifications in the opioid receptors and neurotransmitter systems of the brain.
  • Psychological dependence: Since fentanyl affects brain reward pathways, people eventually develop a psychological dependence on the drug. This results in an obsessive urge to use it in order to feel good or cope with unpleasant emotions.
  • Cognitive impairment: Long-term fentanyl usage impairs cognition, which includes memory, focus, and decision-making. In fact, those who used fentanyl were more likely to experience cognitive impairment than those who abused prescription opioids, according to a 2021 study by Tamargo et al., published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.  
  • Onset of addiction: With continued fentanyl use, the brain adapts by reducing its natural production of these neurotransmitters and altering the structure of the reward system. Over time, the psychological and physiological changes solidify, culminating in addiction, characterized by a compulsive and uncontrollable urge to seek and use the drug despite negative consequences. 
  • Increased risk of overdose: Long-term fentanyl use elevates the risk of overdose, as individuals continually escalate their dosage to overcome tolerance. The risk is heightened due to the potency of fentanyl, which increases the likelihood of respiratory failure and complications associated with overdose.

Why is Fentanyl addictive?

A bottle with pink pills.

Fentanyl is addictive due to its highly potent nature, according to a 2021 publication titled, “Fentanyl DrugFacts” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The article further stated that when prescribed fentanyl is taken as directed by a physician, a person can develop dependence, which manifests as withdrawal symptoms when the medicine is stopped.

The reinforcing cycle of pleasure, coupled with the compulsion to avoid withdrawal symptoms, forms the basis of drug addiction. Furthermore, the quick onset of fentanyl adds to its potential for misuse and dependence.

How addictive is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a highly addictive substance with potency levels 100 times greater than morphine and 50 times greater than heroin, according to an article titled, “Fentanyl Facts” last reviewed in September 2023 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Furthermore, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II narcotic in accordance with the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970. According to a continuing education activity by Preuss et al., last updated in April 2023 on StatPearls, schedule II substances, such as fentanyl, pose significant physical and mental dependence risks. They are highly susceptible to both misuse and use disorder.

Why is Fentanyl so dangerous?

Fentanyl is so dangerous because of its high amount of toxicity, coupled with the fact that the low cost of fentanyl has led drug dealers to mix it with other substances, such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, according to an article titled, “Facts About Fentanyl” published in 2021 by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration

Taking a tablet without realizing it contains fentanyl is therefore a possibility, the article added. Even if you know a tablet includes fentanyl, there’s no way to tell if the dosage is fatal. Illicit fentanyl’s actual ingredients are frequently unknown, exposing users to additional risks and unpredictable effects.

Has anyone accidentally become addicted to Fentanyl?

Yes, it is likely for someone to accidentally become addicted to fentanyl, especially when an individual prescribed fentanyl for pain management unintentionally develops dependence over the course of their treatment.

According to an article titled, “Fentanyl” last updated in May 2023 by MedlinePlus, fentanyl should be prescribed exclusively by physicians with expertise in the management of pain among cancer patients.

A continuing education activity titled “Fentanyl” by Ramos-Matos et al., published in StatPearls further stressed that when prescribing fentanyl, it is important to administer the lowest and shortest effective dose, while continuously monitoring the patient for compliance and potential diversion in outpatient settings.

How long does it take to get addicted to Fentanyl?

It only takes one week to get addicted to fentanyl, since a patient is considered opioid tolerant if they have been taking at least 25 mcg/hour of transdermal fentanyl, 60 mg/day of oral morphine, 30 mg/day of oral oxycodone, 25 mg/day of oral oxymorphone, 8 mg/day of oral hydromorphone, or an equivalent dose of any other opioid for at least 1 week, according to the Extended-Release (ER) and Long-Acting (LA) Opioid Analgesics Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) last modified in June 2015 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

However, it’s crucial to note that there is no precise timeframe and the timeline for developing an addiction to fentanyl as it varies widely among individuals. Factors influencing the speed of addiction include the dosage, frequency of use, individual physiology, and susceptibility to substance use disorders.

What is the difference between Fentanyl vs. heroin?

A bowl with pills.

The difference between fentanyl vs.heroin lies in their chemical composition, potency, legal status, and medical applications. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning it is man-made, and it is estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin. 

It is frequently given for the treatment of severe pain, such as pain following surgery or pain associated with cancer. On the other hand, heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from morphine, which is extracted from the opium poppy plant. Despite having a potent analgesic effect, heroin is not authorized for medicinal usage in the US.

Another significant distinction is potency; fentanyl is much more potent than heroin. This increased potency raises the risk of overdose as well as respiratory depression that is linked with the usage of fentanyl. 

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, often sold on the black market, has been a major contributor to the opioid crisis due to its potency and the challenges of dosing accurately in non-medical settings.

Finally, fentanyl and heroin differ in their legal status and medical applications. Fentanyl is a prescription medication that is legally used under careful medical supervision, while heroin is illegal and has no legitimate medical use.

Is Fentanyl more addictive than heroin?

Yes, fentanyl is more addictive than heroin. The principal determinant in fentanyl’s elevated propensity for addiction is its increased potency. Since it is stronger than heroin, its abuse leads to dependence and addiction more quickly, even in smaller amounts.

It’s crucial to note that both substances are highly addictive, and heroin addiction has its own serious and well-documented public health implications. However, fentanyl’s entry into the black market for drugs has worsened the opioid crisis and raised the possibility of serious outcomes, such as fatal overdoses.

What are the risk factors for Fentanyl addiction?

Risk factors for fentanyl addiction are a group of situations, traits, or attributes that make someone more likely to get addicted to the synthetic opioid. The most common risk factors for fentanyl addiction are listed below. 

  • Genetic vulnerability: 40-60% of susceptibility to any addiction is attributed to genetic factors, with particular loci being linked to opioid use and opioid use disorder (OUD), according to a study titled, “Opioid Use Disorders” published in the July 2016 issue of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. The research added that large-scale twin studies reveal that genetic variables are the biggest predictor of SUD (substance use disorder) vulnerability rather than phenotypic sensitivity or desire for any specific substance. 
  • Past or current substance abuse: Individuals with a history of substance abuse  already have experienced alterations in their brain’s reward system and heightened vulnerability to the effects of psychoactive substances. This previous exposure creates a predisposition towards seeking out and using more potent opioids like fentanyl.
  • Environmental influences: The incidence of OUDs is greatly increased by environmental factors such as opioid exposure, non-medical usage, and opioid accessibility, according to a 2016 study by Sharma et al., published in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America
  • Psychiatric and medical comorbidities: As per a 2017 paper by Lynn R. Webster published in Anesthesia & Analgesia, in addition to their physical discomfort, people who experience severe pain frequently also experience anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and other medical and psychological comorbidities. The study therefore concluded that before beginning or continuing to use opioids for chronic pain, a comprehensive assessment of substance misuse and mental health history should be conducted.
  • Age of onset: Initiating substance use during a critical developmental stage where the brain is still maturing disrupts normal brain development and increases the likelihood of developing addictive behaviors. Furthermore, the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America published a paper by Sharma et al., in 2016 which stated that early onset of opioid usage is linked to an increased lifetime risk of OUD and worse clinical outcomes.

Why are drugs laced with Fentanyl?

Drugs are often laced with fentanyl for various reasons, primarily driven by economic considerations within the illicit drug market. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are far more powerful than many other opioids like heroin or morphine. 

Therefore, in order to boost the drug’s efficacy and potentially intensify its euphoric effects, drug traffickers blend or lace their products with fentanyl, giving users a stronger and more intense high. The potency of fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose and death, making this practice exceedingly risky. 

Since the production process is less costly than that of other opioids, fentanyl is an attractive substitute for those involved in the illicit drug trade. As the illicit drug market seeks more potent and affordable options, many medications are lacerated with fentanyl. This unwittingly contributes to the opioid epidemic and carries major health risks.

How to tell if drugs are laced with Fentanyl?

Fentanyl testing strips

One can tell if drugs are laced with fentanyl with the use of fentanyl testing strips. Detecting whether drugs are laced with fentanyl is extremely challenging, as it is often imperceptible to the naked eye or to users without specialized equipment. 

In fact, according to an article titled, “Fentanyl Facts” last updated in September 2023 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there may be lethal amounts of fentanyl in drugs that are undetectable by sight, taste, or smell. Without fentanyl testing strips, it is extremely difficult to determine whether drugs have been laced with fentanyl.

The article added that test strips are cheap and usually provide results in 5 minutes, which can spell the difference between survival or death. Even if the test is negative, be cautious because test strips may miss more potent fentanyl-like compounds, such as carfentanil.

What are the signs and symptoms of Fentanyl overdose?

Signs and symptoms of fentanyl overdose refer to the observable and often critical indicators that an individual has ingested a toxic amount of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, leading to a potentially life-threatening situation. The most common signs and symptoms of fentanyl overdose are listed below. 

  • Abnormally constricted/pinpoint pupils (miosis): Opioid agonists, including fentanyl, reduce pupil size and produce a miotic effect, according to a 2012 study by Anaraki et al., published in the Saudi Journal of Anaesthesia. Excessive levels of fentanyl during an overdose intensify this constriction effect, producing pinpoint-sized, small pupils.
  • Breathing that is slow, weak, irregular, or stops all together: Fentanyl has powerful depressive effects on the respiratory center in the brain. In fact, a study by Balanza et al., published in the August 2022 issue of PNAS Nexus revealed that fentanyl induced respiratory depression approximately 277 seconds or around four minutes prior to any alteration in consciousness, and at concentrations 1,700 times lower than those that induce sedation.
  • Decreased level of consciousness: Fentanyl binds to brain receptors, including those that control arousal, consciousness, and response. Overdosing on fentanyl causes these receptors to be overwhelmed, which in turn causes a deep sedative effect. This leads to extreme sleepiness, confusion, and finally a lower level of consciousness.
  • Cold, sweaty, and/or discolored skin: In an overdose scenario, the drug’s suppression of vital bodily functions leads to reduced oxygen levels in the body, causing a cascade of effects. The body responds by diverting blood flow away from the skin and extremities to prioritize vital organs, resulting in cold and sweaty skin. Additionally, the decreased oxygen levels lead to cyanosis, a bluish discoloration of the skin, particularly in areas with less blood flow. 
  • Choking or gurgling sounds: The sedative effects of the medication become more prominent in the event of an overdose, resulting in muscular relaxation and lack of coordination. The tongue or soft tissues in the throat restrict the airway, resulting in choking sounds as the person struggles to breathe. Furthermore, gurgling sounds are produced as air flows through a partially clogged airway due to decreased coordination of the muscles involved in breathing and swallowing. 
  • Limp or floppy body: The excessive presence of fentanyl in one’s system causes a profound relaxation of skeletal muscles. This muscle relaxation leads to a loss of muscle strength and coordination, resulting in a limp and floppy body. Individuals experiencing a fentanyl overdose may become unresponsive, unable to maintain an upright position or control their body movements.

What are the symptoms of Fentanyl withdrawal?

Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include physical and psychological manifestations that individuals experience when they abruptly reduce or discontinue their fentanyl use after developing dependence. The symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal are listed below. 

  • Intense cravings for fentanyl: Fentanyl produces an intense rush by triggering the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, which in turn reinforces the user’s desire to keep taking the drug. During withdrawal, the sudden cessation of fentanyl results in a neurotransmitter imbalance, with a significant decrease in dopamine levels. This imbalance triggers intense cravings as the brain, in an attempt to restore equilibrium, signals a compelling urge to seek and use fentanyl again. 
  • Muscle aches: Fentanyl withdrawal often leads to generalized muscle aches and pains as the body adjusts to the absence of the opioid. This symptom arises from the heightened sensitivity to discomfort and the reactivation of pain pathways, both of which contribute to the overall physical discomfort experienced throughout the withdrawal process. 
  • Nausea and vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, are common during fentanyl withdrawal. These upsetting symptoms result from the abrupt withdrawal of the opioid, which interferes with the digestive system’s regular operation.
  • Chills and sweating: Individuals experiencing fentanyl withdrawal frequently report chills and episodes of sweating. These symptoms are associated with dysregulation of the body’s temperature control mechanisms as the nervous system adapts to the absence of the drug, leading to fluctuations in body temperature and the sensation of feeling hot or cold.
  • Anxiety: When someone is going through withdrawal, the quick lack of fentanyl throws off the neurotransmitter systems that control mood. This causes heightened excitability and a surge in stress hormones, contributing to the onset of anxiety. The psychological distress associated with withdrawal, coupled with the anticipation of discomfort and cravings for the drug, further exacerbates anxiety symptoms. 
  • Irritability: The drug slows down the nervous system and makes one feel calm and relaxed. When someone stops using fentanyl suddenly, certain brain circuits get overactive and become more irritable due to the sudden lack of this soothing effect. Further aggravating irritation are the psychological strain and physical discomfort linked to withdrawal.

How long does Fentanyl withdrawal last?

Fentanyl withdrawal typically lasts for up to 4-10 days, according to the fourth chapter of the book titled, “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings” originally published by the World Health Organization in 2009.

However, this is just the acute phase of fentanyl withdrawal and what follows is the protracted or longer-term phase of the withdrawal process. The book further stated that protracted withdrawal is characterized by intense cravings for opioids and a general sense of decreased well-being that lasts up to six months.

What are the treatments for Fentanyl addiction?

Treatments for fentanyl addiction encompass a range of interventions designed to address the physical, psychological, and behavioral aspects of addiction to fentanyl. The common treatments for fentanyl addiction are listed below. 

  • Detoxification: Detoxification, or detox, is often the initial step in treating fentanyl addiction. According to a 2006 treatment improvement protocol titled, “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment” from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of buprenorphine, a new medicine, in addition to methadone, which is the most commonly used agent for detoxification. 
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): MAT is a comprehensive approach that integrates medicine (methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone) with behavioral therapy and counseling to meet the needs of people with opioid use disorders, such as fentanyl addiction, according to an article titled, “Treat Opioid Use Disorder” last reviewed in 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Behavioral therapies: Various behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management, are effective in treating addiction to opioids like fentanyl. For instance, the use of contingency management (CM) has been effective with a variety of drugs, including opioids, according to a 2010 study by McHugh et al., published in the Psychiatric Clinics of North America. Based on the principles of operant learning theory, CM entails rewarding substance-free behavior with non-drug reinforcers, such as vouchers, after abstinence is demonstrated.
  • Support groups: Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) should be an integral part of any fentanyl addict’s treatment plan. Groups like these help people get back on their feet by creating a safe space where they can talk about their struggles, get advice, and lean on each other emotionally. 
  • Aftercare and relapse prevention: Aftercare and relapse prevention are essential components of long-term recovery after initial treatment is finished. These consist of continuing therapy, support networks, and methods to assist people in staying sober, controlling triggers, and overcoming obstacles in life without turning to drugs. 

Why is Fentanyl addiction counseling necessary?

liquid fentanyl bottle.

Fentanyl addiction counseling is necessary because it provides a supportive and therapeutic environment where individuals explore the root causes of their addiction. With counseling, patients address underlying psychological issues and develop coping mechanisms to manage cravings and triggers as well.

It plays a pivotal role in helping individuals understand the patterns of their substance use, fostering self-awareness and promoting personal responsibility for recovery. Additionally, counseling equips individuals with essential life skills and strategies to navigate the challenges of daily life without resorting to substance use.

Why is Fentanyl addiction extremely difficult to treat?

Fentanyl addiction is extremely difficult to treat because of its potency, high risk of overdose, and illicit nature as well. The strength of fentanyl makes it really tough for people dealing with it, both physically and mentally, making them more likely to get hooked and making it harder to quit. 

What makes things even trickier is the high chance of overdosing on fentanyl, adding an extra layer of difficulty to treatment. It’s like walking a tightrope, trying to handle withdrawal symptoms while avoiding really serious risks. 

Moreover, the often clandestine nature of fentanyl use, especially in cases of illicitly manufactured versions, poses challenges in monitoring and intervention.

How long does it take to detox from Fentanyl?

Fentanyl detox lasts anywhere between 28 days for inpatient treatment and up to 12 weeks for community-based treatment, according to a study by Diaper et al., published in the February 2014 issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

Still, it is important to note that the duration of fentanyl detox varies widely among individuals and depends on several factors, including the level of dependence, the duration of fentanyl use, and individual differences in metabolism.

How to detox from Fentanyl?

To begin the detoxification process from fentanyl, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional or addiction specialist for personalized guidance. First and foremost, establish a comprehensive plan that involves entering a medically supervised detox program. 

Medical personnel keep an eye on patients’ vital signs, treat withdrawal symptoms, and give prescriptions as needed in this environment. It is worth noting that detoxing from fentanyl at home poses significant risks and is generally not recommended.

Transitioning from fentanyl dependence entails gradually decreasing the drug, which helps to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Maintaining open communication with healthcare providers is critical during this process, allowing for adjustments to the detox strategy based on individual requirements and responses. 

Post-detox, consider engaging in ongoing therapy and support programs to address the psychological aspects of addiction and enhance the chances of long-term recovery.

Is recovery possible for Fentanyl addiction?

Fentanyl injection bottle and pills

Yes, recovery is possible for fentanyl addiction. Given the drug’s intensity and related hazards, fentanyl addiction poses special obstacles, but with the correct assistance and therapy, people have successfully conquered their addiction.

Individuals have found success in achieving and maintaining recovery with the use of therapeutic options including medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups, as well as medically supervised detoxification. 

It is critical to understand that recovery is a continuing process and that sustained well-being is greatly impacted by continued assistance and participation in aftercare programs.