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Fentanyl Addiction: Effects, Withdrawal and Detox

The escalation of fentanyl addiction is the primary root of the opioid crisis in the United States. Fentanyl is a highly addictive and dangerous opioid responsible for 71,269 preventable deaths in 2022, according to The National Safety Council, which is a 6% increase over 67,325 in 2021.

A comprehensive fentanyl treatment program begins with detox, withdrawal, and then rehab, which fortunately can end the unsafe use of this highly potent drug for millions of people. Those with a fentanyl use disorder need immediate help in ending their struggle to avoid the possibility of overdose or even death. Fortunately, treatment centers are aware of the opioid crisis and the characteristics of fentanyl addiction, withdrawal, detox, and treatment. 

Fentanyl Addiction Overview

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approved for the treatment of severe pain, generally advanced cancer pain. Furthermore, transdermal patches or lozenges are typical forms of fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is primarily the cause of overdose and death, being found laced with cocaine or heroin to intensify the euphoria users experience.

Unfortunately, only a minute amount of fentanyl is dangerous, and the highly addictive properties lead to addiction quickly. Fentanyl has a rapid onset of effects but is quickly eliminated from the body, meaning it has a short half-life. However, this process makes fentanyl easy to misuse or abuse during the treatment of severe pain.

Fentanyl addiction is difficult to withdraw from because of the extreme withdrawal symptoms quickly developing when use ends. When the withdrawal symptoms begin, the user will avoid further discomfort and use it again to relieve the uncomfortable feelings. Therefore, professional fentanyl treatment with a medically managed detox program is the safest and most effective way to end the addiction.

How Does An Addiction Begin?

Prescription fentanyl is issued because other forms of opioids may have built tolerance and are not as effective for the treatment of extreme chronic pain. Painful symptoms from surgery or advancing cancer pain need immediate relief, so fentanyl answers the call. Unfortunately, the euphoric effects are alluring to the user, and it is effortless to take more than required, which begins to increase the tolerance of the drug.

However, doctors closely monitor the amounts of fentanyl prescribed, so the user may resort to using illegal fentanyl to satisfy their desire for euphoria and pain relief. When tolerance builds, it takes more of the drug to achieve the same effect as the body adjusts to the medication. Tolerance leads to dependence on the drug, which includes addiction.

This process can occur unintentionally and build into an addiction quickly, so when users find themselves seeking more than the prescribed amount of the drug, they need to seek help from the provider. Fentanyl addiction is hazardous.

Fentanyl Addiction and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic stems from the large scale of illegal drug activity surrounding fentanyl because of the extreme potency, short half-life, and quick need for more. Those who profit from exploiting others in the drug business take quick advantage of the process because of the fast turnaround time to need more.

Additionally, drug dealers add other compounds to fentanyl and lace other drugs with fentanyl to increase the potency, but often do not inform the users of this. Thus, overdose rates continue to soar to unbelievable numbers, as well as overdose deaths.  

Signs of Addiction

Opioids are so effective because they bind to the body’s opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for controlling pain and emotions. During the continuous use of fentanyl, the brain adapts to the drug, decreasing the sensitivity to the drug.

Then it replaces the natural process of pain relief, making it difficult to feel better from anything without the drug. Intense drug-seeking habits are a sure sign of a higher-than-normal need for the drug. The effects of addiction to fentanyl point to psychological and physical symptoms.

The effects of extreme fentanyl use are:

  • Extreme euphoria or happiness
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Sedation or drowsiness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Problems breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Short and Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl

As with other opioids, the drugs take a toll on the central nervous system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain how opioids can adversely affect breathing, leading to death. 1 in 4 people with a prescription for opioids to control chronic pain report addiction problems.

Overdose is always a concern with fentanyl addiction, which can lead to coma or death. Other effects excessive fentanyl use has on the body are urinary retention, pupillary constriction, and nausea and vomiting. 

Signs of Withdrawal

Withdrawal signs and symptoms show rapidly as the body quickly metabolizes fentanyl. Immediate signs include an intense craving for the drug when it becomes absent from the system. A high level of anxiety occurs over the need for another dosage of fentanyl.

Sweating and muscle aches occur, and if withdrawal continues, insomnia can be a problem. Without professional help, users will seek another dosage of fentanyl to end the discomfort. 

Fentanyl Detox Timeline

Professional fentanyl detox programs include medical management and possibly the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Typically, 3 stages occur with fentanyl withdrawal, beginning with the initial symptoms occurring within the first 24 hours after the last dosage. Medical management is vital because the user will experience intense drug cravings within hours of the drug’s effects wearing off. Relapse prevention during these cravings is critical. 

The fentanyl detox timeline occurs as follows:

  • The first 12 to 24 hours of withdrawal include intense drug cravings, chills, muscle pain, and intense agitation. 
  • 1 to 2 days into withdrawal bring peak symptoms, which include extreme psychological distress with cravings, confusion, disorientation, and cravings. Nausea, vomiting, shivering, and runny nose, as well as depression and seizures, are more severe symptoms requiring medical management. 
  • Long-term withdrawal can extend from 3 to 5 days into weeks and is unpredictable and different for each individual. Anxiety and lingering depression may require MAT to relieve the symptoms of these mental health conditions. 

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms may be problematic for those who are not aware of the possibility. Such withdrawal symptoms can be intensely emotional. A sound relapse prevention plan can address the negative feelings that may appear out of nowhere. Rehab or therapy after detox can prepare the client with the tools to remain sober during this period. 

Therapy for Fentanyl Abuse

Therapy for fentanyl addiction follows the detox process. The healing journey from drug abuse begins with individual treatment, which typically sets the path for living without using drugs or alcohol. During intake, the treatment team sets up the plan for success, including rehab options for inpatient or outpatient rehab.

Recovery can be a successful and inspiring journey into personal development with the help of the following therapies: 

  • Individual therapy, including evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Group therapy for peer support and relationship-building opportunities.
  • Holistic treatment, such as meditation, yoga, art therapy, acupuncture, massage, and nutritional therapy.
  • Medication-assisted therapy typically includes methadone, buprenorphine, or extended-release naltrexone to block cravings and opioid effects.
  • Family counseling addresses the fact that addiction is a family disease.
  • EMDR is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy to address and reprocess traumatic memories.
  • Animal or equine therapy.

Recognize the Dangers of Fentanyl Addiction and Act Quickly

When fentanyl addiction affects an individual, time is of the essence to reach out for help and end the problem. Tennessee Valley Recovery is well aware of the dangers fentanyl users are exposing themselves to. A compassionate and understanding treatment staff offers treatment options to end the addiction and begin a journey of healing and self-discovery.

Contact Tennessee Valley Recovery today to eliminate the dangers involved with fentanyl use.