Fentanyl Addiction, Abuse & Treatment

In just a few years, fentanyl has gone from a barely used medication to one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. According to the CDC, almost half of all drug overdoses in 2019 were due to fentanyl. Understanding what fentanyl is and how it works can help you educate yourself about the dangers of fentanyl addiction.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid drug initially created to help with pain. The drug works by blocking pain receptors in the brain while boosting levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters associated with pleasant feelings. Depending on the variant, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times as strong as morphine and other natural opioids. There are several different forms of fentanyl available, including:

Actiq: Actiq essentially looks like a lollipop. It is used by holding a lozenge on a stick, placing it under the tongue, and sucking on it for a constant dose of fentanyl.
Lazanda: Lazanda is a form of liquid fentanyl that can be administered to patients in the form of a nasal spray.
Subsys: Like Abstral, this is a fast-acting fentanyl used for cancer pain. Instead of being a tablet or lozenge, it is a spray.

The Effects of Fentanyl

Fentanyl’s primary effect is relieving pain, but it can still affect people when they are not in pain. Due to the way it triggers the opioid centers of the brain, fentanyl tends to cause a rush of pleasant feelings called euphoria. It also has many effects on the way the body functions. When a person takes fentanyl, they may experience one or more of the following effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Delayed reaction times
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Seizures

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

A lot of people assume that fentanyl is safe to take because it is a prescription medication rather than an illegal street drug like heroin. However, the reality is that fentanyl is highly addictive. Since it is far stronger than heroin and other opioids, it can actually be more addictive. Just using fentanyl once can end up causing an addiction. In fact, this is why fentanyl is mostly reserved as a medical treatment for end-stage cancer patients. It is considered too risky for most patients with a chance of recovery because the likelihood of developing an addiction after using fentanyl is so high.

The Fentanyl Addiction Crisis

Fentanyl has been receiving a lot of attention lately in the press because the number of substance use disorders linked to fentanyl has shot up rapidly. Between 2013 and 2016, overdose deaths due to fentanyl increased by 113%. At first, many people were taking fentanyl unknowingly. Since it was so potent, many illegal drug manufacturers were mixing it into their product to strengthen it cheaply. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl, an almost imperceptible amount, is enough to cause a deadly overdose. Many heroin users received fentanyl spiked drugs that caused them to miscalculate their dose and die.

However, in the past few years, there has been a concerning new trend associated with fentanyl. As more people became aware of the drug, they actually began using it knowingly. Since 2015, the number of people who knowingly ingest fentanyl has more than doubled. These shockingly high numbers seem to be due to the highly addictive nature of the drug. As it became more common, it was easier for people to try it once, and then they ended up with an addiction.

Signs Someone Is Addicted to Fentanyl

The most obvious signs of a fentanyl use disorder are physical. People who use fentanyl regularly will experience the euphoria of the drug, but they are also more likely to experience negative side effects like irregular heart rate, trouble breathing, numbness in the limbs, and ulcers or sores around the mouth. As a person continues to abuse fentanyl, their body will develop a physical dependence on the drug. If you quit taking it at this point, you may experience unpleasant symptoms like severe stomach flu within just two to four hours of your last dose.

Addiction does more than just impact physical health, though. It causes changes in the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. According to the DSM-5, you may be addicted to fentanyl if you experience more than one of these symptoms:

  • You spend much of your day thinking about how to obtain and use fentanyl.
  • You neglect responsibilities at work, school, or home to abuse fentanyl.
  • You need more and more fentanyl to get the same feeling of being high.

Does Fentanyl Cause Withdrawal?

Those who frequently use fentanyl will face withdrawal when they stop using the drug. Withdrawal is a sign that you have developed a physical dependence on fentanyl, and your body no longer functions normally without it. Depending on whether you regularly use slow-acting or fast-acting fentanyl, it may take somewhere between two to 36 hours to enter withdrawal after your last dose. If you quit using fentanyl suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Agitation, anxiety, and depression
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea

Since fentanyl withdrawal is so dangerous, it is never advised to go “cold turkey” and quit using it without receiving any medical supervision. Instead, medical experts advise tapering, the process of slowly reducing opioid usage over time. This can help cut back on fentanyl withdrawal, especially if a person switches to methadone or another long-acting, non-addictive opioid that does not produce the same high effect.

Managing Fentanyl Overdose

If you use fentanyl at all, one of the first things you need to be aware of is overdose treatment. Just taking a grain or two more of fentanyl than you usually do can be enough to cause death, so it is important to be able to identify and treat this potentially fatal side effect of fentanyl use. Signs of a fentanyl overdose include contracted pupils, weak muscles, low blood pressure, slow or stopped breathing, loss of consciousness, intense sleepiness, or confusion.

A fentanyl overdose can immediately be halted with naloxone, a type of medication that keeps the brain from receiving opioids while helping to restore breathing. Naloxone, also called Narcan, is not an illegal substance, so anyone can have it on hand in case of overdose. However, it is advisable to seek help from a medical professional because some of the side effects of overdose are not entirely cured with naloxone.

What Treatments Are Available for Fentanyl Addiction?

Since fentanyl use is so dangerous on both a physical and mental level, anyone who abuses fentanyl should get help as soon as possible. Most fentanyl addiction treatment is done through rehab centers. You can pick from inpatient and outpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab lets you live at a center, providing you with constant support and care. Outpatient rehab lets you live at home and just visit rehab regularly, which gives you the opportunity to still manage personal responsibilities like work or childcare. Depending on your situation, there are all sorts of highly effective treatments to choose from in fentanyl rehab.

Fighting Addiction With Therapy

The most effective clinically proven treatment for any type of substance use disorder is behavioral therapy, and fentanyl addiction is no exception. Since fentanyl use disorders are mental disorders, having a trained therapist or counselor guide you through recovery is very helpful. One of the most common types of therapy used for addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that focuses on identifying false perceptions about addiction and finding ways to overcome them. Therapy can also be useful for handling past traumas or co-occurring mental health disorders that may encourage drug abuse. It can assist people in recognizing the things that trigger their drug abuse and discovering healthier ways of coping with these triggers.

Using Medication to Treat Fentanyl Addiction

In addition to the standard therapy used for fighting substance use disorders, fentanyl addiction can also benefit from medical therapy. As a type of opioid, fentanyl responds well to a medication regimen of slow-acting, non-addictive, mild opioids. Options like methadone and buprenorphine do not give the same high sensation or addictive feeling as fentanyl, but they help to halt cravings and withdrawal symptoms. According to 2018 research, this can cut relapse rates to less than half. Though medication alone is not enough to cure all cases of fentanyl addiction, it can be used alongside conventional therapy to make sobriety easier.

Get Help at Green Mountain Treatment Center

You can access all of the above therapies at Green Mountain Treatment Center. This peaceful rehab center provides inpatient and outpatient care in a gorgeous location overlooking the White Mountains of New Hampshire. You can stay with us for several weeks as you work on your sobriety, or you can visit us for scheduled therapy while living in the comfort of your own home.

We provide a full continuum of medical care, ranging from clinically proven medications to holistic therapies. With a low number of residents, our staff can truly focus on giving each person the care they need. Depending on your level of fentanyl addiction, you may want to start with a medically monitored detox or move straight into therapy and counseling sessions. Our wide range of fentanyl addiction therapies can help you with:

Overcoming addiction triggers
Restoring your mental and emotional health
Learning healthier habits

If you or someone you know is struggling with a fentanyl addiction, it is important to seek help. We can provide the care needed to overcome this highly dangerous drug. Get in touch with Green Mountain Treatment Center to learn more about our customized addiction treatment plans.