March 15, 2021
Up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, fentanyl is one of the most powerful synthetic opioids in existence, second only to its analog carfentanil. Fentanyl is used to treat chronic pain, and is often given to patients that are opioid-tolerant due to continued use of another less powerful opioid pain reliever.
Unfortunately, fentanyl is often abused and has a large addiction potential due to its potency and the euphoric high that users frequently experience.
This article will help you understand why fentanyl can be so addictive and will make you aware of the dangerous side effects and symptoms of abuse. You will also learn about a safe and painless treatment option for fentanyl addiction that can help you or a loved one get off of this dangerous drug.
What is fentanyl and why is it addictive?
Like other opioid agonists, fentanyl works by bonding to opioid receptors in the brain that regulate mood and pain sensitivity. This causes feelings of extreme pleasure, happiness, and relaxation, along with other less desirable side effects.
As the brain and the body get used to the sudden influx of dopamine caused by the ingestion of fentanyl, it makes it more difficult for a user to feel happiness without the use of the drug.
As time passes, a person will develop a tolerance and will need to take higher amounts of fentanyl to feel the same effects, or they may begin to consume it alongside other dangerous substances. This leads to the development of a dependence, and then an addiction.
The brand names and forms of fentanyl
Fentanyl comes in many different forms, though the transdermal patch is commonly prescribed for pain management and is sold under the brand name Duragesic. Fentanyl can also be found in the form of:
- A buccal tablet (Fentora), which dissolves when placed between the gums and the cheek
- A sublingual tablet (Abstral), which dissolves when placed underneath the tongue
- An oral lozenge (Actiq), which is sucked on until it dissolves in the mouth
- Sublingual spray (Subsys) or nasal spray (Lazanda)
- Injectable solution, which can only be administered in a medical setting by a professional healthcare provider
Fentanyl is also created and sold illegally, which contributes greatly to the addiction crisis. Some slang terms for fentanyl include fent, fenty, apache, china white, butter, and jacket.
Signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction and overdose
The signs of fentanyl addiction
As fentanyl acts on the body and brain for long periods of time, there may be some behavioral changes or social indicators of addiction. Some behavioral signs of fentanyl addiction to be aware of are:
- Taking fentanyl in higher doses or for longer periods of time than was prescribed by a doctor.
- Having the desire to stop or limit fentanyl use, but being unable to do so.
- Having strong cravings or urges to use fentanyl.
- Neglecting everyday responsibilities at home or in the workplace.
- Using fentanyl even in dangerous or risky situations, such as while driving.
- Continued fentanyl use despite negative effects on quality of life.
- Spending excessive amounts of money, time, and resources on the procurement of fentanyl.
- Taking a risk to illegally get a dose of the drug.
- The presence of withdrawal symptoms when use is diminished or stopped.
The symptoms of fentanyl addiction
Those who abuse fentanyl may experience several physical and psychological symptoms including but not limited to:
- Increased heart rate
- Tightness in the chest
- Lack of balance and coordination
- Abnormal thoughts and mood swings
Fentanyl overdose symptoms
There is usually very low risk of overdose for those that use fentanyl as instructed, but people that abuse this drug are at risk of acute fentanyl toxicity, which can be incredibly harmful, or even fatal in some situations. The signs and symptoms of fentanyl overdose include:
- Slowed respiration or difficulty breathing
- Muscle weakness or limp body
- Confusion and irritability
- Exhaustion and extreme tiredness
- Inability to speak
- Bluish skin and nails due to low oxygen in the body
One of the biggest risks associated with overdosing is reduced respiratory function. Those who take too large of a dose of fentanyl may stop breathing entirely. If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing fentanyl overdose, seek professional medical assistance immediately.
Short and long term effects of fentanyl abuse
Fentanyl’s effects can be felt immediately after use if injected intravenously, though this only occurs in a hospital setting. Lozenges and tablets usually take effect quickly, whereas it may take several hours to feel the effects of transdermal patches.
Short term side effects of fentanyl use
Some common side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Confusion or drowsiness
- Intestinal issues such as constipation or diarrhea
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling abnormally cold
If these effects continue for long periods of time or display themselves in a more severe manner, be sure to contact a healthcare provider.
Long term effects of fentanyl addiction
Fentanyl can cause great damage to the central nervous system after long-term use and addiction. Prolonged fentanyl use can also have negative effects on other systems in the body, including the immune, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, endocrine, and musculoskeletal systems.
Common long-term problems include chronic depression, decreased health, generalized pain, and the inability to feel pleasure.
How does fentanyl addiction start?
Fentanyl is prescribed to those with severe pain and may be given to patients that have recently undergone surgery or that are undergoing cancer treatment. Fentanyl may also be prescribed to people who suffer from chronic pain but have a tolerance to other opioid analgesics.
Even if a patient takes fentanyl as prescribed, there is a possibility of forming a dependence on the drug. This means that you may experience symptoms of withdrawal after discontinuing use, as your body has gotten used to the effects and depends on the substance for normal functioning.
Dependence can lead to addiction if it becomes a compulsive need to take fentanyl or seek out more of it, even if consumption of the drug has negative effects on your life and your health.
It is also possible for addicts of other substances to develop an addiction through the unintentional consumption of fentanyl. This occurs when fentanyl is mixed with illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines and then sold to drug abusers.
Treatment for fentanyl addiction
Trying to get off of fentanyl alone is not only a painful process, but can also be dangerous. To get through fentanyl withdrawal safely and comfortably, detoxification should happen under the supervision of experts trained in addiction treatment.
Though it is technically possible to gradually clean the body from the drug safely, this method of detoxification frequently fails due to the unbearable withdrawal symptoms. To prevent relapse and get the necessary support, participation in an opiate addiction program will likely be required, which takes at least 7 days to complete.
There are five phases to an opiate addiction program, including:
- Diagnostics: Medical examinations and tests are run in order to assess the physical and mental state of the patient. These diagnostic tests will help the addiction treatment experts decide which method of detoxification is most suitable.
- Detoxification: In order to remove the substance from the body and return the chemicals in the brain to their pre-addiction state as quickly and painlessly as possible, several therapies may be used, including Neurojet (N.E.T) therapy, ultra-rapid opioid detoxification (UROD), and pharmacotherapy.
- Physiotherapy: This kind of therapy helps to normalize dopamine levels, increase blood flow, and eliminate toxins from the body.
- Pharmacological blockade: Using medications such as Naltrexone to block the patient’s opiate receptors prevents the euphoric sensations that come from fentanyl use and thus reduces the patient’s desire to take it.
- Therapy and outpatient support: All of the above steps are crucial to the successful treatment of addiction, but support and therapy post-detox are also important to the continued sobriety of a previous opioid addict.
Even more potent than heroin, fentanyl is an addictive and life-threatening drug. If you or a loved one is suffering from fentanyl addiction, get help as soon as possible.
Frequently asked questions
Is fentanyl addictive?
Due to the high potency of fentanyl, there is a large addiction potential. Even when used as directed, it is possible to develop a fentanyl dependence, which can lead to drug abuse and addiction.
How do I know if I have an addiction?
If you continue using fentanyl despite a negative effect on your quality of life, you may have an addiction. Other signs include neglecting social relationships, avoiding responsibilities at work and at home, spending lots of money on fentanyl, and continuing fentanyl consumption even in dangerous situations or in spite of developing health issues.
What are the effects of fentanyl abuse?
Short term effects include, but are not limited to tiredness, nausea and vomiting, sweating, and confusion. Long term effects include damage to several bodily systems such as: nervous, gastrointestinal, immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine. Abusers may also experience chronic depression and are at a higher risk of acute fentanyl toxicity.
How do I get off fentanyl?
The safest and most comfortable way to stop using fentanyl is by going through an opiate addiction treatment program at an expert medical facility. The stages of this program include: diagnostics, detoxification, physiotherapy, pharmacological therapy, and therapy and outpatient support.