Fentanyl Addiction — Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Fentanyl had made headlines in recent years due to its involvement in a high number of unintentional overdoses. In 2010, 14.3 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, and by 2017, that number spiked to 59 percent.

Being a powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl is similar to morphine, but it is 50 to 100 times more potent. Although fentanyl is a prescription drug, it is also produced and sold illegally. Within a medical setting, fentanyl is used to treat patients experiencing severe pain, particularly after they undergo surgery. It is also sometimes used in cases of chronic pain.

On the streets, fentanyl is made in a lab and is often mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine, MDMA, and heroin. Since it takes so little to produce a strong high, fentanyl is a cheap option for dealers. However, in many cases, users aren’t aware that they’re taking fentanyl, which can be dangerously addictive, as well as threatening.

Symptoms of a Fentanyl Use

Much like morphine and other opioids, fentanyl binds to the opioid receptors in your brain. These receptors are associated with both emotion and pain. Based on this drug’s potency, it is incredibly addictive and often causes strong symptoms of withdrawal. If you are concerned loved one, there are warning signs that you can look out for. While many of the symptoms below overlap with other substance abuse and mental health disorders, it’s important to remain mindful of abnormal behaviors and physical symptoms — especially if an overdose is suspected (which is discussed below).

Those who abuse fentanyl often demonstrate a range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Behavioral symptoms
  • Lethargy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family, as well as from activities that were previously meaningful
  • Lying
  • Risky or reckless behaviors
  • Physical symptoms
  • Shallow breathing (as well as a slower heart rate)
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Cognitive symptoms
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor ability to focus
  • Confusion
  • Psychosocial symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia

How to prevent (and respond to) a fentanyl overdose

If drugs are being sourced from anywhere other than a pharmacy, there’s no way of knowing what that substance was cut with. In many cases, someone will take fentanyl without knowing, as dealers often mix fentanyl and other drugs or press it into pills, selling it as oxycodone or MDMA. Unfortunately, it only takes a very small amount of fentanyl to cause an overdose.

As a user, it’s important to reduce your risk.

To do so, don’t:

  • Use alone — If you are using with others, make sure that you’re not using at the same time so that you can provide support for one another. If you are using alone, let someone know so that they can check on you.
  • Mix drugs — Do not mix a combination of drugs or mix fentanyl with alcohol.

In addition, you should carry naloxone and know your tolerance. While “testing” drugs in small amounts can help lower your risk of experiencing an overdose, remember, it does not take a lot of fentanyl to overdose. In some cases, a small amount is all that’s need to cause life-threatening effects.

As a loved one or friend of someone using, be mindful of these signs and symptoms:

  • Breathing is very slow — in some cases, they may not be breathing at all l
  • Lips and/or fingernails may turn blue
  • Body becomes limp
  • Their pupils will look like tiny pinpoints
  • Loss of consciousness — they will be unresponsive
  • Gurgling noises

If you suspect an overdose, shout their name, call your local emergency department, give them naloxone (one spray into their nostril or inject one vial into their arm or leg). While you wait for emergency responders, perform chest compressions, and stay with them!

Signs That You’re Addicted to Fentanyl

Whether you have been taking fentanyl prescribed by a doctor or have been seeking drugs on the street, a fentanyl addiction can develop regardless of the circumstances. At first, you’ll want to remain mindful of dosage. Do you need to take larger amounts in order to produce the same effect? If so, this is your body developing a tolerance. If you continue using fentanyl, your body will become dependent.

Once a fentanyl dependence develops, this will result in a significant warning sign in relation to addiction — withdrawal symptoms. If you need to use in order to address withdrawal symptoms, this will create a vicious cycle of abuse. If you are mentally and physically dependent on fentanyl, you will likely experience the following:

  • Intense cravings
  • Restless sleep or insomnia
  • Runny rose
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Muscle spasms or pain that’s felt in your bones
  • Nausea, vomiting, or cramps
  • Diarrhea

In addition, you or a loved one may experience significant negative effects due to the cycle of addiction including:

  • Financial problems
  • Legal issues, including incarceration
  • Homelessness
  • Inability to hold a job
  • Physical harm due to lack of judgment
  • Damaged interpersonal relationships

Fentanyl Addiction Stats

  • According to the CDC, in 2018, more than 31,000 deaths involved synthetic opioids (other than methadone) in the U.S.
  • From 2017 to 2018, synthetic opioid-involved death rates increased by 10 percent, accounting for 67 percent of opioid deaths.
  • From 1999 to 2018, there have been three waves of opioid overdose deaths. The first involved prescription opioids, such as methadone; followed by a rapid increase in heroin overdose deaths; and most recently, a wave of fentanyl-related deaths.
  • The number of deaths involving fentanyl, whether it was used on its own or with other drugs, doubled from 2015 to 2016. Death rates continued to rises, resulting in a 540 percent increase.
  • Deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl continue to rise. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), seizures and confiscations of fentanyl increased by nearly 7-fold between 2012 and 2014. This corresponds to a sharp increase in fentanyl-related deaths.

Getting Treatment for Your Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl is a very strong drug and while it can be very effective when prescribed as a slow-release patch, if you have increased your dose (or have been sourcing fentanyl illegally) and are now showcasing symptoms of fentanyl addiction, it’s important to address your concerns. Taking proactive action today could save your life.

While it’s important to seek treatment for any addiction, opioid addictions significantly increase your risk of an overdose. Remember, even a small amount of fentanyl can lead to an overdose. That is why it’s highly recommended that you obtain a naloxone kit, as this medication could save your life. Find out more about naloxone or Narcan here.

To prevent a potentially fatal outcome, it’s imperative that you take steps towards your recovery. Fentanyl treatment differs for each individual based on a wide range of variables, including the presence of any potential co-occurring mental health conditions. There are two main treatment options when it comes to fentanyl (or opioid) addiction. In most cases, individuals will require both in order to maintain long-term abstinence.

These include:

To get treatment, you simply need to take the first step and make that call. At Transformations, for example, here is what you can expect when you arrive in terms of admission. This step will begin your road to recovery, offering you an opportunity to achieve a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life. All of the tools, services, and resources are available to help you succeed — you just need to commit to a life of sobriety.

What to Expect on Your Road to Recovery

When you first arrive at treatment, your road to recovery will begin with a personalized assessment. This is something that’s very important to us at Transformations, as we understand that each client’s journey is unique. Following your assessment, you’ll be provided with a tailored treatment plan. However, before any treatment effectors can begin, you will need to detox. When you detox in our professional medical facility, you will remain safe and comfortable.

As fentanyl leaves your system, you will experience a wide range of uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms. For some, these symptoms can be life-threatening. For example, an elevated heart rate and hypertension is a significant concern among those with underlying heart conditions. The effects of withdrawal tend to peak in the first few days and level off within a week or so. Due to these symptoms, many continue to use fentanyl (or other opioids) in order to avoid becoming sick.

At Transformations, our medical detox program includes both medical and mental health support, offering you an opportunity to rid your body of fentanyl in a controlled, professional setting. Depending on your specific needs, various medications will be administered, ensuring a much smoother withdrawal process. Learn more about medical detox here.

Once you overcome this initial hurdle, you can then focus on actively improving your health and overall life. At Transformations, we offer a wide range of treatment options to ensure each client receives the type of specialized treatment they need to ensure their personal success. In some cases, clients respond best to faith-based treatment, whereas others show immense growth while participating in our specialty services.

In most cases, clients will take part in multiple treatment options and services. How much they benefit is often based on where they are within the treatment process. For example, following a successful detoxification process and active involvement in an intensive outpatient program, you may find experiential services valuable in terms of your personal growth and overall well-being. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly effective in helping clients identify negative thinking patterns and emotions, but is just one of the many therapy options available.

The key message here is that everyone is unique and your treatment should reflect that.

If you’re ready to embark on one of the most rewarding journeys of your life, as you work towards a life without addiction, we’re here for you. As we say at Transformations, we’re helping people create healthy futures. Our goal is to restore hope, create purpose, and change lives.

Ready to take the next step? Your new life can start today — contact us to discuss your options!

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