If you’ve paid attention to the news, the internet, or any combination of the two, you may have heard of fentanyl. It seems to be the new drug-du-jure for the media to panic over and warn everyone about how their kids are definitely going to use it.
Well, some of the media fearmongering is actually correct here. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine that is anywhere between 50 to 100 times more potent. Like other opioids, it is prescribed by doctors as a painkiller (generally under the names Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze) and is very effective at that. As with other opioids that are prescribed for pain relief, fentanyl is incredibly addictive.
As we all know (or, I should say, hope you know since you’re reading a blog on a treatment center website), when you become addicted to opioids you can experience severe withdrawals if you try to quit cold turkey. In this article we’ll discuss the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawals, as well as a background of the drug itself and treatment.
Is Fentanyl an Opioid?
As we answered in the introductory paragraphs, yes, Fentanyl is an opioid. There is a legitimate pharmaceutical fentanyl in treatment, mainly for pain management in cancer patients (which, as you can imagine, is quite painful and requires heavy-duty pain management) but also for pain management after severe injuries. Here’s the danger: if you are prone to addiction and you get prescribed fentanyl (or any other opioid) to manage the pain of cancer or a severe injury, there is a serious risk that you’ll end up addicted to the drug.
But, why? Not why are opioids prescribed for pain management in cancer patients, we pretty much explained that. No, why are fentanyl and other opioids addictive? It has to do with neurology and chemistry (so I’m going to have to reference experts here since I’m neither a neurologist nor a chemist). Opioids work by triggering the release of endorphins, which are essentially your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Endorphins lower your perception of pain (hence the use as pain medication for severe pain) and simply make you feel very, very, very good.
That very, very, very good feeling is temporary though. When the effects fade away, you want to keep feeling very, very, very good. Who wouldn’t want to feel very, very, very good. Eventually, the amount of the drug needed to effectively make you feel very, very, very good increases, and you keep desperately craving more of the drug that makes you feel very, very, very good. In other words, you develop a tolerance of the drug. Even as your tolerance builds, you continue to desperately crave the very, very, very good feeling.
Thus begins the cycle of addiction. As you dive further into your addiction it gets more and more difficult to feel the same rush of good feelings you felt early on in your use, but that doesn’t stop the brain of an addict from craving more. Over time, the constant rush of more and more endorphins messes with your brain chemistry, making you dependent on the drug not only to feel good, but to feel normal.
When your body becomes dependent on drug, suddenly stopping your use can be very dangerous, essentially shocking your body and brain’s internal chemistry. But we’ll talk about withdrawal more in later section.
Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
The symptoms of addiction to Fentanyl are similar to the symptoms of addiction to other opioids, which, according to Johns Hopkins, include:
- Inability to control use
- Frequent, uncontrollable cravings
- Disruption in sleep habits
- Weight loss
- Decreased libido
- Isolation from family or friends
- Stealing from family, friends, or business
Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
As with any opioid, when you try to quit cold fentanyl cold turkey, there are likely going to be withdrawal symptoms. As your body gets used to constantly having a steady stream of Fentanyl (or any opioid), it can basically cause your body to go into shock when you quit using. This is why detox is oftentimes necessary for recovering addicts.
During the first 24 hours after you stop using, symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Teary eyes
- Runny nose
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent yawning
After the first day, more intense symptoms begin, which include:
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils and (possibly) blurry vision
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
The length of symptoms varies, but they generally last between a few days to a week. Withdrawal symptoms are serious and can be very dangerous. As mentioned above, this is why detox is often necessary for addicts.
Very important side note, if you are experiencing a rapid heart rate or a particularly extreme example of any of the above mentioned symptoms (and are not in a medically supervised detox program), seek professional medical help immediately.
How long does fentanyl withdrawal last?
To put the obvious disclaimer up front, the length and severity of withdrawal depend on several things like your age, height, weight, and how long you have been using. According to American Addiction Centers, symptoms of withdrawal from fentanyl can begin within first 8-24 hours after the last use. The symptoms of withdrawal generally last for a few days to a week, though symptoms can last from 10-14 days.
Again, the length and severity of your withdrawal symptoms depend on several factors. While I was in rehab I knew several guys who were there for opioids (I was there for alcohol, though I can pretty much get addicted to anything that gets me out of my own head, so I can only attest to alcohol withdrawals). The guys I knew who were detoxing from heroin told some harrowing stories of their withdrawal symptoms (made better by medically monitored detox). But, harrowing as their addiction stories were, most of them are sober to this day (I was in inpatient rehab in 2014, so you do the math on how many years that is).
Pacific Crest Trail Detox (and Oregon Trail Recovery can Help)
As we’ve mentioned several times in this article (and as I’m about to do so again) entering a detox facility is a safe way to quit using opioids (which, as I’ve also mentioned above, includes fentanyl). At Pacific Crest Trail Detox (and at detox facilities in general), the usually process involves:
- Taking medications to help manage your chemical dependency and withdrawal symptoms
- Learning how to better cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of early addiction
- Attending one-on-one group therapy sessions
- Developing emotional techniques to help you abstain from abusing drugs and/or alcohol
Our team of substance abuse specialists and medical professionals are fully committed to your success in every way possible. Recovery is a life-changing journey, and oftentimes that starts with detox.
I should add, as withdrawal from opioids can be dangerous, if you are at a point in your addiction where you feel withdrawals, seek medical help from doctors or any number of detox facilities. Detox is often a lifesaving ordeal and is incredibly important.
From interventions to detox to recovery, Pacific Crest Trail Detox and our sister companies Compassionate Interventions and Oregon Trail Recovery are committed to helping addicts and alcoholics find a new life.