Fentanyl Symptoms and Warning Signs

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid medication prescribed as a treatment for post-surgery pain, chronic pain syndromes, or the pain associated with cancer and other terminal illnesses. In addition to its pain-relieving properties, fentanyl causes a sense of euphoria which increases its potential for abuse. Whether you’re self-medicating with fentanyl, or abusing it for recreational purposes, the risks remain the same. Fentanyl abuse has possible outcomes such as long-term damage, developing drug dependence, and even sudden death from an overdose.

Types/Brands of Fentanyl

Fentanyl is available under several brand names, including: Actiq, Sublimaze, Duragesic, Duragesic, Fentora, Abstral, Matrifen, Onsolis, Haldid, Lazanda, and more. Subsys is a sublingual spray of fentanyl manufactured by Insys Therapeutics.

Recognising the Common Warning Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

Drug abuse can affect anyone, no matter their origin or socioeconomic status. Whatever your reason for abusing drugs, you can very easily develop tolerance and dependence, even before you realise a pattern of addiction is beginning to form. It can be challenging to identify fentanyl abuse, because of its various warning signs, which can be blamed on other causes. Nonetheless, early identification of drug abuse is crucial in order to begin treatment to overcome the developing addiction.

The warning signs of fentanyl abuse are both physical and behavioural. The most common physical signs of fentanyl abuse include: disorientation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, slowed breathing, unusual sleep patterns, tremors, and itching. Fentanyl abuse can also be recognised through behavioural signs such as:

  • Attempting to forge prescriptions for fentanyl
  • Appearing to nod off or to be in a daze
  • Borrowing money from friends or family to pay for fentanyl
  • Displaying signs of cravings when fentanyl has not been taken for a short period of time
  • Hiding fentanyl in the home, at work, or in the car
  • Steadily increasing the dose of fentanyl to achieve the same effect
  • Undergoing medical procedures, or self-inflicting injuries, in an attempt to receive a fentanyl prescription
  • Visiting the doctor specifically to ask for a fentanyl prescription (without reason)
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The Dangers of Fentanyl Abuse

While fentanyl can be used as a part of a medically-supervised treatment plan, prolonged use of this drug can cause physical and psychological dependence, i.e. addiction. Fentanyl is available in several forms including patches, tablets, sprays, and lozenges. Fentanyl patch abuse is extremely common and is also highly dangerous. Fentanyl patches are designed to be slowly absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream over three days.

However, the drug is abused by placing multiple patches on the skin.

When multiple patches are used, the amount of drug being absorbed is higher, which means you’re more likely to experience a high. However, you’re also more likely to experience harmful side effects as the drug may take a long time to wear off. Fentanyl is also abused by taking out the narcotic gel in the patch, heating it up, or melting it in water, and injecting it directly into a vein. Since fentanyl is more potent than heroin, this method of abuse can result in rapid overdose.

Overdose is one of the biggest dangers of fentanyl abuse. Fentanyl is a very powerful opiate, and also one of the more dangerous opiates available. When you overdose on fentanyl, you can fall unconscious, experience slowed breathing, and lose physical coordination. All of these can lead to serious accidents, brain damage, coma, and even death.

Recognising a Fentanyl Addiction

You can begin using fentanyl for several reasons – out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or as a way to cope with problems like stress, depression, and anxiety. Recognising a fentanyl addiction takes tremendous strength and courage, and is the first step on the road to recovery.

While drug dependence and addiction can happen to anyone, the potential for developing substance addiction differs from one individual to another. Your environment, family, and genes, all play a role in developing addiction, in addition to other risk factors, such as early use of drugs, traumatic experiences, mental disorders, and the method of drug use. When you’ve become addicted to fentanyl, you’ll be unable to carry out normal activities without the drug in your system.

It can feel frightening and overwhelming to try and face your addiction, but recovery is within reach. If you’ve identified addiction in you, or a loved one, treatment is available to help you overcome your addiction and begin a fulfilling, drug-free life.

Fentanyl Addiction and The Brain

Generally, each form of drug use causes different physical effects, but abused substances have one thing in common: prolonged use can affect the way the brain functions. This includes recreational drugs, as well as commonly abused prescription pills. Fentanyl significantly impacts the central nervous system, causing large amounts of dopamine to chemically alter the brain over time.

The result is changes in the brain that interfere with your ability to control your behaviour, exercise good judgment, think clearly, or feel normal without drugs. Uncontrollable psychological cravings for higher doses of fentanyl become more important than anything else, including friends, loved ones, your career, or even your own health. This craving becomes so strong that you begin to rationalise your addiction, or seriously underestimate the amount of fentanyl you’re ingesting, and its effects on your life.

The effects of fentanyl addiction on the brain are similar to heroin, but in a more powerful capacity. In addition to the intense feelings of relaxation and euphoria it causes, the drug can also cause other, more negative, effects like confusion, sedation, nausea, drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma, and even death.

What are the Immediate Side Effects of Fentanyl Abuse?

When you first take fentanyl, the drug binds to your opiate receptors (the parts of the brain responsible for pain and emotions). Your levels of dopamine are also increased, leading to a state of euphoria and relaxation. In addition to these “desirable” effects, there are also a wide range of immediate side effects that can occur. These include: sweating, lowered appetite, weight loss, swollen extremities, depression, headache, nightmares, trouble sleeping, shaking, dizziness and lightheadedness, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, and trouble with sight.

The “high” caused by fentanyl is very similar, but more intense, than heroin, providing reduced feelings of pain, euphoria, and calmness. If you’re seeking these effects, you may begin to use the drug without a prescription, combine it with other intoxicants, or go outside your doctor’s recommended dosage level, which can lead to negative consequences.

What are the Long Term Side Effects of Fentanyl Abuse?

The side effects from long term fentanyl abuse include showing signs of poor judgment in your personal and career life choices. In addition, prolonged fentanyl abuse can lead to:

  • multiple organ system damage and an increased risk for anoxic injury (damage caused by a significantly low amount of oxygen in body tissue)
  • increasing your risk of overdose and death
  • causing irreversible harm to both your personal life and relationships
  • worsening pre-existing mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, or frequent mood changes

Intervention for a Fentanyl Addiction

Intervention may not be necessary if you recognise the extent of your problems as a result of drug abuse, and seek treatment. However, when you’re abusing drugs, it can be difficult to realise that they are contributing to the problems being experienced in your relationships, health, or work. This is when intervention for fentanyl addiction becomes necessary. When it comes to planning an intervention for a loved one, it is not recommended to do it alone. Intervention is more than just a conversation with a loved one, and professional intervention is necessary.

There’s a lot riding on an intervention, and most of the time your loved one may be in denial about their substance abuse. When confronted, they can proceed to react angrily, or even violently. An expert interventionist can increase your chances of success, ensure the intervention flows smoothly, and and give your loved one the best chance of deciding to enter treatment.

Intervention for fentanyl addiction can be emotionally charged, and an interventionist will help to reduce distractions, and constant deviations from the topic. They will focus on getting your loved one to seek help and ensure accusations and name-calling is kept out of the process. The other parties involved, friends, spouse, and colleagues, can therefore express their feelings and how the addiction has affected them in an effective way. Intervention can help to ensure the long-term health of your loved one, and should be considered when your other efforts to get them into treatment have failed.

Detox and Withdrawal from Fentanyl

Due to the addictive nature and potency of fentanyl, it can cause withdrawal symptoms, regardless of if you’ve been prescribed the drug or have been abusing it to achieve its euphoric effect. Common signs and symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include anxiety, depression, elevated heart rate, chills, runny nose, nausea, sweating, joint pain, and restlessness. Quitting the drug cold turkey can be deadly if you relapse and overdose. The recommended method of removing fentanyl from your body is by tapering off the drug.

Fentanyl detox, in which the substance is safely removed from your bloodstream, is typically performed in a professional substance addiction treatment centre. Depending on your specific needs, you can choose to undergo treatment in an inpatient or outpatient programme. Inpatient detox is known as medical detox, as it involves round-the-clock medical, and mental health, support by experts. Your vital signs are constantly monitored, and assessed, to ensure your safety in detox, and medications may be provided to mitigate the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Fentanyl withdrawal can be very intense, and residential detox is usually the recommended method of treatment.

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Treatment and the Next Steps for Fentanyl Addiction

Treatment is a key aspect of the process of recovery from fentanyl addiction. Substance dependence treatment involves several steps, typically starting with detox. Due to the possibility of severe withdrawal symptoms, it’s essential to work with a certified treatment specialist for a safe and comfortable detox. A medically supervised detox reduces the chance that you’ll give up during detox, and sabotage your own recovery because of the severe withdrawal symptoms.

After you’ve completed detox, you can enter into a drug rehabilitation programme. Opiate dependency is a serious condition, with a high rate of relapse, and not all treatment centres can successfully treat fentanyl addiction. Therefore, before choosing a rehab centre, you’ll need to research and speak to addiction counsellors to find one that is equipped and experienced in treating fentanyl addiction.

In general, there are several options for treatment when seeking drug rehab programmes for fentanyl abuse. These include:

  • Inpatient rehabilitation programmes
  • Outpatient rehabilitation programmes
  • 12-step recovery programmes, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with fentanyl abuse and addiction, do not hesitate in seeking help. Severe fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can prove to be just as dangerous as addiction. Without medical assistance and support, fentanyl addiction can be fatal.


FAQs About Fentanyl Treatment

What Relapse Prevention Techniques are Available?

Common relapse prevention techniques provided during fentanyl treatment include exercise, a healthy diet, ongoing therapy, and support groups. Also, additional help may be provided to help you overcome withdrawal symptoms, and stay off the drug.

What Treatment Options are the Most Effective to Treat Fentanyl Addiction?

Medication-assisted treatment can be combined with standard addiction rehabilitation programmes, individual or group therapy, support group participation, and an aftercare programme. If you’re struggling with fentanyl addiction, treatment professionals can design a specialised programme to address your needs and ensure a long-term recovery.

What is Fentanyl Withdrawal Like?

Fentanyl withdrawal can be quite intense, mainly because of its high potency. Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include: chills, stomach cramps, sweating, joint or muscle pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting, anxiety, muscle weakness, and hypertension. These symptoms can occur about 24 hours after your last fentanyl dose and linger for about a week.

How Long does Fentanyl Withdrawal Take?

Different factors determine the length of fentanyl withdrawal. These include the method of use, amount and frequency of use, and how long you’ve been taking the drug. Typically, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms last for two weeks.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?

For adults, fentanyl has an elimination half-life of about 2 to 4 hours when taken intravenously. This means the drug will stay approximately 11 to 22 hours in your system before it is completely gone.

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