Fentanyl Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

Fentanyl Addiction and Treatment Guide

With a potency of about 50 to 100 times that of heroin and other opioids, fentanyl poses a high risk of dependency. Its ability to relieve chronic pain and offer some relief to surgery patients is usually overshadowed by its negative habit-forming patterns. Opioids, particularly synthetic opioids like Fentanyl, are the most abused prescription drugs and the leading cause of overdose fatalities. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people died due to an opioid overdose, and nearly 73% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids.

If you or a loved one are dealing with an addiction to fentanyl, your life may seem out of control, but help is available to get your life back. The following provides a closer look at Fentanyl addiction and the options you have for seeking treatment.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid created in 1959 for chronic pain management in cancer patients. It’s a highly restricted prescription drug used as an analgesic. It’s used in surgery and in treating chronic pain alongside the use of other pain relievers.

The challenges associated with morphine usage promoted its use as a safer option. This increased production and use in different forms, including tablets, lozenges, sprays, injections, and patches. Fentanyl is commonly sold under different brand names:

• Actiq®
• Abstral®
• Lazanda®
• Duragesic®
• Fentora™

Alongside legally manufactured fentanyl, there has been an increase in the production and distribution of illicit fentanyl. This is often used as a high potency additive or a replacement for other opioids such as heroin.

What Causes Fentanyl Dependence and Addiction?

Like other opioids, fentanyl works by impacting the opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are located in an area of the brain that is responsible for controlling pain and emotions. As such, fentanyl reduces pain and also leads to feelings of euphoria and happiness. Once the body gets used to the powerful effects of fentanyl, the brain’s sensitivity is diminished, and it can become hard for a person to derive pleasure from anything but the drug.

Some of the effects of fentanyl include:

• Drowsiness
• Nausea
• Sedation
• Breathing difficulties
• Confusion
• Constipation

With the high risk of overdose and dependency development, fentanyl is only prescribed under close medical supervision. Even when taken as prescribed, fentanyl can lead to physical dependence. Once a person becomes dependent on the drug, they can develop an addiction that can affect their lives in many ways. While anyone can become addicted to fentanyl, those with a family history of addiction or a personal history of mental health issues or physical pain are more likely to become addicted to a drug like fentanyl.

Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction

Symptoms of substance use disorder can range from moderate to severe. The signs of fentanyl addiction can differ depending on the person, but there are some that are commonly observed. The main symptom of addiction is an inability to control one’s fentanyl use.

Other behavioral warning signs include:

• Using despite its effects on personal relationships
• Being secretive or withdrawing from family and friends
• Investing a significant amount of time in acquiring, using, or recovering from fentanyl use
• Neglecting work, school, or family responsibilities
• Changing one’s friends and favorite hangout spots
• Borrowing or stealing money
• Getting into legal trouble

In addition to the behavioral warning signs of addiction, there are also physical warning signs of a substance use disorder. They include:

• Deteriorating physical appearance
• Sudden changes in weight
• Tremors or impaired coordination
• Changes in appetite
• Bloodshot eyes

Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal?

After physical dependence and addiction set in, a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using fentanyl. Like withdrawal from other opioids, the symptoms are similar to a flu-like illness and include:

• Nausea
• Diarrhea
• Vomiting
• Muscle aches
• Fever
• Sweating

In most cases, the symptoms of withdrawal are objectively mild, but they can be very uncomfortable to the person experiencing them. The pain and discomfort associated with withdrawal are part of the reason that it is so difficult to quit. Many people will try to stop using but relapse to get relief from their discomfort. That is why professional treatment is highly recommended for those addicted to and physically dependent on fentanyl or other opioids.

It’s also important to note that while most symptoms of opioid withdrawal are not life-threatening, they can be. This is especially true of those using high-potency opioids like fentanyl. A treatment facility can help those with severe addictions withdraw safely before moving on with their recovery journey.

When to Seek Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

If an addiction to fentanyl is affecting your life and you can’t quit without experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms, the time to seek treatment is now. Although it may seem impossible to overcome your addiction, with the right treatment and support, recovery is entirely possible. Many people like you have changed their life for the better and learned the skills needed to live a happy drug-free existence.

When you make the decision to seek treatment, you will have a number of treatment options available to you. A treatment provider will assess your situation and come up with a plan specifically designed for your needs.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Treatment for fentanyl addiction typically begins with an assessment and diagnosis to better understand a person’s level of addiction and any health conditions that may contribute to their drug use and recovery. Typically, the first step after a health assessment is withdrawal management, which often takes place via medically supervised detox.


During medically supervised detox, doctors and nurses provide 24/7 care to help ease withdrawal symptoms and monitor for any dangerous symptoms. You may be prescribed medication to help you feel more comfortable. Withdrawal symptoms will typically begin eight to 24 hours after you last used and will last about four to 10 days, depending on your severity of dependence. The goals of detox are to help you stay as comfortable as possible so that you can withdraw safely and prepare for the next steps toward recovery.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

Following detox, those with an addiction to fentanyl will need to continue treatment via an inpatient and/or outpatient rehab program. These programs are often offered through the same facility that provided detox support. Whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is a better option for you depends on your level of addiction and personal circumstances.

Inpatient Treatment

At an inpatient facility, you continue to receive care 24/7 from medical professionals and addiction specialists. Your days are spent following a structured schedule focused entirely on your recovery. Both individual and group counseling sessions are offered to help you uncover the root causes of your addiction and help you develop better coping mechanisms. You can also start to develop a peer support group and may take part in holistic therapies like yoga and meditation. Short-term inpatient programs typically last between three and six weeks, but studies have shown that there is a greater chance of success with long-term treatment lasting at least 90 days.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment offers greater flexibility and is available as a standalone treatment option or as the next step for someone who just completed an inpatient program. Unlike inpatient treatment, outpatient rehab doesn’t require you to stay at a facility 24 hours a day. Depending on the program, you may attend treatment for a few hours every day and return home at night or only attend treatment sessions a couple of times a week. Either way, you will typically take part in the same types of individual and group therapy sessions offered in inpatient facilities. The flexibility of outpatient treatment allows you to keep up with home and work responsibilities, so this is a great option for many people. It’s important to note, though, that outpatient care is most effective if you have a strong support system at home.

What to Expect During Addiction Treatment

As you focus on recovery and learn to live a life free from drugs and alcohol, you will take part in counseling and therapy. Behavioral therapies are often at the core of treatment. Some of the most used include the following.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be highly effective for treating addiction. CBT helps people understand how their thoughts and behavior are connected and how they can be related to their substance use disorder. Once they have this understanding, a person can work on developing healthier patterns of thinking and behavior so that they can cope with life’s challenges without resorting to drug use.

Motivational Therapies

The use of a reward system and motivational approach to creating a sense of self-determination and belief is a critical component for a recovering client. Motivational therapies such as motivational interviewing and motivational enhancement therapy are used to help those ambivalent to change resolve this ambivalence so that they can fully engage in therapy.

Family Therapy

In addition to group and individual therapy sessions, addiction treatment also often incorporates some type of family or couple’s therapy. Addiction is a disease that affects both the user and their loved ones. Family therapy helps mend the negative effects of addiction on the family unit. Family members are also shown how to support their addicted loved ones without inadvertently contributing to their drug use.

Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs

For some people, recovery from fentanyl addiction will also include medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT has been shown to be an effective part of a “whole-patient” approach to treatment when used alongside behavioral therapies. Some of the medicines used are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. In those receiving treatment, these drugs have been shown to:

• Prevent relapse
• Reduce opioid-related overdose deaths
• Increase treatment participation
• Improve social functioning

Aftercare Treatment Programs

Because addiction is a lifelong disease, aftercare support is necessary following the completion of a rehab program. Available 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can provide the support one needs to stay drug-free. NA also supports personal accountability and gives those in recovery a chance to help others, which can be very beneficial to one’s recovery. In addition to support groups, addiction aftercare may include ongoing counseling to manage mental health problems and other issues that have contributed to one’s addiction.

Get Help Today

Addiction to fentanyl can take a heavy toll on both the user and their loved ones, but the situation is far from hopeless. With the right treatment and support, you can recover from your addiction and mend the problems it has caused. A treatment provider in your area will provide a range of options to get you on the path to lifelong recovery. Whether you’re dealing with addiction yourself or are concerned about a loved one, reaching out for help today can be the first step you make toward a healthier, happier life.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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