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Are Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms Dangerous?

fentanyl withdrawal symptoms

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think. Due to the drug’s potency and the severity of dependence, symptoms tend to be more uncomfortable than downright dangerous: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, insomnia, and the like. However, in some cases, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, depression, and possible seizures or respiratory distress.

Of course, none of these symptoms is as potentially dangerous as continued fentanyl use. Seeking professional medical assistance is therefore crucial for safely managing the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal, as medical assistance can mitigate the associated health risks and increase the chances of recovery success.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be used to ease chronic pain and other medical conditions. Its chemical makeup is similar to that of morphine. However, the potency of fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin. Common street names for fentanyl include “China white” and “China girl.”

The two types of fentanyl are pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Both types are synthetic opioids that slow breathing and heart rate. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, like that experienced in advanced-stage cancer. It can also be used in anesthesia. Because of its potency, addiction to fentanyl among young adults has increased in recent years, a trend that has seen grim consequences.

“When it comes to the patients here at Northpoint Recovery, I’d say patients between 38 and 60 years old come to us because of their alcohol use,” said Erica Lopez, Executive Vice President, Operations at Northpoint Recovery. “But nearly everyone aged 35 and below are coming in for amphetamines and opioids, including fentanyl.”

The Dangers of Fentanyl Use

According to an April 2022 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the rates of death by overdose among teens aged 14 to 18 by illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids quadrupled from 2018 to 2021.

A contributing factor to this increase, JAMA said, was that teens may be mistaking counterfeit tablets that contain fentanyl for less-powerful drugs like opioids or Xanax. (Fentanyl infiltrated the illegal heroin market years ago, but teens are more likely to take pills than powdered drugs.) The dangers of fentanyl include:

Fentanyl is Highly Addictive

Fentanyl addiction among young adults remains a concern due partly to how easy it is to get hooked. All it takes is one use of fentanyl to develop cravings for it. Fentanyl’s potency alters the chemistry of the brain by binding with neuroreceptors that decipher and transmit pain signals from different body areas to the brain. Fentanyl also sparks a surge of “feel good” endorphin levels in the brain. These raised levels can create a euphoric state and make the brain remembers fentanyl substance abuse as a positive behavior.

Fentanyl Cravings Can Be Intense

If cravings for fentanyl are ignored, the body responds with negative withdrawal symptoms. As a result, the user is more likely to take fentanyl in order to avoid such withdrawal symptoms as nausea, vomiting, uncontrolled shaking, and muscle pain. This makes the process of fentanyl detox challenging.

Tolerance for Fentanyl Grows Quickly

Another reason fentanyl is dangerous for young adults is that the body quickly develops a tolerance to the drug. This makes the risk of accidental overdose increase significantly. After all, all it takes is two milligrams of fentanyl to result in fatal overdose.

Fentanyl Mixes Easily with Other Drugs

Drug dealers often mix fentanyl with other illegal substances to increase their potency. Illegal pills seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have been shown to contain fentanyl levels ranging from 0.02 milligrams to 5.1 milligrams. Of course, the dangers of fentanyl use even higher when combined with other opioids, alcohol, or sedatives like alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin).

The Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction

The signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction can be similar to other substance use disorders. These symptoms can include some or all of the following:

Physical Symptoms

  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced Appetite
  • Slow thinking and body movement (psychomotor retardation)

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Difficulty paying attention and concentrating
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Cravings for fentanyl
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal ideation

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Slurred speech
  • Spending increasing amounts of time and money obtaining, using, and then recovering from fentanyl use
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Neglect of duties at work or at school

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

As with other painkillers or opioid medications, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are felt almost immediately after usage has stopped. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be very severely uncomfortable to the point of painful. Of course, individual cases vary depending upon the dosage of fentanyl, the duration of use, and individual body type. Some of the more common fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Aches and pains in the muscles and bones
  • Insomnia or poor sleep
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Sadness and irritability
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Chills and fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

A Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline

The timeline under which people withdraw from fentanyl can vary. It all depends on the person, the average daily amount of fentanyl used, and whether there were any other drugs that were taken along with fentanyl. That said, fentanyl withdrawal usually lasts between seven and 10 days.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can appear six hours after taking the last dose. These symptoms will likely increase until “peaking,” approximately one to three days into the process. Then they start to resolve over the course of a week or so. Some people experience less intense withdrawal symptoms for  weeks afterward.

Though the process of fentanyl detox can be uncomfortable, it is not usually life-threatening. Still, one should watch out for dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, caused by all the diarrhea and vomiting. Sometimes fentanyl withdrawal requires the use of intravenous fluids or other medical interventions, which is why  attempting fentanyl detox alone is a bad idea.

Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

After the fentanyl withdrawal symptoms subside, the patient is ready to begin treatment. Unfortunately, relapse is common in the battle against fentanyl addiction, so it is important to seriously consider inpatient treatment to aid in recovery. A treatment plan for fentanyl addiction will likely include individual therapy and group therapy. Learning the important coping mechanisms to replace your old drug use is also vital for success.

Individual addiction therapy explores why an addiction began, exploring the triggers that may tempt one to use again. Group therapy, meanwhile, supports the patient through the sharing of others’ experiences. Family support is crucial for maintaining sobriety. Once the inpatient program is completed, sober living arrangements might be viable. Long after the fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are over, it is still important to remember the journey.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used for the treatment of fentanyl addiction. This therapy helps the patient to make changes in thinking and behaviors. In addition, contingency management or motivational approaches can also be helpful in treatment. This approach rewards the individual for not using drugs and staying sober. Exploring mixed feelings about treatment, the end of the addiction, and lifestyle changes is essential.

Looking for Answers? Northpoint Recovery Can Help

At Northpoint Recovery, we offer personalized treatment plans tailored to each client’s specific needs. Our team of experienced professionals utilizes evidence-based therapies to help clients overcome fentanyl addiction and any underlying issues contributing to their substance use disorder.

Looking for help in identifying present or future concerns? The dedicated team at Northpoint Recovery is ready to help. For more information, contact us today at 208.225.8667. You can also reach us online by completing our message form.