Fentanyl is a powerful opioid painkiller with a high addiction potential.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is 25-50 times stronger than heroin and 50-100 times stronger than morphine. As such, people who are struggling with fentanyl abuse or addiction may hesitate to quit using the drug, because of a fear of intense withdrawal symptoms.
Many users report struggling with fentanyl withdrawal. The symptoms, similar to those of other opioid withdrawals, have the potential to be more intense and uncomfortable because of the high potency of the drug.
With proper support, people who are addicted to this drug can get through detox and maintain the motivation to avoid using fentanyl in the future, resulting in long-term recovery.
Difficulty Stopping Fentanyl Use
Fentanyl is a highly potent drug that is most often used to treat pain. People who use it on a long-term basis are highly likely to develop dependence and tolerance, meaning that attempts to stop use can result in withdrawal symptoms.
As described by Healthline, these symptoms of withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable. This is true with use of any opioid drug; however, because of the intensity of fentanyl, the severity of withdrawal can be stronger than that of other opioids. For this reason, people often struggle to stop using fentanyl, especially if they try to do it “cold turkey” on their own.
Because of this difficulty, it can be important to understand first that fentanyl withdrawal is not likely to be fatal. In addition, there are ways to support the withdrawal process that can help to minimize symptoms and make the process manageable, increasing the chances of avoiding relapse.
Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl are similar to those of other opiates; however, fentanyl withdrawal can be more intense. Symptoms are both physical and psychological in nature. As described by Medline, they include:
- Agitation and anxiety
- Muscle and joint aches
- Increased tearing
- Runny nose
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
Depression may also occur. Psychological symptoms may last longer than physical symptoms, especially if the person has a co-occurring mental health disorder. If this is the case, specialized treatment can help.
Another major symptom of withdrawal, which can exist as a consequence of the other symptoms or separate from them, is an extreme craving to start using the drug again. Particularly with opiate drug abuse, this craving can resurface months or even years after use is stopped. For this reason, it is important that the individual engages in treatment that provides tools, skills, and social support to manage cravings that arise during and after treatment and far into the future.
- Timeline for Detox from Fentanyl
Fentanyl is not as short-acting as some opioid drugs. According to Mental Health Daily, it has a half-life of about seven hours, which means that it takes approximately three days to clear from the body. Withdrawal symptoms can last two weeks to a month, with some psychological symptoms potentially lasting longer. The withdrawal timeline is as follows:
- Days 1-3: Initial withdrawal symptoms can begin within several hours of stopping fentanyl use. These symptoms may include muscular, joint, and head pain; stomach cramping; anxiety; trembling; nervousness; insomnia, restlessness, and sleepiness.
- Days 3-7: These days involve a continuation and peak of early symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; tearing of eyes, runny nose; aches; and pains.
- Days 8-21 and beyond: Symptoms slowly decrease; anxiety may continue for the long-term; and depression can develop.
Other forms of pain management may be necessary for some people coming off fentanyl, depending on the original reasons for use.
Because everyone is different, withdrawal timelines can vary for individuals based on their metabolism, constitution, gender or race, physical health, dosage, length of time using the drug, and other factors. To best manage detox and withdrawal, consulting with a doctor who is experienced in treating fentanyl addiction is necessary.
- Medical Support for Detox
The challenges of quitting fentanyl may seem possible to endure without help; however, people often underestimate the severity of symptoms they will experience. As a result, relapse is very common during the withdrawal phase of stopping opiate use. In addition, about 85 percent of people who struggle with opiate abuse relapse within the first year, according to information researched and presented by Everyday Health.
Medical detox can help to avoid this problem. Addiction treatment professionals, including doctors and nurses, can provide medications to ease the most uncomfortable symptoms, aid in sleep, and reduce cravings that may result in relapse. With medical support, it is possible to get through fentanyl withdrawal more gradually by tapering the dose instead of stopping abruptly, and oftentimes, this tapered approach involves the use of a maintenance medication, such as buprenorphine. This also assists in reducing symptoms. Doctors experienced in addiction treatment can recommend the best withdrawal process for individuals based on the factors that influence detox, customizing the treatment to the individual for the optimum result.
Withdrawal from fentanyl can be very difficult. However, with the support of an experienced substance abuse treatment team, an individual struggling with abuse of this drug can emerge from the detox process with a higher level of confidence in their ability to avoid relapse, and head into treatment with the motivation to avoid use in the future. By selecting reputable, research-based treatment, a person who is ready to quit using fentanyl has the best chance at long-term recovery and a future of abstinence from opioid abuse.