Fentanyl Addiction, Effects, and Treatment
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.1,2
Fentanyl is sometimes administered or prescribed to treat severe pain. However, the drug is also manufactured and sold illegally.2
Prescription fentanyl can come in a(n):2
- Injection (intravenous or intramuscular).
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) may be sold as:2
- A liquid that is dropped on blotter paper, put into eye drops, or added to nasal spray.
- A pill or tablet.
Illicit fentanyl is sometimes mixed with other illicit drugs or pressed into pills that look like prescription medications. This is particularly dangerous because the presence of fentanyl is not always known to the person taking the drug and a very small amount can cause fatal overdose.1,2
IMF is largely responsible for the recent increase in overdose deaths in the United States.4
Effects of Fentanyl
Fentanyl effects may include:2
- Difficulty breathing.
- Fatal overdose.
Over time, chronic fentanyl use can lead to opioid use disorder (OUD), the clinical term for opioid addiction.2
Risk of Fentanyl Overdose
Fentanyl has an extremely high risk of overdose when misused. Opioid overdose typically occurs due to the drug slowing respiration to the point that the brain does not receive enough oxygen. This can lead to the loss of consciousness, coma, or death.2
Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms
Signs of overdose from fentanyl include any of the following symptoms:6
- Pale, clammy skin
- Limp body
- Discolored, blue or purple, skin (especially lips and fingernails)
- Slow or stopped breathing
- Loss of consciousness or being unable to wake up
- Vomiting, choking or making gurgling noises
- Pupils of the eye are constricted (pinpoint)
If you suspect that someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and administer naloxone or Narcan (naloxone), if readily available. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of the opioid and can save someone’s life, buying time for emergency services to arrive.8
Narcan can be purchased without a prescription in most areas. It does not produce any clinical effects if someone is not experiencing an opioid overdose.8
Additional steps to take when someone is experiencing an overdose include:6,7
- Doing what you can to keep the person awake and breathing.
- Helping the person lay on their side to prevent choking.
- Staying with the person until emergency personnel arrive.
Is Fentanyl Addictive?
Yes, chronic use of fentanyl can lead to addiction.2
The use of fentanyl or other opioids causes an increase in the brain chemical dopamine. Researchers believe that this action reinforces drug use despite serious consequences. In addition, opioids cause strong physiological dependence, meaning someone will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit after chronic use.2
Opioid addiction—clinically known as opioid use disorder (OUD)—is characterized by the compulsive use of opioids despite significant negative effects on someone’s life, including, but not limited to, the person’s physical and mental health, career, social status, and interpersonal relationships.9
Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
A diagnosis is made when someone meets certain criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5). While diagnosis is made by of qualified medical professionals, it may be useful to know the specific criteria used. For someone to be diagnosed with opioid use disorder, they must have at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:9
- Opioids are taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control opioid use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the opioid, use the opioid, or recover from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use opioids.
- Opioid use causes the failure to complete important obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continued opioid use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids.
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use.
- Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
- Continued opioid use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
- Tolerance, meaning markedly increased amounts of opioids are used to achieve intoxication or desired effect or the individual experiences a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of an opioid. This criterion does not apply to those taking opioids solely under appropriate medical supervision.
- Withdrawal, meaning the person experiences specific symptoms due to the reduction or cessation of their opioid use, or they continue taking opioids to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms. This criterion does not apply to those taking opioids solely under appropriate medical supervision.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
If someone is physically dependent on the drug, they may experience uncomfortable fentanyl withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit or cut back on their fentanyl use.2 These symptoms can include:2
- Muscle and bone pain.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- Chills with goosebumps.
- Uncontrollable leg movements.
- Severe cravings.
Medically managed detox can make the withdrawal process considerably less painful with supervision and the administration of medications.10
Medical Detox for Fentanyl
When someone begins opioid addiction treatment, they’ll often start with a medical detox program. This can be provided through an outpatient program or in a hospital-like setting, depending on the facility and the patient’s needs.
However, detox alone is seldom effective without continued treatment, such as inpatient or outpatient rehab.10
How is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?
Effective treatment approaches for fentanyl typically include the use of medication, behavioral therapies, or a combination of the two.11 Research also shows that because medication and behavioral therapy address different aspects of addiction, the combination of the two often results in better outcomes.11
Medications used to treat opioid withdrawal, and withdrawal from fentanyl, include opioid agonists and partial agonists like methadone and buprenorphine, respectively.2 These drugs ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. They may be used during detox but are also often prescribed for long-term management of fentanyl addiction.10,11 Naltrexone—an opioid antagonist—blocks the effects of opioids, is another common medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD).12
Addiction therapies are provided in outpatient and residential settings and can include both individual and group therapy approaches. These therapy approaches help people to develop new ways of thinking and behaving to support recovery, develop coping strategies, and effective communication skills, among other useful skills for ongoing recovery.11
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment in Orange County
If you or someone you love need an effective, personalized treatment approach to a fentanyl addiction, reach out to one of our rehab admissions navigators at . They can help you find treatment that suits your needs.
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