Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms differ from those of other opioid drugs. Fentanyl addiction is on the rise. More and more people are at risk of withdrawing from this dangerous painkiller now that fentanyl drug dealers are using cutting agents to increase the potency of their product.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. Opioids are a class of drugs that are made from chemicals that are naturally found in the opium poppy plant and work by attaching to opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Fentanyl is a pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s primarily used to treat patients with severe pain or manage pain after surgery. It’s also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.
What Causes Fentanyl Withdrawal and Dependence?
Fentanyl withdrawal syndrome occurs when someone who has been using this drug regularly develops tolerance and begins to experience physical and psychological symptoms when they don’t use it. When someone uses fentanyl, it increases the levels of dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine is a chemical the body produces to send messages within the brain and the nervous system. Because of its potency, fentanyl can rapidly increase dopamine levels in the brain to create an intense euphoric high. As use continues, this increase in dopamine becomes constant, leading to abuse.
Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to having increased dopamine levels in the system. Eventually, this causes tolerance to develop, which occurs when a person needs more and more fentanyl to produce the same effect that was once achieved with smaller doses. Over time, this can lead to dependence and addiction to fentanyl.
The timeline for fentanyl withdrawal is relatively short compared to other opioids. The first stage begins within 12 hours of the last dose and lasts for about three days. During this time, symptoms are usually very mild.
Stage two begins three days after the last dose and lasts for about four days. Symptoms in this stage are much more severe than in stage one.
The next stage is acute withdrawal, which ends after about one week, but some people may continue to experience symptoms for several weeks. Many factors contribute to the withdrawal timeline and stages.
How Long the Person Has Been Using Fentanyl
The length of time someone has been using fentanyl will play a role in how severe their initial symptoms are and when these symptoms begin. In general, the longer someone has been using fentanyl, the longer their withdrawal process will be. Those who have been using it for a long time may also experience more intense symptoms.
The amount of fentanyl taken during each dose can also impact a person’s withdrawal timeline and severity. Larger doses have a greater potential to cause dependence and addiction. People who have been taking larger doses may suffer from more severe or intense withdrawal symptoms compared to those who have not been taking large amounts of fentanyl.
Method of Use
The method by which an individual consumes fentanyl can also impact their withdrawal timeline and symptoms. Depending on how someone injests the drug, fentanyl may create an immediate high or take up to 30 minutes to reach its peak effects. The faster a drug reaches its peak effects, the faster tolerance can develop, and dependence can set in.
Age & Existing Medical Conditions
A person’s age can play a major role in the severity of their symptoms. People who are older and have been taking fentanyl for an extended time may experience more intense symptoms than a younger person who has only been on the drug for several months. Older adults are also likely to experience complications from fentanyl withdrawal, including life-threatening seizures, than younger individuals.
Underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, can also impact how severe a person’s fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will be. These conditions can make withdrawal even more difficult because of the stress that they put on the body, not to mention any complications that may arise from withdrawing from fentanyl while these conditions are present.
Genetics and family history can also influence the severity of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms because certain genetic factors can contribute to addiction. Certain people may be more susceptible to becoming addicted to certain substances than others.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Suppose someone who has become dependent on fentanyl stops taking it suddenly or drastically reduces their dosage without tapering off slowly. In that case, they could experience withdrawal symptoms as early as 12 hours after their last dose. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are similar to other opioid withdrawal symptoms but can be more intense because of the strength of this drug. There are several serious symptoms that occur with withdrawal.
- Anxiety: People suffering from addiction often feel anxious when they know that their supply of fentanyl is running low or that they won’t have access to more in the future.
- Dehydration: Fentanyl withdrawal is hard on your body. You’ll likely sweat profusely, which can lead to dehydration. This can also cause headaches, dizziness, and muscle cramps.
- Depression: During fentanyl addiction, the brain produces fewer endorphins than it normally would. This is because endorphins release when you take opioids, and the brain begins to rely on fentanyl to produce them for you instead of making them. When you stop taking fentanyl, the brain has to restart its normal production of endorphins. This may take some time, and during this adjustment period, you may feel sad or depressed. That’s because your brain isn’t producing enough endorphins to make you feel good.
- Lack of Sleep: Fentanyl can cause trouble sleeping when it is in your system because of its sedative effects. Similarly, when you are withdrawing from fentanyl, sleep can be difficult or impossible to get. You may experience insomnia as well as nightmares and other sleep disturbances during this time.
Other symptoms may include:
- Muscle aches and muscle twitches
- Tearing (crying) and yawning
- Runny nose, sweating
- Chills, goosebumps
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Weight loss or decreased appetite
Treatment for Fentanyl Withdrawal
Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic opioid associated with a significant risk of dependency and addiction, and the United States is in the midst of a fentanyl crisis. Fortunately, there are medical and behavioral treatment options to help people overcome their fentanyl addiction.
The first step in overcoming a fentanyl addiction is to go through detoxification. When someone stops using an opioid such as fentanyl, the body goes through withdrawal. A medical detoxification program can help the client get through the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
A structured treatment program may follow detoxification, and it’s sometimes used in conjunction with medication to relieve drug cravings. At GRC, we have a drug addiction rehab center where we use a combination of therapy and other therapies to help the client during the detox program.
Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
Under the inpatient drug addiction rehab, the client also undergoes motivational interviewing (MI). It is a counseling approach that emphasizes helping people resolve ambivalence about changing their own behavior. MI does not tell patients what to do; instead, it focuses on helping them develop their own motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence. In contrast to educational approaches, MI encourages patients to talk about why they may want to change and how they would go about doing so.
Evidence-based Treatment Therapy
Treatment for fentanyl withdrawal requires evidence-based treatment in a therapy program. It includes both individual and group therapy. In this program, the client works closely with our therapists to uncover the root of the substance usage. Step by step, the client is able to deal with them gradually. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are two of the most well-known evidence-based treatments.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on changing patterns of thinking, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to substance abuse. CBT is based on the premise that negative thoughts can lead to negative reactions such as drug abuse.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) combines cognitive behavioral therapy with other therapeutic strategies aimed at helping our clients regulate their emotions and improve social functioning. DBT has been found to be particularly effective in treating substance use disorders in combination with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. DBT teaches clients how to tolerate stress without turning to drug use or other maladaptive behaviors. It also includes skills training to teach better coping mechanisms and other ways to deal with difficult situations without using drugs.
One of the most common treatments for fentanyl abuse is medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. It involves taking medications to help control cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Some examples of the approved drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These medications help stabilize brain chemistry, normalize body functions, relieve cravings, and block the effects of opioids.
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. While it can produce similar effects as other opioids, such as pain relief, it is less effective in its strength and duration of action. On the street, it is referred to as “bupe.” Methadone is a lesser-strength opioid that reduces withdrawal symptoms in people with severe opioid addictions.
Naltrexone was first FDA approved for treating opioid addiction in 1984. Long-acting injectable naltrexone, marketed as Vivitrol, was approved 10 years later. Although oral naltrexone is still common for addiction treatment, providers use Vivitrol for its long-acting advantages: freedom from take-home doses, no street value, and available monthly injections. MAT can help you wean off opioids slowly and safely, and medical personnel monitor clients throughout the treatment program.
Mental Health Program
You should also take advantage of the mental health program our treatment center offers as many people with fentanyl addiction also struggle with mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. You’ll need to learn how to cope with these disorders on your own if you want to avoid relapse and stay sober.
If you have a history of substance abuse, we may recommend an inpatient program for you as many people who have abused opioids in the past are more likely to relapse. You’ll reside in our facility in this type of program while receiving treatment. It helps prevent relapse because you won’t be around the familiar temptations that cause relapses.
Dual Diagnosis Program
A dual diagnosis program is one that treats both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. It is common for people with opioid addiction to have another mental health disorder. In fact, 50% of people with substance use disorders also have a mental health condition.
Traumatic or stressful events often trigger mental health disorders, or they can be genetic. For example, depression may be caused by trauma while schizophrenia may run in families. The program also consists of variations on the 12-step program. It enables the client to break the dependency on the substance and maintain sobriety.
At GRC, our clinicians offer an aftercare program. After you’ve successfully completed a treatment program for any drug addiction, getting help from an aftercare program is critical. It is the best way to stay focused on your sobriety and avoid relapse. Aftercare can include continued counseling sessions, 12-step meetings and support groups, or alumni programs offered by the treatment facility. We can help you get off fentanyl addiction. Call us today to schedule an appointment.