Opioid addiction is an epidemic in the United States, with over 3 million Americans currently suffering. Of these powerfully addictive drugs, fentanyl is one of the most widely used. Those who take fentanyl may quickly become dependent on the drug, leading to a dangerous addiction that could have serious consequences for their health.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction is one of the best ways to stop it from becoming deadly. Once identified, treatment programs are available to treat the disorder. From symptoms to risks, here’s how to spot a fentanyl addiction.

Adult male with his hand on his head suffering the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl was invented in the 1960s. It’s a synthetic opioid pain medication originally meant to treat severe pain associated with diseases like cancer. It’s about 100 times stronger than morphine, making it one of the most potent opiates ever.

Outside of prescriptions, fentanyl is often obtained through illegal sellers. In some cases, it’s combined with heroin to form an even deadlier mix of opiates. Because of fentanyl’s extreme strength, it’s easy for patients to develop a dependency on the drug — even when it’s used as directed.

How Synthetic Opioids Are Getting More Dangerous

Fentanyl is an opioid derivative, meaning it works by binding itself to the body’s opioid receptors. These receptors are responsible for regulating pain and emotional output. As fentanyl enters the body, it can effectively give each receptor the order to withhold the signal that tells the rest of the system to experience pain. It’s this process that makes the substance an effective painkiller.

Only a small dose of fentanyl is needed to have this effect on the body. Unfortunately, when obtained outside of a prescription, the dosage isn’t regulated, and it becomes easy to take a deadly amount. In addition to heroin, drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and cannabis are commonly laced with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. This adds to their danger, as users may not be aware of how much fentanyl they’re taking or even that they’re taking it at all.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction?

The Signs

Understanding the signs of fentanyl addiction is critical for stopping the condition. While signs may manifest differently from person to person, there are several common ones to look out for.

Being prescribed fentanyl for pain management is one of the biggest signs that someone may be at risk of developing an addiction. Because the drug is so powerful, it’s easy for patients to become dependent on it — even if they’ve never suffered from addiction.

Other signs of fentanyl abuse may go unnoticed for quite some time. A person may withdraw from work, school or hobbies to devote more time to taking or obtaining fentanyl. They may also avoid social situations or neglect personal relationships to hide their substance abuse.

Over time, the financial strain may indicate that a person’s dependence on the drug has gone too far. They might lose their job, fail to pay their bills or appear unable to care for children and pets. Obsessing over fentanyl is another telling sign. They’ll spend their time thinking about how to obtain fentanyl and experience withdrawal symptoms when they fail. At this point, they may engage in criminal activity or other dangerous actions, disregarding any harm that might befall them.

Worker withdrawn from work concept image for one of the signs of opioid addiction

The Symptoms

Fentanyl use disorder manifests itself in a variety of ways. Physically, a person will likely feel constantly tired. Since fentanyl induces intense euphoria, even those who take it according to their prescription can experience drowsiness as the drug wears off. While drowsiness is a standard side effect, frequent users also exhibit other physical symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Swollen hands or feet
  • Constricted pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Incoordination
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches

Symptoms can even manifest themselves cognitively. A person may have trouble paying attention or concentrating and difficulty remembering things. Impaired judgment is also a common occurrence, especially when cravings are intense. Additionally, some people have experienced suicidal ideation.

Intense euphoria is one of the direct effects of fentanyl, though a debilitating crash often follows it. It’s common to express apathy toward activities that once brought joy, and many users have reported feeling depressed.

Behavioral Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

Besides the physical and mental symptoms of fentanyl addiction, behavioral symptoms are also common among those with the disorder. Someone suffering from the disease may fail to take care of their daily responsibilities, foregoing essential health and hygiene in favor of obsessing over fentanyl.

Poor performance at work or school is often a result of fentanyl addiction. A person may take frequent sick days or fail to show up. They may also visit multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for fentanyl.

As substance abuse gradually takes over a person’s life, they’ll likely spend much of their time securing, taking and recovering from fentanyl. When this happens, a person may withdraw entirely from their intimate or longstanding relationships. Despite these negative consequences, they’ll be unable to stop themselves from seeking the fentanyl they crave.

When You Need Immediate Medical Attention

Fentanyl is a powerful drug; too much of it can be deadly. As happens with other opioids, those who abuse fentanyl run the risk of overdosing.

In 2017 alone, nearly 70% of overdose deaths in the country were caused by an opiate-like fentanyl. Because it’s such a potent drug, a fentanyl overdose should be taken incredibly seriously. If a person takes a deadly drug dose, they should seek medical attention immediately. There are a few telltale signs that a person has overdosed on fentanyl. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Inability to walk
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden fatigue
  • Impaired thinking
  • Clammy skin
  • Slurred speech or inability to speak
  • Disorientation
  • Limp body
  • Slow breathing rate

Young lady holding her legs concept image for inability to walk

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Complexity of Fentanyl Addiction

Unfortunately, fentanyl addiction doesn’t make a person immune from mental illness. Those with a mental illness are more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those without. For this reason, it’s common for people to experience co-occurring disorders. A co-occurring disorder refers to the existence of both an addiction and a mental illness simultaneously. While addiction is difficult to overcome independently, having a co-occurring disorder can make it more challenging to seek help.

However, this condition is still treatable. In many cases, addicts with mental health conditions receive specialized treatment to help them recover from both conditions simultaneously. This treatment often includes a greater emphasis on therapy to work through the root cause of the co-occurring disorder, rather than treating each condition as a separate entity.

Fentanyl and Mental Health Conditions

Several mental illnesses may exist alongside fentanyl addiction. These can include but aren’t limited to:

  • Persistent or major depressive disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Abuse of a non-opiate substance

Co-occurring disorders are complex by nature. The conditions may feed off one another, exacerbating the effects of each one. But with the proper treatment, it’s possible to overcome both fentanyl abuse and a mental condition for good.

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

Because fentanyl is a highly addictive substance, the body will resist attempting to remove it entirely from the system. For this reason, many who suffer from substance use disorder have difficulty staying away from the drug on their own. In most cases, a medically supervised detox is the first step in the treatment process.

During a detox, the goal is to eliminate any remaining fentanyl from the body. For a fentanyl detox, the focus will primarily be mitigating withdrawal symptoms and the health risks of purging a drug.

Once a patient has completed detoxification, it’s time to determine the best road to recovery. For fentanyl addictions, residential treatment is usually the preferred course of action. This is a type of inpatient treatment where the patient resides at the treatment center while they build a foundation for their recovery.

During residential treatment, a person will have regular contact with medical professionals who guide them through the process. Typically, days will consist of multiple forms of therapy, including individual, group and family sessions. Patients will talk with others to heal from the effects of fentanyl addiction and develop strategies to prevent relapses.

Medical leaders will monitor patients during this time to ensure they progress smoothly through withdrawal and that the prescribed treatment has the desired effect. When patients have shown considerable improvement, they may transition to a partial hospitalization program before moving on to outpatient care.

Overcoming the Effects of Fentanyl Withdrawal

For many, the initial detox will be one of the hardest parts of treatment. Withdrawal symptoms can be intense and even painful, which is why at-home treatment is usually ineffective. Some common fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Extreme fentanyl cravings
  • Irritability or aggression

While the withdrawal period may be uncomfortable, not everyone experiences unbearable pain. Each person is affected differently, and discomfort usually depends on the duration of substance abuse.

Even with an intense withdrawal, having a professional team to help a person through the process is invaluable. At Behavioral Health Centers, patients are first screened to determine the right level of medication for their detox. Therapy is then used as a stabilization method to ensure they’re unharmed and that the rest of their journey goes smoothly.

The detox phase for a fentanyl addiction can last anywhere from 5 to 14 days. Many factors, including genetic makeup and preexisting medical conditions, influence the length of this period. While that may seem excessive, a successful detox is the first step in overcoming drug addiction.

Young man with a positive outlook after a successful recovery from fentanyl addiction.

What You Need From a Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Program

Not all treatment methods are made the same. Each disorder is complex, and treating each identically is unlikely to produce the best results. Additionally, those who suffer from fentanyl abuse require a different level of care due to the nature of their condition.

Since fentanyl is such a powerful drug, it’s a tough addiction to overcome. To produce the best results, it’s important that those who seek help are looking for a fentanyl addiction treatment program.

With a program designed specifically to treat fentanyl addiction, patients can get the care that best meets their needs. These programs, like the one at Behavioral Health Centers, typically involve a medically monitored detoxification followed by residential treatment surrounded by a professional support team.

This type of treatment is not only comprehensive, but it’s also the safest choice for those who suffer from the effects of this deadly disease. With a specially tailored program, patients can develop the skills to sustain their sobriety while healing themselves from the inside out.

Learn More About Fentanyl Abuse and the Treatment Available in St. Lucie County

Fentanyl addiction can be devastating to a person’s life. The effects of addiction can feel irreparable, from professional and financial strain to damaged personal relationships. Luckily, treatment is available right now for those who need it.

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