Man holding daughter free from fentanyl withdrawal

Working Through Fentanyl Addiction And Managing Withdrawal

Rising in popularity in recent years among many Americans as a misused drug is fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic analgesic. Overall, the country is seeing a significant rise in overdose deaths that are associated with synthetic opioids. As a synthetic opioid, fentanyl is included in this category.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, increased 10% from 2017 to 2018.”

With the unfortunate rising statistics about cases of overdose, it is clear that action is needed—and is needed now. In combating the opioid epidemic in the United States, Vertava Health remains committed to bringing clients clear and important information regarding a variety of substances, their side effects, and treatment options for those struggling with substance use disorder.

Like many other substances that are misused, fentanyl misuse can lead to severe addiction and withdrawal symptoms when a person attempts to quit. In order to best understand how to manage and restore their health, people can learn more about what kinds of side effects fentanyl can have, identify telltale signs of addiction in their own lives, and learn about what to expect when going through fentanyl withdrawal.

Recovery from fentanyl addiction is possible with proper support and treatment. Although fentanyl addiction treatment and withdrawal should not be taken lightly, they should also not be considered an impossible feat. With our team of licensed physicians, nurses, therapists, and case managers, recovery is achievable.

What Is Fentanyl?

Before discussing the effects of fentanyl withdrawal in a person, one must first understand a little bit more about the drug in question.

Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid analgesic, meaning it is a strong pain reliever. At times, fentanyl is compared to morphine, another well-known strong pain relief drug, but the comparison falls a bit short. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that fentanyl is actually anywhere from “50 to 100 times more potent” than morphine.

Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means that it is a substance with a high potential for misuse, but is still used effectively and safely in medical settings within the United States. Although fentanyl is commonly discussed in terms of substance misuse and addiction, it is also true that it can be—and is—legally prescribed to help patients deal with pain. It can be written as a prescription for individuals struggling with chronic pain or used to manage pain during recovery after a surgical procedure. In some cases, fentanyl may be recommended as an option for patients that already have a tolerance to other kinds of opioid pain medications due to its sheer potency. Cancer patients, for example, will often require constant pain management, and so are often suitable candidates for prescription fentanyl.

While fentanyl can be legally prescribed and then misused, illegal fentanyl manufacturing also takes place and is one potential source of fentanyl that fuels addictions. The CDC reports that, “most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally-made fentanyl.” This means that more people who struggle with a fentanyl addiction are relying on the illegal manufacturing and exchange of fentanyl rather than relying on a fentanyl prescription from their doctor or stealing fentanyl doses from a family member’s prescription.

There is a major difference between the usage and appearance of prescription and illegally manufactured fentanyl. Prescription fentanyl is typically administered through a shot, a patch that adheres to the skin, or as a lozenge that a patient can suck on like a cough drop.

Meanwhile, synthetic fentanyl is often sold in a powder form, added to eye drops and nasal sprays, dropped onto blotter paper, or made into a pill form that looks like other prescription opioids. It is also not unusual for illicit fentanyl manufacturers and dealers to cut fentanyl with other kinds of substances such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

Side Effects and Symptoms Of Fentanyl Addiction

When taking prescription fentanyl, or beginning to regularly use fentanyl recreationally, there are a variety of observable side effects that may occur. Because medications can affect people differently, some side effects are not applicable to every user, and some users can experience side effects that are not listed below.

In general, fentanyl side effects can include

  • Feeling cold
  • Feeling sleepy or more drowsy
  • Constipation
  • Trouble sleeping or getting a good quality of sleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of strength
  • Memory problems
  • Spinning sensations
  • Sensation of crawling or tingling skin

Fentanyl Addiction

Becoming addicted to a substance like fentanyl is not something that many people think of when they start using. In fact, it could all start out innocently enough with some curiosity or a belief that one time misuse is OK for dealing with a stressful time.

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Fentanyl’s ability to relieve pain is quite effective and can leave users who want a distraction from current struggles or who are trying to apply prescription fentanyl to other injuries and suddenly find themselves using it for minor inconveniences.

No matter how a user comes to find themselves addicted to fentanyl and constantly looking forward to taking that next dose, fentanyl addiction can and does happen. The best way to assist a user with a fentanyl addiction is to get professional addiction treatment. 

At the same time, identifying what a fentanyl addiction looks like is important in order to seek assistance. The following are some common symptoms of fentanyl addiction:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Over-sedation
  • Troubled breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Needing larger amounts of fentanyl to achieve the same effect
  • Neglecting familial, professional, and personal responsibilities to spend more time using
  • Keeping a healthy amount of fentanyl stocked at all times
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit using or using a lower dose
  • Inability to stop using, even when the user recognizes the negative effects of continuing fentanyl use

Addiction cases can range in severity from mild to severe. More severe cases are characterized by a very long period of time of using the substance with frequent and large doses taken. One of the most telltale signs of a fentanyl addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as a few hours after the drug was taken.

Fentanyl Withdrawal: What It’s Like For The Patient

Addicted fentanyl users will find that withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable and can be an effective deterrent to any future attempts to quit using. Some users may be so deterred that the pain and challenges of withdrawal are enough to make addiction seem inescapable. However, a proper medically-supervised detoxification procedure can help users feel more confident and comfortable during detox. Additionally, knowing what to expect in terms of detox symptoms and timelines can help users mentally prepare for their detox.

According to the National Library of Medicine, opioid withdrawal symptoms can occur within 12-30 hours since the most recent dose of the drug. When fentanyl withdrawal symptoms appear can depend on how long a person has used the drug and the type of fentanyl that has been used. Fentanyl comes in a variety of forms, including an extended-release patch or as an injection.

The timeline for withdrawal symptoms does vary when it comes to the different types of fentanyl. To put this into perspective, a short-form release of fentanyl called Actiq®, can produce withdrawal symptoms 6 to 12 hours after an initial dose. Meanwhile, using an extended-release fentanyl patch will produce withdrawal symptoms 12 to 48 hours after that initial dose and can last for several weeks.

Although it is difficult to give an exact answer to this question about a timeline for fentanyl withdrawal symptoms, it is generally agreed upon that withdrawal symptoms will reach their peak in a day or two and can last for several days to a little more than a week.

The unpleasantness that occurs as a result of fentanyl leaving the body incurs a wide range of unappealing side effects. Individuals who have used fentanyl for a longer period of time will likely experience more intense withdrawal symptoms and experience the symptoms for longer than someone else who has not depended on fentanyl for quite as long.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can include

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Severe drug cravings
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Backaches
  • Stomach cramps
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hair standing on end
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold flashes
  • Uncontrollable shaking, trembling, or leg movements
  • Dehydration
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Negative feelings or thoughts
  • Dreams of relapse

Detox Treatment: Quitting Fentanyl Cold Turkey Vs. Weaning

There are a variety of ways in which a person can decide to stop using fentanyl, however, there are some significant advantages to gradually tapering off fentanyl rather than just suddenly stopping the drug.

Withdrawal can be more challenging to manage and can be more uncomfortable when a regular fentanyl user suddenly cuts off the usage. Because the body has become accustomed to regular fentanyl usage, any sudden changes to that routine are shocking to a person’s body. Quitting cold turkey can induce withdrawal and can be very dangerous to go through without proper medical supervision.

Upon a decision to quit fentanyl use, the chances of overdose and withdrawal symptoms are high and put the user’s health in danger. Any unexpected complications from quitting fentanyl—or any substance—can be best managed at a proper detox facility with medical supervision.

In addition, withdrawal and detox are hardly known for being a pleasant experience. The uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal and detox can best be managed if a user seeks help from a professional addiction facility. Here at Vertava Health, we understand the inner turmoil of individuals during this time and can appropriately react to assist our patients. For example, some cases may warrant the use of medication to help make detox more comfortable. This kind of access and support is not available when an individual suddenly quits cold turkey at home.

Tapering off fentanyl is a much safer way to quit using. Licensed medical professionals can take into account an individual’s personal history with fentanyl, mental health, polysubstance misuse, and family history. All of these factors are important in creating a proper tapering schedule that may be able to lessen or keep some withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Fentanyl Treatment and Care

Vertava Health understands that fentanyl addiction is difficult to deal with. Addiction to fentanyl and other kinds of opioids are especially prevalent in our society today. Many individuals have been turned off from the idea of recovery because of a poor withdrawal and detox experience. Vertava Health works every day to live out our mission to assist all those who desire a better, healthier future for themselves and their families. Recovery is tough, but so are our patients. 

With personalized treatment and individual plans for all our patients, our team of licensed clinicians, physicians, nurses, and counselors are prepared to help each patient take the necessary steps toward sober living. At Vertava Health we are breaking out of the mold of standardized addiction treatment and leading the way in personalized healthcare. Find your best future with us here at Vertava Health. Call (615) 208-2941 any time to speak with a qualified counselor. Get your questions answered and begin your treatment for fentanyl addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to taper off fentanyl patch without withdrawal?

The best way to taper off fentanyl with less severe withdrawal symptoms is by consulting a professional addiction treatment center such as Vertava Health. Licensed professionals are trained to create an appropriate tapering schedule that is personalized for each patient.

Tapering fentanyl rather than quitting cold turkey has many benefits for the individual, including offering a more comfortable withdrawal experience. Professionals will take into account a variety of factors while constructing a schedule. These factors include variables such as: level of dependence, severity of addiction or misuse, any co-occurring disorders, length of time misusing fentanyl, any polysubstance misuse, mental state, and family history of substance use.

An individual who is tapering fentanyl will gradually take lower and lower doses of the drug according to the schedule that is created specially for them. In this way, the body is not as shocked by the sudden absence of the drug and can adjust little by little. 

How long does fentanyl withdrawal last?

There is not necessarily one specific answer to this question. In general, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will reach their peak in one or two days and can last for a little over a week. However, there are some factors that can affect this timeline. 

The duration of withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on factors such as the severity of the addiction and how long the addiction has endured. Individuals who have been struggling with fentanyl addiction for seven years will likely find the withdrawal process more uncomfortable than someone who has been struggling with fentanyl addiction for one year.

Additionally, the kind of fentanyl that is used can have an impact on the withdrawal timeline. Consider the following: a short-form release of fentanyl called Actiq, can produce withdrawal symptoms 6 to 12 hours after an initial dose. Meanwhile, using an extended-release fentanyl patch will produce withdrawal symptoms 12 to 48 hours after that initial dose and can last for several weeks. 

What helps with withdrawal from fentanyl?

One of the best ways to ensure that a fentanyl withdrawal is properly managed and an individual is as comfortable and safe as possible is to seek assistance from medical professionals for detox and withdrawal. 

Detoxing from fentanyl without professional assistance can raise the risk of overdose and highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. With a medically supervised detox, an individual’s safety is ensured and taken care of. Any complications that require assistance can be promptly attended too. Additionally, many addiction treatment programs offer home-like environments and medication-supported detox. 

Tapering off fentanyl can also be extremely helpful in keeping more of the uncomfortable detox symptoms at bay. Following a tapering schedule allows an individual’s body more time to adjust to a gradually decreasing dose of the drug, rather than leaving the body scrambling to adjust to a sudden absence when someone quits cold turkey. Tapering off fentanyl is another service that medical professionals can provide by creating a unique, personalized tapering schedule based on a patient’s history and needs.