Fentanyl addiction is a severe and life-threatening substance use disorder that is wreaking havoc in the United States. The DEA Administrator, Anne Milgram, states, “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.” Addiction rates have become worse as overdose deaths are on the rise in recent years.
The Drug Enforcement Agency set May 7, 2024, as National Fentanyl Awareness Day to bring national awareness to the dangers of fentanyl. Education is essential to understand recovery from fentanyl addiction. Fentanyl withdrawal is so bad many who have a fentanyl use disorder fear quitting. Millions of people have found long-term recovery from fentanyl addiction, and medically managed professional detox is the beginning.
Why is Fentanyl So Addictive?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that, like other opioids, fentanyl binds to the body’s opioid receptors in the brain that control pain and emotion. With fentanyl addiction, the brain adapts to having the drug. This makes it more difficult to experience pleasure from anything else.
Drug seeking becomes habitual to experience the extreme happiness fentanyl causes. Tolerance to the drug occurs quickly.
Fentanyl and the Opioid Epidemic
The Centers for Disease Control reports the number of people who died from a drug overdose in 2021 was over 6 times the number who died in 1999. Drug overdose deaths increased more than 16% between 2020 and 2021.
Three-quarters of the almost 107,000 overdose deaths in 2021 were from an opioid. Illicit manufacturing of fentanyl is responsible for an increase in overdose deaths, as fentanyl is often unknowingly added to other drugs.
Fentanyl Addiction: Red Flags and Signs
Addiction to the drug can occur so quickly that when taking the prescription as directions state, dependence can occur. If a person stops taking the medication and experiences fentanyl withdrawal symptoms, dependency is present.
It is possible to have a dependency without an addiction, although dependency often leads to addiction. Once an addiction is present, red flags begin to show that there is a problem. Health problems and issues at work, school, or home appear suddenly. Although the user may experience difficulties or health problems due to their fentanyl addiction, they continue to use it.
Those who wish to stop using have extreme fentanyl withdrawal symptoms, causing them to use again, which could result in an overdose. Withdrawal symptoms can appear within just hours from the last dosage.
The following signs and symptoms occur with fentanyl withdrawal:
- Uncontrollable leg movements
- Muscle and bone pain
- Problems sleeping
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Severe drug cravings
- Sleep problems
- Cold flashes with goosebumps
Doctor Shopping and Fentanyl Abuse
The most critical aspect of fentanyl addiction is finding more drugs. In some extreme cases, users will use “doctor shopping” to try to get additional prescriptions legally. Although the Drug Enforcement Agency has strict guidelines to monitor these highly addictive drugs, some doctors continue to write prescriptions.
They do this because they believe their patient is in extreme pain. Eventually, pharmacists catch up with those extracting the same medication from multiple doctors.
Fentanyl addiction can occur quickly, even though doctors typically prescribe a minimal dosage to treat extreme pain. The drug has a rapid onset and is eliminated rapidly from the body. Short half-life, in combination with its high potency and quick onset, attracts drug dealers to use tiny amounts of fentanyl in other drugs to increase their potency.
This dangerous element induces withdrawal symptoms to appear soon after usage stops, which, in turn, causes the user to reach out for more drugs. When usage stops, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms begin very quickly because the body adapts to operating with the drug in the system.
Common Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms and Stages
A significant factor in fentanyl withdrawal is the onset of depression. Opioids such as fentanyl impact the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which controls experiencing pleasure.
Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can include any of the following symptoms:
- Chills, sweating, fever, and goosebumps
- Cognitive difficulties
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Aches and pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
There are typically 3 stages of fentanyl withdrawal that occur during detoxification. Thus, the intensity of the symptoms is different for every individual based on the amount of fentanyl and length of addiction. Withdrawal occurs in 3 stages: early, peak, and long-term.
Early withdrawal occurs within 12 hours after the last dose of fentanyl. Peak effects are manageable for 1 to 2 days after the last dose. Long-term effects continue after 3 to 5 days from the previous dose. However, some people feel the effects for weeks and months.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can continue for months or suddenly reappear without notice. For relapse prevention, it is advisable to educate patients that post-acute withdrawal symptoms may occur and if they may need to reach out for help to avoid relapse.
Anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure, and the pink cloud syndrome, which produces excessive happy feelings and causes one to ignore reality, can occur. In some cases, negative feelings of guilt, remorse, and anger can induce a need to use again.
After the medically supervised detox from fentanyl, the best chance for continuing sobriety is to participate in a residential inpatient treatment program. Detox is only part of the treatment plan to leave substance addiction behind.
It is imperative to investigate the underlying causes of addiction and learn new healthy coping behaviors for recovery. Evidence-based therapies, including cognitive-behavioral, individual, group, and family therapy, are part of the healing process and are the foundation for healthy relationships in the future.
End Fentanyl Addiction with Professional Treatment Options in California
Fentanyl addiction is dangerous and life-threatening. Those seeking help to end this deadly addiction can find the treatment to become sober and healthy with Sierra Health and Wellness Centers in California.
Professional treatment options also include new holistic options based on a mind-body connection to carry on throughout a sober lifestyle.
Contact their center for more information on establishing a personal journey in forming a sober lifestyle.