Updated on May 31, 2024
5 min read

How to Recognize & Support Someone with a Fentanyl Addiction

Healthcare providers can prescribe fentanyl to provide relief for people with extreme and chronic pain. However, it’s 50 to 100 times more potent than other opioids.1

Because of that, people using fentanyl are at high risk of addiction. Such a high risk makes it crucial to understand its risks and benefits fully. This article discusses fentanyl addiction and the treatment options available.

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

Yes, fentanyl is highly addictive, whether it’s used medically or illegally. It’s a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States, meaning it has a high risk for abuse and addiction.

People often develop fentanyl addiction because of its high potency, leading to a rapid development of tolerance and dependence. If you use fentanyl, you may find yourself needing to consume higher doses to achieve the same effects.

Once you become addicted, you can experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it. It can be challenging to quit using it without professional help.

What Are the Signs of Fentanyl Addiction?

Only a medical professional can diagnose someone with fentanyl addiction. However, there are signs you can note and discuss with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned for your well-being.

Addiction isn’t determined by tolerance and dependence alone. It’s often accompanied by compulsive drug seeking and use.

Physical signs of fentanyl addiction come from the side effects of misusing the drug. These include:

  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Breathing problems
  • Seizures
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Rapid heart rate

A person addicted to fentanyl will also exhibit behavioral signs. These include:

  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Neglecting hobbies and social activities
  • Developing a secretive behavior
  • Fixating on securing more of the drug
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, and home

There will also be psychological signs of fentanyl addiction. These include extreme mood changes from euphoria to depression, anxiety, and severe cravings for the drug.

What Are Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms?

People addicted to fentanyl experience withdrawal symptoms when they reduce or stop using the drug. These symptoms are similar to those of other opioids but can be more intense and unpleasant because of the drug’s high potency.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Extreme, uncontrollable cravings for the drug
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Leg spasms
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Goosebumps
  • Chills
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

These symptoms begin within 6 to 12 hours of the last dose and can last for several days. You may also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, a series of impairments that continue for weeks or months after.

Post-acute symptoms include anxiety, sleep problems, and an inability to feel pleasure. Because of this, the withdrawal process can be extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes, the withdrawal process can be dangerous without proper medical supervision.

What Are Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms?

Fentanyl overdose is a medical emergency and can be fatal if a person isn’t treated promptly. You can tell when it’s happening when a person exhibits several symptoms.

Fentanyl overdose symptoms include:

  • Small, constricted “pinpoint” pupils
  • Falling asleep or becoming unresponsive
  • Slow, weak, or no breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Blue or purplish lips and nails
  • Vomiting

If you notice these symptoms, call 911 immediately. If available, administer naloxone (Narcan) while waiting for medics to arrive. You may need to administer multiple doses due to fentanyl’s potency.

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How Do You Treat Fentanyl Addiction?

Treating fentanyl addiction is a complex process. Many factors play into the development of the condition, which all need to be addressed for a successful treatment.

The best way to treat fentanyl addiction is through professional help and intervention. Treatment may include medication-assisted therapy (MAT), behavioral therapies, and support services, depending on your needs.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

MAT involves a combination of medications, counseling, and behavioral therapies to provide a holistic, patient-focused approach to addiction treatment. The medications used in this treatment are designed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, which can significantly improve the chances of recovery.

Some of the medications used in MAT include:

  • Methadone: A long-acting opioid agonist that reduces cravings and withdrawal without producing the same high
  • Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist that has a “ceiling effect” that lowers the risk of misuse, dependency, and side effects
  • Naltrexone: An opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids and is used after detoxification

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy and counseling also effectively treat opioid addictions. They help you change your behavior and attitudes toward the drug and learn ways to cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Examples of behavioral therapies include:

  • Motivational Interviews: An intimate counseling setting that helps you cope with the recovery process and stay abstinent
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Helps manage stress, triggers, expectations, and behaviors related to fentanyl
  • Contingency Management: A voucher-based treatment that awards you with “points” based on your length of sobriety; helps develop healthy habits and encourages you to live drug-free after treatment is complete

Support Groups

Support groups allow you to connect with those who understand the struggles of fentanyl addiction. They provide you with the necessary resources and aid to continue on the path of sobriety.

Examples of support groups include Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, and Heroin Anonymous (HA). These programs provide the necessary support to stay in recovery. They also let you share struggles, successes, experiences, and more.

Resources for Help and Support

If you or someone you know is struggling with Fentanyl addiction, there are resources available to help. Consider reaching out to:

  • National Helpline: 1-800-237-TALK (8255)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Treatment locator
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
  • Your primary care provider or a mental health professional: Consult them for personalized guidance and treatment options

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Summary

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that doctors prescribe for severe pain management. It can be incredibly addictive and lead to overdose if you misuse it.

If you’re concerned that you may have an addiction to fentanyl, don’t hesitate to discuss this with your healthcare provider. Treatment options are available to help you with your condition.

The best way to treat fentanyl addiction is by taking a holistic approach to recovery. Treatments like MAT, behavioral therapies, and support groups help people manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

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Updated on May 31, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on May 31, 2024
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Fentanyl Drug Facts.” U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  2. Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023.
  3. Opioid Overdose.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023.
  4. Fentanyl.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023.
  5. U.S. Department of Justice. “Fentanyl.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 
  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Fentanyl.” MedlinePlus, 2023.
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Fentanyl.” PubChem Compound Database, 2023.
  8. Fentanyl.” U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  9. Cultivating Health. “Fentanyl facts, overdose signs to look for, and how you can help save a life.” UC Davis Health, 2023.
  10. Fentanyl Data Sheet.” Medsafe.

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