Addiction to Fentanyl: Warning Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment
More than 75,000 died in the United States in 2022 from overdoses of synthetic opioids, primarily Fentanyl. However, it’s important to remember that these startling numbers also represent the untold numbers of people who have lost loved ones and gone through unspeakable loss and hardship afterward.
What is Fentanyl
Opioids like Fentanyl are very good at reducing pain, but it is illegal to have it without a prescription. It is one of the most dangerous substances available and has played a significant role in the opioid crisis. Oxycodone, morphine, heroin, codeine, hydrocodone, and tramadol are a few other examples of opioids.
Opioids can be synthetic (lab-made) or natural (opium plant-derived). Opioids like Fentanyl have potent analgesic effects. For instance, your doctor might suggest an opioid to lessen your pain if you’ve had a painful injury, cancer, or major surgery.
However, Fentanyl is highly addictive and prone to misuse and abuse. It is a Schedule II prescription drug with a potency that can range from 50 to 100 times greater than morphine and up to 30 to 50 times greater than heroin.
Fentanyl is marketed under the following brand names:
Fentanyl is often administered through injection or an arm patch if you take it on a doctor’s prescription. The drug is also available as a throat lozenge.
What Fentanyl Does to Your Brain
Fentanyl binds to opioid receptors in the brain and depresses the CNS (central nervous system). This is why you feel euphoric when the high first kicks in. When you experience pain, an opioid receptor releases chemicals to reduce the pain. The naturally produced opioid, however, has a relatively limited lifetime and lacks the power required to relieve symptoms associated with chronic pain.
Opioids are powerful pain relievers. As a result, many prescription medications contain at least one synthetic opioid, such as Fentanyl, to alleviate severe pain. Unfortunately, the more frequently your brain is exposed to a prescription like Fentanyl, the less likely it is to produce naturally occurring opioids. When this happens, it becomes so difficult to function without Fentanyl that you are likely to keep using it and gradually increase the frequency and dose. This is because, by this time, you have both an addiction to the chemical and a significant tolerance to it.
Addiction to Fentanyl: Warning Signs and Symptoms
There are many signs that someone is abusing Fentanyl and indications that they have become addicted. The potency, effects, and possible risks of Fentanyl are increased when combined with over-the-counter, illicitly obtained prescribed opioids and street drugs. The addiction symptoms include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty walking
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed/altered heart rate
- Labored breathing
- Slurred speech
- Pinpoint pupils
- Visual hallucinations
- Weight loss
- Itching and scratching
If you or someone you care about is abusing Fentanyl or any other opioid or needs some drug or mental health awareness services, speak to a therapist immediately.
Potential Long-Term Consequences of Fentanyl Addiction
When mixed with other drugs or used recreationally, Fentanyl is very hazardous and may be lethal. Among the possible long-term health risks connected with its use are:
Depression of the respiratory system
Depression of the respiratory system may develop from Fentanyl abuse. It can cause breathing to become very shallow or stop breathing altogether.
An increased risk of depression is related to fentanyl abuse. Research has shown a link between opioid usage and depression, primarily synthetic opioids. Fentanyl is especially dangerous for people with severe depression since they often harbor suicidal thoughts.
Opioids like Fentanyl may cause considerable brain damage, reducing cognitive ability and making sensible decision-making more difficult. In addition, fentanyl-induced respiratory depression reduces oxygen to the brain and can trigger brain hypoxia.
Long-term fentanyl addiction may cause seizures, and withdrawal from the drug can also cause seizures. If a person with epilepsy is also addicted to opioids, they may have a potentially deadly episode. This is due to the risk of unintentional injury, especially severe head trauma.
Problems with the heart
Chronic use of Fentanyl can lead to heart problems like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
Kidney injury or failure
Fentanyl abuse over an extended period may result in kidney damage or failure. This happens when the kidneys do not get enough blood, which does irreversible damage.
Damage to the liver
The liver is an essential organ for body detoxification. Even so, prolonged opioid abuse often causes liver damage, especially when the narcotics are injected. In addition, scarring may develop, permanently impairing the liver’s ability to eliminate toxins from the body.
Reduced immune system functionality
Chronic fentanyl use diminishes the body’s immunity against disease. As a result, persons infected with HIV or hepatitis C are more likely to develop more severe complications due to a weakened immune system.
Lower the pain threshold
An opioid overdose, especially one including Fentanyl, increases one’s tolerance for pain. Abusers of this medication may develop a complete insensitivity to all types of physical pain. This is because Fentanyl has the potential to alter how the receptors in the brain process these kinds of feelings.
The toxic effects of a fentanyl overdose include the inhibition of essential organs. In addition, researchers have shown that fentanyl overdose causes various side effects, including a slowed heart rate, decreased respiratory function, and irregular functioning of other vital body organs.
Fentanyl Overdose and Vital organ dysfunction
High dosages of the substance may cause the cardiovascular system to cease functioning or the lungs to stop working altogether. Signs of organ malfunction are:
- Clammy (pale) skin
- Incoherent speech
- Bluish lips
- Loss of consciousness
Fentanyl Overdose and death
Fentanyl caused about 59% of all drug overdose fatalities. In addition, excessive Fentanyl may lead to prolonged organ malfunction, leading to a shortage of oxygen delivery in the brain and death.
The Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Fentanyl acts similarly to other opioids when use is suddenly stopped. Withdrawal symptoms from Fentanyl may occur when an addict attempts to stop using it cold turkey or significantly cut their dosage.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may vary in severity and frequency from one person to the next, depending on factors such as the dosage and length of time an opioid drug like Fentanyl was abused. However, even in the mildest circumstances, withdrawal from opioids may be unpleasant and has serious consequences.
Toxic withdrawal from Fentanyl often includes a wide range of uncomfortable physical and mental side effects. People going through withdrawal often experience the following:
- Muscle Spasms
- Runny Nose
- Muscle Ache
- Abdominal Cramping
- Dilated Pupils
- Rapid Heart Beat
- Abnormally High Blood Pressure
Treatment of Fentanyl Addiction
There is a considerable risk of fentanyl overdose if you begin retaking the drug to reduce the withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted detox is a great way to get started on the road to full recovery. However, developing psychological and behavioral coping skills during and after detox decreases the probability of relapse substantially.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Fentanyl Addiction
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some medications to treat opioid addiction. Drugs used for MAT function by lessening the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and psychological temptations that cause chemical imbalances in the body. The medications used for MAT are evidence-based treatments and do not switch one drug to another. Among the medications used to treat fentanyl addiction are:
These MAT drugs are most successful in the treatment of opioid use disorders when taken in combination with behavioral therapies.
Fentanyl Addiction Behavioral Therapies
Behavioral therapy aids in healing by:
- Modifying one’s attitude and actions toward drug usage
- Facilitating the development of healthy lifestyle habits
- Motivating you to keep up with other forms of treatment, such as taking medication in MAT
- Creating a conducive environment for teaching mental health awareness, career or job training, and communication skills, among other soft skills.
If you go to a behavioral therapist, you may expect to engage in various therapeutic approaches. For example, some programs give individual and group therapy for drug abuse. Standard behavioral therapies include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT teaches you to understand the settings in which you are most prone to take drugs and provides strategies for avoiding and coping with such situations.
- Family counseling/therapy. It covers a variety of factors that may be contributing to your drug addiction tendencies and is intended to enhance the functioning of the family as a whole.
- Motivational interviewing. The MI approach capitalizes on your openness to making behavioral changes and getting help.
- Contingency management. It employs the use of positive reinforcement as a means of encouraging sobriety from drug usage.
Don’t delay if you or someone you love is struggling with fentanyl addiction or abuse. The best way to obtain the proper help you need is to check into a rehab facility or contact a mental health professional as soon as possible. Be an advocate for mental health awareness in your community!