Opioids are a double-edged sword. On one hand, opioids or narcotics can offer significant pain relief and help people cope with moderate to severe pain. On the other hand, opioids also produce intense feelings of euphoria that can be highly addictive. Among the many types of opioids available, there are few more potent than fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. Fentanyl is known for being 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Keep reading to find out more about fentanyl withdrawal symptoms and how they are managed effectively with the programs available at Icarus Behavioral Health.
While all these make fentanyl an incredibly effective prescription drug for providing severe or chronic pain relief, it also makes it easier to develop a tolerance to it with regular use. If not managed properly, higher fentanyl tolerance can lead to drug misuse and dependence.
Once it has come to that stage, undergoing detoxification is necessary to end drug abuse or addiction — a large part of this process means you need to overcome opioid withdrawal symptoms. Keep reading to find out how to overcome fentanyl withdrawals now!
How Fentanyl Affects The Body
Like other opioids, fentanyl primarily affects our body by influencing our central nervous system. Fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors found in the brain. These receptors help control our pain and emotions. Binding with these pain receptors allows fentanyl to influence them.
Fentanyl reduces our sensitivity to pain and triggers the excess production of dopamine, a hormone and chemical messenger found in the brain. Dopamine is also associated with inducing feelings of pleasure or euphoria and impulse control.
Immediate effects of taking fentanyl include:
- Euphoria or extreme happiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow breathing or other breathing problems
Repeatedly or constantly flooding our brain with dopamine induces changes in our brain. It affects our emotions and makes it easier to trigger opioid addiction. This is why one of the prominent long-term effects of fentanyl misuse include reduced control over impulsive behavior and substance abuse or substance use disorder.
Fentanyl Dependence and Addiction
Due to fentanyl’s potency, repeated or regular use of the opioid can quickly lead to severe drug dependence. Some people may develop substance dependence within weeks of regular use.
This is different from addiction — it is possible to be dependent on a substance without being fully addicted to it. Addiction can be defined as the inability to stop using a certain substance while dependence means the body has adapted to the drug and requires a higher amount for the drug to produce its intended effect.
Many cases of fentanyl dependence and eventual fentanyl abuse can start from legal or prescribed pharmaceutical fentanyl. Overuse or misuse of a fentanyl prescription due to severe pain and the relief the drug brings them can lead to high tolerance and dependence.
However, you can also develop fentanyl dependence simply by following a doctor’s prescription. Some people who struggle with chronic pain may not immediately realize they have already developed a tolerance for or dependence on the drug. It is possible to only realize such issues after they stop taking fentanyl and suddenly experience drug withdrawal syndrome.
What is Drug Withdrawal Syndrome
Withdrawal or discontinuation syndrome is a common medical issue among individuals who have developed either a physical or physiological dependence on a drug or other addicting substance. Suddenly stopping or simply cutting back on fentanyl intake after developing dependence will result in a drug withdrawal syndrome. As such, withdrawals are common during substance abuse treatment and detoxification.
Your body will try to maintain overall stability despite the lack of the chemical or compound it has come to depend on — in this case, fentanyl. As your body tries to adjust to the new environment, counter-regulatory mechanisms trigger unwanted and unopposed effects. These manifest as fentanyl withdrawal symptoms.
Recognizing Common Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms arise because the body feels unable to function properly or normally without the drug in its system. The severity of these symptoms varies for each person. In general, greater dependence or longer histories of fentanyl abuse result in worse symptoms.
It also results in a different withdrawal timeline and an overall more difficult experience. Other factors, such as the individual’s physical health, the dosage taken, and the duration can affect the severity of the symptoms.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are largely similar to other opioid withdrawal symptoms. They can be divided into two categories: psychological and physical symptoms.
- Increased or more intense cravings
- Mood swings
- Personality changes
- General irritability
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Heavy sweating
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Shaking, and tremors
- Muscle or joint pain
- Nausea or dizziness
- Increased breathing rate
- Abdominal cramps
- Involuntary leg movements
Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline
Each person’s withdrawal timeline and overall withdrawal experience will vary. This is due to differences in genetics, underlying health conditions, the severity of dependence or addiction, fentanyl dosage, and more. Those with milder dependence or who are only in the initial stages of substance abuse generally have milder symptoms. In the same vein, severe addiction can result in a potentially deadly withdrawal syndrome, with the possibility of seizures in rare cases.
According to the National Library of Medicine, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal syndrome manifest within 12 to 30 hours after the person’s last dose. However, there are fentanyl withdrawal cases where the person may start to show symptoms of withdrawal around a day or so within the last dose. In cases of severe addiction, you may start to experience symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal as soon as two to four hours after your last dose.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can last from a few days up to a couple of weeks. The typical duration of withdrawal syndrome is 4 to 20 days. The symptoms usually start slowly, before reaching their peak, then they gradually improve and disappear.
Managing the Stages of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Each person can experience different symptoms during their fentanyl withdrawal period. Moreover, depending on the stage or phase of withdrawal, they may also experience different levels of symptom severity.
The stages of fentanyl or any opioid withdrawal are dramatically different from each other, most are usually short-lived. With the exception of the last one, each phase generally only lasts a few weeks or a month at most.
Stage 1: Early Symptoms
The first stage of withdrawal syndrome can happen within hours of last using fentanyl. This stage can start anywhere between 2 to 4 hours or between 12 to 30 hours after you last had fentanyl.
During this stage, the symptoms start to appear slowly. It often starts with slight body discomforts, like muscle aches or chills. These physical symptoms can be accompanied by mild feelings of anxiety, restlessness, or intense craving for fentanyl.
Stage 2: Peak Symptoms
The second stage is when your withdrawal symptoms reach their peak. This generally happens within 24 to 34 hours after your last dose of fentanyl. This stage can last from two days up to a full week.
The peak stage may start simply by increasing the intensity of the first symptoms you had. As this stage progresses, you will likely experience new and more severe symptoms, such as fever and vomiting. It is during this time that people undergoing withdrawal often feel the worst.
Stage 3: Waning Symptoms
The third stage is when your withdrawal symptoms start to wane or fade away. In this stage, you will start to feel better and more like your regular self. You may still feel symptoms occasionally, but they won’t be as strong as during the peak or early stages. Depending on your severity of dependence or level of drug abuse, this stage may last as quickly as four days or take up to a full month.
Stage 4: Lingering Effects
The fourth and last stage takes place after the fentanyl has been flushed out of your system. This stage can take place weeks after detoxification. The withdrawal period is technically over, but you may still experience a few lingering effects now and then. Additionally, the symptoms gradually reduce over time.
Long-Term Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Since the drug is already out of your system, long-term withdrawal symptoms can be milder. However, it is still advisable to get professional help to ensure proper withdrawal management. There are some cases where detoxified fentanyl users lost to long-term effects and relapsed, particularly when under significant stress.
Long-term symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal may include:
- Difficulty or inability to experience pleasure
- Depressive disorders
- Volatile mood disorders
- Angry outbursts
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Heightened sensitivity to pain
- Inability to sleep or poor sleep quality
It is also possible to experience pink cloud syndrome long after completing a medical detox. Pink cloud syndrome usually happens during the first stage of recovery and is characterized by positive feelings, like euphoria, elation, or extreme joy. Sometimes, having such happy and carefree thoughts can lead to having little to no thoughts for others, which can unintentionally put them in harm’s way.
Risks and Dangers of Fentanyl Withdrawal
In general, the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal and the overall experience itself is not life-threatening. At most, the symptoms are highly uncomfortable or perhaps painful, but rarely fatal. However, fentanyl withdrawal may sometimes be severe, such as in cases of going cold turkey. These can result in serious side effects or complications — especially if you are left alone or untreated throughout the detox period.
The risks and dangers of withdrawal from fentanyl may include:
- Dehydration. Since diarrhea, vomiting, and heavy sweating are among the withdrawal symptoms, there is a possibility that you may get dehydrated and experience electrolyte imbalance. If not addressed right away, this may lead to fainting and other complications.
- Aspiration. Not to be confused with asphyxiation, aspiration occurs when something enters your lungs by accident. During withdrawal, it is possible for you to pass out and vomit. Vomiting while lying down can lead to choking. In turn, this can lead to pneumonia infection or even fatal choking.
- Relapse and overdose. Cravings and urges are common withdrawal symptoms. Without proper medical guidance, you may fall off your recovery due to these cravings and relapse. Once that happens, the risk of overdosing goes up as your tolerance for the drug has already gone down.
Easing the Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Proper opioid withdrawal management minimizes the risks and dangers associated with fentanyl withdrawal. Additionally, professional treatment helps make the detoxification process much more bearable. A medical detox program, particularly an inpatient or residential one, such as the program offered at Icarus Behavioral Health, ensures round-the-clock medical assistance.
Their offering also includes mental healthcare programs to help clients cope with any mental health disorders that contribute to or result from their substance use disorder.
Some effective ways of managing fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:
- Undergoing medical detox. This ensures gradual weaning off from fentanyl, as opposed to going cold turkey. It is one of the highly recommended ways to avoid causing severe symptoms.
- Using addiction medicine. There are several drugs or medications that were developed to help make the withdrawal process easier. These include buprenorphine, buprenorphine/naltrexone, and lofexidine hydrochloride.
- Using medical devices or apps. The NSS-2 Bridge device, which stimulates your nerves using electric pulses, can help ease symptoms during the acute or early withdrawal phase. Meanwhile, reSET®, a mobile app, is approved by the FDA and offers prescription cognitive behavioral therapy that you can use together with medications.
Fentanyl Detoxification at Icarus Behavioral Health
At Icarus Behavioral Health, we are wholly committed to helping our clients recover from fentanyl dependence or fentanyl addiction. Over the years, we have helped countless New Mexico residents overcome their struggle with substance use disorder and addiction.
We offer full residential and inpatient addiction treatment, as well as intensive outpatient treatment programs. Most of all, our highly trained and experienced staff offers compassionate and comprehensive care, as well as personalized treatment options to help ensure you get the addiction treatment you need and deserve.
Experience one of the best fentanyl addiction treatment programs in New Mexico at Icarus Behavioral Health. Contact Admissions now to learn more about our outstanding detox, residential, and outpatient treatment programs and get started with your recovery today!