Fentanyl Addiction: The Most Deadly Opioid
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has FDA approval for treating complex pain conditions or severe pain following surgery.
Over the past decade, fentanyl has been made in labs and distributed illegally. This product is referred to as illicitly manufactured fentanyl. As fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have made their way into the drug supply, there has been a sharp increase in fentanyl addiction and fatal overdoses involving this drug.
Continue reading to discover why fentanyl is one of the most addictive opioids and how to treat fentanyl addiction to maximize the chances of sustained recovery.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is structurally similar to morphine. Fentanyl is many magnitudes stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
You can find prescription fentanyl in branded formulations that include:
Fentanyl was originally synthesized to manage severe pain. The fully synthetic opioid is still prescribed for the treatment of severe pain following surgery and is sometimes indicated to treat chronic pain in those who are tolerant to opioids. Due to the short elimination half-life of fentanyl, the substance is ideal for the purposes of analgesia and sedation.
Classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, fentanyl has legitimate medical utility, but the substance also has a strong potential for abuse and addiction. Other Schedule II substances include cocaine, meth, and the ADHD stimulant medications Adderall and Ritalin.
NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that synthetic opioids like fentanyl were implicated in over 80,000 of the 106,000 fatal drug overdoses that occurred in the United States in 2021.
While some legally prescribed synthetic opioids like fentanyl may be diverted and abused, the majority of fentanyl that is abused is illicitly manufactured in clandestine labs. Additionally, drug cartels are using fentanyl as a cheap bulking agent with which to adulterate heroin, cocaine, or counterfeit prescription pills, leading to an increased risk of addiction and overdose for those who abuse these illicit drugs.
Is Fentanyl Addictive?
Fentanyl works in the same way as other opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and heroin. Binding to opioid receptors in the brain responsible for pain and emotions, ingesting fentanyl alters your perception of pain while simultaneously inducing euphoria.
The sustained use of opioids like fentanyl forces your brain to recalibrate, adjusting to accommodate the continuous presence of opioids in the system. This process is known as tolerance. Tolerance means the effects of fentanyl are diminished and you will become less sensitive to its pain-relieving and rewarding properties.
Many people abusing fentanyl use more of the opioid or take more frequent doses to counteract tolerance. The body continues to adjust, though, and abusive patterns of consumption will accelerate the formation of physical dependence.
If you develop a physical dependence on a substance like fentanyl, your brain becomes dependent on the input of fentanyl and stops the production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) like dopamine in response. In the absence of fentanyl, you will experience extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms – this process is known as opioid withdrawal.
Dependence on fentanyl typically leads to addiction in the form of OUD (opioid use disorder), a chronic brain condition associated with a range of adverse outcomes, both physical and psychological. As with all opioids, it is possible to become addicted to fentanyl even when using the synthetic opioid strictly as directed by a physician.
How long does it take to get addicted to fentanyl, then?
How Addictive is Fentanyl?
The potency of fentanyl and its swift onset of action means that the drug can cause physical dependence and psychological addiction very rapidly, even when used short-term. Some people become addicted to fentanyl in a matter of weeks.
If you abuse fentanyl, this may trigger life-threatening coma and respiratory depression. How can you tell if fentanyl addiction is developing?
Fentanyl Addiction Symptoms
Fentanyl addiction is diagnosed according to the symptoms outlined in DSM-5-TR, APA’s diagnostic tool that is used within the addiction and mental health treatment communities.
The clinical term for addiction is SUD (substance use disorder), with fentanyl addiction classified as OUD (opioid use disorder). These are the DSM symptoms of fentanyl addiction:
- Tolerance developing so you need more fentanyl to achieve the initial effects.
- Withdrawal symptoms manifesting in the absence of fentanyl.
- Taking more fentanyl than planned or using the substance longer than intended.
- Experiencing intense cravings for fentanyl.
- Spending a lot of time obtaining and using opioids, as well as recovering from the effects.
- Trying and failing to control or discontinue the use of fentanyl.
- Spending less time on social and recreational activities due to fentanyl use.
- Abusing opioids like fentanyl in dangerous situations.
- Ongoing fentanyl abuse despite opioids triggering problems in your personal relationships.
- Continuing to use fentanyl even though it is triggering or inflaming a physical or psychological health condition.
- Failing to fulfill personal or professional commitments due to fentanyl abuse.
Fentanyl addiction is diagnosed according to the number of symptoms that present as mild (2 or 3), moderate (4 or 5), or severe (6 or more).
Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
If you are concerned that a loved one may be abusing fentanyl, monitor for the following fentanyl addiction signs:
- Spending lots of time, effort, and money on fentanyl
- Wanting to stop or moderate use of fentanyl but being unable to do so
- Urges and cravings for fentanyl
- Failing to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school
- Secretiveness or lies concerning fentanyl use
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Financial problems
- Impaired balance and coordination
- Difficulties with breathing
- Mood swings
- Sleeping all day
- Weight gain
What Happens in Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
Fentanyl addiction treatment begins with detox. Detoxification is a process that takes anywhere from one week to several weeks, depending on variables such as:
- Amount of fentanyl used
- Typical fentanyl dose
- Duration of fentanyl abuse
- Route of administration– injection, patch, or illicit fentanyl
- Other addictive substances being abused
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
In almost all cases, those who are dependent on a synthetic opioid like fentanyl would benefit from a supervised medical detox program. A treatment team will administer medications to streamline withdrawal, while actively supervising and monitoring your detox.
Buprenorphine is a partial agonist opioid that is approved by the FDA for treating opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine may be beneficial during fentanyl detox. This medication can trigger the CNS depressant effects and euphoria associated with opioids, but the effects are weaker than those triggered by full opioid agonists like heroin or prescription opioid painkillers. When buprenorphine is administered during fentanyl withdrawal, the medication may:
- Alleviate the intensity of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms
- Shorten the fentanyl withdrawal timeline
- Help normalize brain function
Medications may also be administered to treat:
- Blood pressure
Following fentanyl detox, treatment should continue in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Detox allows you to break physical dependence on fentanyl, and ongoing treatment lets you unpack the psychological aspect of opioid addiction.
During an inpatient or outpatient fentanyl addiction treatment program, you may continue with MAT (medication-assisted treatment). MAT is most effective when combined with behavioral interventions like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). A therapist will help you to isolate your personal addiction triggers and you will discover how to use healthy coping techniques instead of fentanyl.
Fentanyl addiction treatment may also include individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and holistic treatments like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
Although there is no cure for fentanyl addiction, most opioid use disorders respond well to evidence-based treatment.
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Near Me
If you have been searching for flexible and affordable fentanyl treatment near you, we can help you at Ohio Community Health.
Fentanyl Rehab at Ohio Community Health
If you are addicted to fentanyl, Ohio Community Health can help. Our team of expert staff specializes in treating drug addictions of all kinds in Cincinnati, Ohio.
If you require a supervised medical detox, we can help connect you with licensed medical detox centers in your area. Medications can streamline the intensity of fentanyl withdrawal and reduce cravings during detox. After a week or so, you can engage with an intensive outpatient treatment program at our Cincinnati treatment facility.
All opioid use disorders like fentanyl addiction respond positively to MAT (medication-assisted treatment) during detoxification and ongoing therapy. At Ohio Community Health, MAT is delivered alongside behavioral interventions like psychotherapy and counseling to produce the most favorable outcomes.
During your opioid addiction treatment, you will identify what triggers you to use opioids, and you will develop healthy coping strategies to use in your ongoing recovery. All Ohio Community Health treatment programs include a robust aftercare component due to the high relapse rates of opioid use disorder.
When you are ready to start living free of fentanyl, we can help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call 513-757-5000 today for immediate assistance.