Signs & Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction

The signs, symptoms, and effects of fentanyl addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about fentanyl addiction is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Fentanyl

Learn about fentanyl and substance abuse

Fentanyl is a medication designed to treat intense pain, such as the pain that can result from surgery or severe illness or injury. Belonging to the opioid family, which also includes drugs such as morphine, Vicodin, Oxycodone, and illicit substances such as heroin, fentanyl is typically prescribed as an injection, an oral lozenge, or a skin patch. Fentanyl can also be found in other formulations, such as acetylfentanyl or mixed with heroin. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, presenting an extreme risk of overdose even among people who are regular heroin users. Though fentanyl is a powerful medication, it is generally safe when used according to physician recommendations. However, when fentanyl is abused, it can produce powerful feelings of euphoria and relaxation, and these pleasurable feelings can encourage a person to continue abusing the drug. With repeated abuse, it is possible for a person to develop a fentanyl use disorder. Fortunately, this is a condition that can be treated when a person seeks specialized fentanyl abuse treatment at a comprehensive substance use treatment center.

Statistics

Fentanyl addiction statistics

The Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that in 2011, fentanyl was linked to just over 20,000 emergency room visits, or 1.6 percent of total drug-related visits. Fentanyl misuse is also on the rise. In 2004, there were 9,800 emergency room visits related to fentanyl abuse, which is less than half of the more than 20,000 fentanyl abuse visits in 2011. Fentanyl is also widely-prescribed, with 6.64 million prescriptions written in 2014, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for fentanyl addiction

Researchers have identified a number of risk factors for fentanyl use disorder, including:

Genetic: Genetic influences have a particularly strong effect on an individual’s risk of fentanyl abuse. People whose family members have a history of fentanyl abuse are more likely to abuse fentanyl than are people without a family history of substance abuse. In addition, certain personality traits that can increase a person’s risk of fentanyl abuse, such as impulsivity, have been linked to genetics.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance use disorders
  • Personality traits like impulsivity and novelty-seeking
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Having a prescription for fentanyl or another method of easy access to the drug

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction

People who are struggling with a fentanyl use disorder can present with some or all of the following signs and symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using fentanyl in larger amounts or over a longer time period than intended
  • Being unsuccessful in attempts to reduce one’s fentanyl use
  • Being aware of problems in one’s life that are caused by fentanyl abuse and still continuing to abuse the medication
  • Spending large amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from use of fentanyl
  • Abusing fentanyl even in situations where being high is physically dangerous, such as while driving or at work
  • Failure to fulfill major tasks or obligations at home or work as a result of fentanyl abuse
  • Neglecting important occupational or recreational events in favor of using
  • Poor performance at, or frequent absences from, work
  • “Doctor shopping,” or visiting multiple physicians in an attempt to acquire multiple fentanyl prescriptions

Physical symptoms:

  • Experiencing withdrawal, which can involve strong discomfort and unpleasant symptoms when abstaining from fentanyl use for a period of time
  • Needing greater doses of fentanyl over time in order to achieve a high
  • Drowsiness
  • Pupil constriction
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Slowed movements

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Having fentanyl cravings
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Difficulties with attention or concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Poor judgment
  • Thoughts of suicide

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite experiencing interpersonal conflict related to use
  • Neglecting social events in favor of meth use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Reduced interest in activities one used to enjoy

Effects

Effects of fentanyl addiction

Continued abuse of fentanyl can lead to a number of severe negative consequences, which can include:

  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Damage to cardiovascular system
  • Contracting and STI, such as HIV, from sharing needles with others
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of job or other occupational difficulty
  • Divorce, separation, or estrangement from loved ones
  • Loss of child custody
  • Legal interaction
  • Organ damage
  • Death from overdose, injury, or other accidents

Co-Occurring Disorders

Fentanyl addiction and co-occurring disorders

People who struggle with fentanyl use disorder can also meet diagnostic criteria for a number of other mental health disorders, such as:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal and overdose

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal: When a person who has been abusing fentanyl for a long time abstains from using the drug, he or she may experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms, which may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Muscle aches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose or watery eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia

Effects of fentanyl overdose: Fentanyl overdose, an ever-present danger for those who abuse the drug, occurs when a person takes more fentanyl than his or her body can metabolize or excrete. Overdoses are dangerous and possibly life-threatening. If someone who has been using fentanyl demonstrates the following signs, he or she should receive immediate medical attention:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Shallow breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Poor coordination
  • Disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleepiness
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Seizure
  • Unconsciousness

Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs
  • Glasser Quality Organization
  • The Jason Foundation