Have Questions?
We Have Answers!

Get Help - Find a Rehab Center Today

Speak with a certified drug and alcohol counselor

For help finding an addiction treatment center, Call us!

All calls are 100% confidential and free


100% Confidential Help Request

Contact us now to get immediate help: 1-877-882-9275

Article Summary

A Guide To Fentanyl Addiction

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), the development of a fentanyl epidemic is in the offing due to the drug's potential for addiction and immense potency. Originally created in 1960 by Paul Janssen at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the substance was designed for fast patient relief with short term effects. As such, fentanyl users feel relaxed and euphoric but might end up abusing it to achieve the same feelings after it wears off.

Today, fentanyl is produced and marketed in the form of dissolvable pills and tongue films, intravenous injections, lollipops, and patches. Since it is administered in the hospital setting, people with easy access to fentanyl (including those working in and around healthcare settings) might get hooked to it. Others start using it while following medical prescriptions but soon become dependent.

Due to its relaxing effects and powerful pain relief capabilities, fentanyl is one of the most sought after substances. Some users mix it with cocaine or heroin to achieve an even more intense high. However, such combinations are as dangerous as they are fatal.

Understanding Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic resembling morphine in makeup but 50-100 times as potent. As a Schedule II substance, it is used in hospitals to provide pain relief patients after surgery or serious accidents. The medication is also useful in the treatment of chronic pain among patients who are already tolerant to opioids.

As a prescription, fentanyl is referred to as Sublimaze', Actiq', and Duragesic'. However, its names on the street (which also refer to the fentanyl laced with heroin) include Cash, Tango, TNT, Murder 8, Goodfella, Friend, Dance Fever, China White, China Girl, and Apache.

Although no data exists on the co-occurring disorders revolving around this drug, expert assume there are overlaps between fentanyl and other opioids. Disorders in this class of drugs include medical addictions (such as HIV and Hepatitis C), additional substance abuse disorders (including benzodiazepines, stimulants, cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco), depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and insomnia.

Fentanyl Uses

As mentioned above, fentanyl was created for use as a pain reliever before, during, and after surgery. Doctors also prescribe it for treating the severe flare-up of pain caused by cancer.

This drug is short-acting especially in comparison to other painkillers and is effective because it inhibits the pain pathways leading from the painful site to the brain. In this manner, fentanyl is different from most OTC (over the counter) painkillers like NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that affect the local or peripheral site that is hurting.

After use, fentanyl produces euphoria and pleasurable sedation, which gives it a high potential for abuse and subsequent addiction. Most people abuse it while trying to drown their emotional pain with the rush of pleasure and high feeling it creates. When it interacts with the opioid receptors in the reward segments of the brain, fentanyl reinforces repeated use.

Since women have a higher likelihood of suffering chronic pain, they also have a higher risk of getting hooked to fentanyl. Teens, on the other hand, start abusing the substance after getting or stealing it from relatives and friends.

Although you might start taking this prescription drug to deal with pain, with time you may end up abusing and becoming addicted to it. This is because it will increase the dopamine activity in the brain and create euphoria. After you get used to this high sensation after daily use, you may eventually abuse the drug and turn into an addict.

Fentanyl Effects

The most common effect from fentanyl use and abuse is tolerance, where you will need more of it to achieve the same effect. Some users also suffer withdrawal illness when they stop using the drug or decrease its dosage.

After you develop a long term problem to the medication, you will start experiencing adverse effects. These come in the form of severe physical and mental side effects arising from prolonged abuse, and include:

a) Physical Effects
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Severe gastrointestinal problems, such as bowel perforation and obstruction
  • Weakened immune system
b) Mental Effects
  • Delusions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Paranoia
  • Personality changes
  • Social withdrawal

If you combine it with other drugs off the street, such as heroin, you will increase your risk of dying, going into a coma, or suffering respiratory distress. This is especially so where the street drugs are depressants.

Fentanyl Side Effects

Getting high on fentanyl is similar in feeling to heroin use. To this end, it will cause:

  • Euphoria
  • Reduced pain perception
  • Relaxation

Most of the people who seek the effects listed above will usually start abusing fentanyl by consuming it without a valid prescription, mixing it with other substances, and using higher doses. All these situations might turn fatal.

That said, the most common side effects arising from fentanyl use include:

  • Altered heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Constricted pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Fentanyl Addictive Qualities

Most people never realize that they are getting hooked to fentanyl. This is because they enjoy the relief provided by the drug from a state of chronic pain as well as the highly pleasurable effects it eschews.

As an opioid, fentanyl is in a class of effective and powerful drugs used for pain relief. Opioids work by binding themselves to the mu-opioid receptors distributed throughout the spinal cord and brain. These receptors inhibit and reduce pain.

Fentanyl, in particular, carries a high potential for abuse because it induces euphoria in the Nucleus Accumbens segment of the brain.

After continued use, your body will develop tolerance to the drug. This is because your body's response to it will reduce while the duration of the action of the medication will reduce.

At this point, you will start taking higher doses to get a similar high. Eventually, this will result in negative emotions when you have a hard time getting your hands on fentanyl - leading to irritability, anxiety, and depression. It is at this point that dependence, as well as addiction, take hold of your body.

Some of the common signs that you might be hooked to this medication include:

  • Inability to make proper judgments
  • Difficulty in deriving pleasure from ordinary occurrences, family, and friends
  • Taking larger doses of the substance in the long term
  • Shopping for a doctor and adopting other questionable measures to get your hands on the drug

Fentanyl Overdose

In 2015 the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) responded to the growing cases of fentanyl abuse. It released a national alert showing the many dangers of fentanyl and the other substances people abuse while on fentanyl. As per various other bodies, the unsupervised and illicit use of this painkiller can prove to be dangerous even in doses that are small as 0.25 mg.

That said, the rates of overdose from fentanyl have been going up. The New York Times reports that 78 users lose their lives after overdosing on this opioid. Even more recently, the rate of overdose from opiate abuse among women had already surpassed those among men further raising this drug's risk profile.

Overdosing on fentanyl causes a variety of side effects - going from slow breathing through to seizures and eventually death. In the years 2012 to 2014, the total number of seizures induced by fentanyl rose by over 640%.

When you take tons of the medication, your body will lose its urge continue breathing. Further, a growing number of people have been overdosing on the drug because they are not aware of the doctor-recommended dosage.

As a strong drug, fentanyl sometimes leads overdose death as a result of the respiratory failure it causes. Increasing use is evidenced by the total number of related deaths around the globe.

Taking more of this substance than your body can handle will lead to a life-threatening and severe overdose, with the following symptoms and signs:

  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Shallow or difficult breathing
  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Failure to respond to painful stimuli
  • Severe confusion.
  • Obtundation (or a muddy level of consciousness).

When and if you ever recognize any or all of the signs listed above in another person or in your help, you should seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

Fentanyl Withdrawal

When you start facing the mounting problems and health risks posed by fentanyl, you will start looking for a way to deal with the abuse and dependence. However, if you try to self-manage your addiction, you are undoubtedly going to fail because of the rather severe withdrawal symptoms arising after addiction and dependence.

The pain from the acute opioid withdrawal will eventually take a turn for the worse and you will end up relapsing back to fentanyl use and abuse. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms you will suffer include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle twitching
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Fentanyl Dangers

    Like most of the other commonly abused prescription medications, fentanyl can prove to quite dangerous and harmful. In some instances, it might even prove fatal especially after it leads to respiratory failure and eventual death.

    Due to the drug's potency, doctors only administer fentanyl for patients who are already tolerant to the medication. If you use it and you don't have a valid tolerance to opioid, you will undoubtedly risking your health and well being. In fact, first time users who try to use the medication recreationally or as an experiment will soon find themselves facing the dangers of overdose.

    As mentioned above, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II substance, meaning that the potential for use, abuse, and addiction can grab hold of your life in the shortest time possible. The only way to ensure you do not fall find yourself in this predicament would be by getting a qualified physician/

    Last but not least, mixing the drug with such illicit narcotics as heroin or stimulants like cocaine will amplify the damaging side effects caused by such mixing. That said, fentanyl is potentially lethal and volatile whether you take it according to your doctor's instructions or you abuse it recreationally.


    Many patients admitted in hospitals would never believe that OPRs like this harbor the same level of significant addiction as heroin and other street drugs. This means that the risk of intentional or accidental abuse is even higher.

    The medication leaves a long lasting impact on the central nervous system and causes dopamine to flow excessively. It also alters the chemical composition of the brain with time.

    These neurochemical changes mean that patients who received a fentanyl prescription from their doctors will become dependent. Some might even resort to illegal methods to get the drug especially after they exhaust the prescribed amount.

    Once you become tolerant to fentanyl's narcotic properties, you will start depending on it to continue feeling normal. This simultaneously means that you will need more of it to achieve the same sensations you used to feel when you got into it.

    The common symptoms of fentanyl abuse, to this end, include but are not limited to:

    a) Behavioral Symptoms
    • Acting lethargic
    • Withdrawing family, friends, and society at large
    • Refusal or failure to continue pursuing previous interests and passions
    • Lying
    • Engaging in deception and secrecy
    • Taking part in reckless, risky, or otherwise downright dangerous
    b) Physical Symptoms
    • Shallow breathing
    • Labored breathing
    • Slowed heart rate
    • Drowsiness
    • Nausea
    • Constipation
    • Gastrointestinal distress
    c) Cognitive Symptoms
    • Disorientation
    • Confusion
    • Inability to concentrate
    • Inability to focus
    • Impaired judgment
    d) Psychosocial Symptoms
    • Anxiety
    • Paranoia
    • Mood swings
    • Euphoria
    • Dysphoria

    Treatment For Fentanyl Addiction

    Although it might be not be life-threatening, when you cut out fentanyl through the cold turkey method you will feel miserable and uncomfortable. If you are addicted to the drug, you will have become dependent on it. This means that withdrawal will take a painful toll.

    Withdrawal varies in severity depending on a wide variety of factors. These include the chosen form of the drug, the level of use, and more. You will, for instance, suffer restlessness and sweating, as well as chills and irritability.

    The best solution would be to visit a specialized treatment center for the outpatient and inpatient resources you need until you quit using this substance. After detoxification and rehabilitation, you will also be provided with information on how to reduce the chances of relapsing.







    National Non Profit Helpline - 1-877-882-9275
    Our National Non Profit Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families faced with mental and/or substance use disorders.

    All calls are strictly confidential

    Our service provides referrals to licensed treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. You don't have to struggle alone with addiction. Help is just a phone call away. Call 1-877-882-9275 now to get the help you need and deserve.


    Organizations We Support