With the steep increase in overdose deaths related to fentanyl, those using this drug need to know more about withdrawal. This can help them to know what to expect during the recovery process. This also allows people to better prepare for what they may experience once they decide to get treatment.
It is estimated that about half of all opiate-related overdose deaths in the United States involve fentanyl or other synthetic opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In some cases, people are unaware that they are using fentanyl since it is mixed into other drugs of abuse. The risk of addiction and abuse is the same whether someone is aware they are using fentanyl or not.
Tolerance to fentanyl can build quickly. This can cause people to keep taking more and more of the drug to achieve the same high. People who abuse opioids may show the following symptoms:
The severity of these symptoms will vary. In some cases, the breathing suppression can be so severe that it can result in the person losing consciousness or going into a coma.
Breathing complications are not uncommon with fentanyl use. Between July and December 2016, fentanyl was found in 56.3 percent of people who died of opioid overdose across 10 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total figure for overdose deaths during this period was 5,152 people.
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Due to the addictive potential for this drug, when someone stops using it, they can start to experience withdrawal. These symptoms generally begin within about 12 hours to 30 hours after someone stops using fentanyl, according to the Poison and Drug Information Service.
Withdrawal from fentanyl produces the symptoms someone would experience when they are withdrawing from any opioid. These may include:
The person experiencing withdrawal may also crave fentanyl or other opioids. It is imperative that people going through the detox process do not try to alleviate their withdrawal effects by using more fentanyl. After detox, a person’s tolerance to the drug is lower, which can increase the risk of overdose, according to information published in the book Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.
While fentanyl withdrawal typically is not considered life-threatening, the discomfort that it causes can motivate people to take more of the drug to alleviate the symptoms. Working with a treatment center can help to alleviate the risk of someone wanting to use again to reduce their withdrawal symptoms.
When someone is withdrawing from fentanyl, it usually happens in two stages. The first stage includes days one and two. On the first day, the following can occur:
During the second day, the person may experience the same symptoms, but more intense sweating, fatigue, anxiety, and diarrhea may occur.
The second stage is days three and four. These days can be challenging since the withdrawal symptoms can continue and may even worsen for some people. By the time someone gets to day five, the symptoms usually start to ease up. It is important to note that these symptoms can continue for months to a lesser degree.
These symptoms tend to be the most severe when someone opts to “go cold turkey,” or quit the drug suddenly, to get off fentanyl. Those who go through a treatment center have options to keep them more comfortable as they undergo the detox process.
Medication-assisted treatment, using buprenorphine or methadone, is generally recommended for fentanyl detox. Using medications prolongs the overall withdrawal timeline, as the person is slowly weaned off the replacement medication over time. This is a gradual tapering process, however, and it supports long-term recovery.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome may occur after someone has completed the detox process. If this happens, it may start a few months into the recovery process. It is estimated that about 90 percent of people recovering from an opiate addiction experience this issue to some degree, according to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
When someone experiences this syndrome, the following symptoms are possible:
This syndrome can last for a couple of weeks or more when it happens. Talk therapy is typically recommended to help people avoid relapse when they start to experience these symptoms.
When someone is ready to stop using fentanyl, it is best to do so at a treatment center. The facility can provide a full evaluation to determine exactly what the client needs to overcome their addiction. It is imperative that people choose the right facility so that it can effectively meet their needs and give them the help they need to work toward recovery.
The first step is making sure the center works with people who want to overcome a fentanyl addiction. This will ensure that the people working at the facility have the expertise and experience necessary to help the client in working toward recovery.
Most places start with medically managed withdrawal and detoxification before moving onto the treatment process, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As someone goes through the withdrawal stage, they will receive psychological, physical, and social support from the people at the facility.
Those seeking a detox center want to ensure they can afford it. Contacting the facility to ask about the insurance they take, or if they offer payment plans, is important. This will allow people to narrow down their options to the centers that will be able to accommodate their financial situation, so money does not stop them from getting treatment.
All of this information makes it easier for people to see what may happen once they stop using the drug. This gives people a chance to prepare for what they may experience during the treatment process. Effective treatment is the only way to truly reduce someone’s risk of experiencing an overdose.
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Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse. Narconon. from https://www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/fentanyl-signs-symptoms.html
Fentanyl FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Poison and Drug Information Service. from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/alberta/pages/fentanyl-frequently-asked-questions.aspx
Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. MedlinePlus. from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
Withdrawal Management. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/#_part4_s3_
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