Fentanyl Addiction Symptoms & Warning Signs

Understanding Fentanyl Addiction

Learn about fentanyl addiction & abuse

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that is commonly prescribed to people who struggle with pain after surgery or other medical procedures or because of cancer or certain other conditions. This substance, which is similar to morphine but more potent, can alleviate an individual’s crippling symptoms of severe pain.

Fentanyl works by boosting levels of dopamine in the reward center of the brain, bringing about feelings of relaxation and euphoria all while reducing an individual’s pain sensations. However, while fentanyl is effective for those who medically require it, the effects of this drug produce such great levels of pleasure that they are often enticing to those who do not need it medically. In addition, those who start consuming fentanyl for medical purposes can find that they develop a tolerance to it, leading to them ingesting larger doses than prescribed, or taking it more frequently than recommended to achieve these results. A tolerance can quickly turn into an addiction, regardless of if fentanyl is being taken for medical purposes or recreationally, which can cause users to lose control over their behaviors.

If a person’s day-to-day functionality is negatively impacted by his or her use of fentanyl, yet the individual continues to abuse this dangerous drug, it is likely that he or she has developed fentanyl use disorder and may be in need of professional treatment.


Statistics on fentanyl addiction & abuse

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), more than 13 million fentanyl prescriptions were written in 2013 and 2014. This statistic does not exactly relate to the number of individuals who are abusing this medication; however it does show how common this drug is. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) released estimates that show that between 2007 and 2011, the abuse of fentanyl played a major role in about 5,000 emergency room visits. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that between 2005 and 2007, more than 1,000 people died from fentanyl abuse/overdose.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for fentanyl abuse

The causes and risk factors linked to an individual’s likelihood of developing a fentanyl addiction can include:

Genetic: A majority of the vulnerability that individuals have regarding an addiction to opioids such as fentanyl depends on their genetic makeup. Those who have family members who have battled with fentanyl or other opioid use disorders are at an increased risk for developing the same issues than those who do not have this family background. In addition, there are specific personality traits and temperaments that can add to the development of an opioid use disorder, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports those as being hereditary.

Risk Factors:

  • Having an impulsive temperament
  • Having a novelty-seeking personality
  • Prior experience with abusing other substances
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Being in an environment where drug and/or alcohol abuse is common
  • Suffering from a condition for which fentanyl was prescribed
  • Having easy access to obtaining fentanyl

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse

The signs and symptoms linked to fentanyl abuse will vary from individual to individual, however can include some (if not all) of the following:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Forging prescriptions to obtain fentanyl
  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite the onset of detriments as a direct result of that use
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for fentanyl
  • No longer taking care of daily responsibilities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Spending increasing amounts of time obtaining, using, and recovering from fentanyl use
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Declined performance in work or at school
  • Slurred speech

Physical symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Insomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Concentration difficulties
  • Attention difficulties
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired memory
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Cravings for fentanyl

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Declined interest in things one was previously interested in
  • Depression
  • Euphoria, typically followed by apathy


Effects of fentanyl addiction & abuse

The continued abuse of a substance like fentanyl can bring about a number of many negative consequences within a person’s life. Consequences can occur at home, at work, in school, and within social settings. A person’s health can also suffer dramatically from fentanyl abuse. Some of the many effects that can develop in response to an untreated fentanyl use disorder can include:

  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Financial difficulties
  • Job loss
  • Disturbed relationships
  • Legal interactions due to criminal activity to obtain fentanyl (such as forging prescriptions)
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Impaired visual activity
  • Suffering from anoxia, or an oxygen deficiency in the body’s tissues
  • Slowed gastrointestinal activity
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental health symptoms

Co-Occurring Diorders

Co-occurring disorders

A fentanyl addiction can co-occur with other mental illnesses. Some of these illnesses can include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal and overdose

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal: Similar to the abuse of other opioids, abusing a substance like fentanyl and then attempting to suddenly stop or dramatically reduce use can trigger withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be painful, and might include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Aching muscles
  • Intense cravings for more fentanyl
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Insomnia
  • Dilated pupils

Effects of fentanyl overdose: Overdosing on fentanyl is a major risk for those who abuse this substance. An overdose occurs when fentanyl is consumed at a rate where the body is no longer able to metabolize it. An overdose on any substance, including fentanyl, can be fatal and should be treated as a medical emergency. Signs that a person is experiencing a fentanyl overdose can include:

  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to walk
  • Inability to think or talk in a normal manner
  • Severe dizziness