Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that has recently been storming the nation. Clinicians have been buzzing about it, rehab centers are admitting more fentanyl-dependent patients, and Hulu just made a documentary about it. It’s been around for years, but lately it has (overwhelmingly) risen in popularity. If fentanyl has been around since the 1950s, why has it suddenly become such a hot topic? It’s gaining attention because of the number of people it kills daily. It’s official: the use of this drug has become a national crisis. Four of every six deaths caused by an opioid overdose are because of fentanyl.
At ReVIDA Recovery®, our mission is to decrease these numbers by empowering individuals to reclaim their lives from addiction.
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What is Fentanyl Used For and Why Is It So Dangerous?
Fentanyl is similar to other types of opioids. When taken, it creates a feeling of euphoria and relaxation. It can also relieve pain, which is why it is often prescribed after surgery. The problem is that within three days of taking this opioid, the brain can become dependent on it. Because of this, physicians will only prescribe it for a short period. This ensures the safety of the patient.
Unfortunately, some patients choose to seek fentanyl elsewhere when it’s time to stop taking the prescription. This is where it gets particularly dangerous. Fentanyl isn’t an easy drug to measure. It’s 100 times more potent than other drugs in its class. The people who are illegally producing these drugs cannot properly measure them. When someone buys fentanyl from a dealer who isn’t a licensed professional, they never know how much of the drug they’re consuming. This makes overdose all too common.
Dealers will often add fentanyl to other opioids or drugs to create a more intense “high.” This makes it particularly sneaky (and deadly.) Adding this drug to another substance risks worse fentanyl side effects, overdose, brain damage, and death.
The good news is that more and more people are learning about the dangers of this drug, and they’re trying to leave it behind. Many people are turning to therapy, rehabilitation centers, and group counseling to live lives in recovery. The challenge is that once the brain has become dependent on fentanyl, it doesn’t like being without it. When people try to quit, they’re faced with unpleasant, sometimes dangerous, withdrawal symptoms.
The Science Behind Fentanyl Withdrawal
Fentanyl changes the way the brain works. When someone takes it for an extended period, the things that used to make them happy don’t make them happy anymore. The only time they can feel pleasure or relaxation is when they’ve taken the drug. The mind begins to think it needs fentanyl for basic things like the feeling of well-being, sleep, or simple bodily functions. When the drug is suddenly stopped, the brain signals that something is wrong. It needs time to regain its normal functioning without the use of opioids. This is why withdrawal symptoms happen.
Identifying Fentanyl Withdrawals
Withdrawal can occur hours or days after the last dose of fentanyl. It can also occur if someone misses a dose or cuts back on their intake. When withdrawals go untreated, they can become exceedingly painful, uncomfortable, and sometimes even dangerous. Here are some signs of fentanyl addiction to look out for in yourself or someone you love:
- Mood changes
- Muscle aches
- Headache or migraine
- Runny nose
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils (black centers of the eyes enlarged)
- Cold sweats
- Severe cravings
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
The physical symptoms of withdrawals can become extremely uncomfortable if left untreated. People who experience this often report feeling like they’re going to die. Constant stomach pain, tremors, and muscle aches make many feel like they have the flu. This can make it impossible to work, sleep, eat, or spend time with family.
Diarrhea and vomiting associated with withdrawals have been known to cause a lack of proper nutrition and dehydration. Thankfully, this usually passes fairly quickly. For some, it can linger for weeks. This can cause a lack of energy, motivation, and mental clarity.
One of the most problematic symptoms of withdrawal is insomnia. The mind is unable to shut down or relax, making sleep impossible. Lack of sleep can contribute to psychosis, a weakened immune system, disorientation, confusion, and more.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
Arguably, some of the most severe symptoms revolve around mood changes. People can experience panic attacks, severe depression, thoughts of self-harm, or dissociation from reality. They can begin to question who they are and whether they trust their environment. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, but they can’t/won’t get help, it can lead to isolation and dangerous thoughts or behaviors. This can interfere with work, social, and family life. They often need a detox program to experience relief.
Psychological symptoms of withdrawal should always be taken seriously as they can be life-threatening.
All withdrawal symptoms tend to prompt people to use fentanyl again or relapse. Symptoms are instantly relieved with a dose of fentanyl. This is why many people need help to get through the physical withdrawal stage and into a stabilized recovery.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline
Many symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal will be at their worst between days 1 and 3. This can be an unbearable process for many. The early days of withdrawal will often send people to the emergency room. A detox program is often needed to experience relief during this timeframe. Medication may be prescribed to help with this process.
There are some instances in which an individual can experience withdrawal symptoms beyond the initial withdrawal period. Post-acute withdrawals can last months or even years. These symptoms are usually insomnia, anxiety, and an inability to feel pleasure. That’s a big reason why fentanyl treatment is such a vital part of the recovery process. Treatment can help patients process these long-term effects and find healthy ways to cope.
What is the Treatment for Fentanyl Withdrawal?
A combination of medication and talk therapy is usually recommended for Fentanyl withdrawal. Everyone has unique needs, and many need help getting through the process. At ReVIDA Recovery®, we treat fentanyl use disorder primarily with medication-assisted treatment (MAT), group therapy, and individual therapy.
MAT uses a combination of medication and therapy to treat patients in recovery. The FDA approved these medications to lessen withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse or fentanyl overdose, and decrease cravings. The medication primarily used at ReVIDA Recovery® is called Buprenorphine (Suboxone ®.) It’s used to treat opioid use disorder by giving patients relief from withdrawal symptoms. It acts as a partial opioid agonist, which means patients will feel effects similar to fentanyl but at smaller, safer doses. It treats many of the painful physical symptoms that come from suddenly stopping fentanyl. This allows patients to focus on what really matters: recovering from fentanyl use. Buprenorphine (Suboxone®) can decrease the chances of an overdose when monitored and taken correctly. It also works to decrease intense cravings that can lead to relapse.
Addiction is exhausting. It’s traumatic, painful, self-sabotaging, and manipulative. It wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone it touches. One thing is apparent through all this suffering: we are not alone. There are others out there just like us. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently suffering from fentanyl use disorder, and many are right here in Tennessee. Group therapy brings people together that share these struggles, and that’s a powerful healing tool.
Group therapy is usually led by either a peer counselor or a licensed addiction counselor. Some things covered include healthy coping mechanisms, life skills, trauma counseling, and trust exercises. In group therapy, patients will learn how to make peace with their pasts and move forward into recovery. Group therapy aims to teach people how to create beautiful lives outside of substance use. The connections you make in this program can last a lifetime. Your past doesn’t define you, and neither do your experiences with fentanyl.
No matter who you are or where you come from, individual therapy will make you stronger. At ReVIDA Recovery®, our licensed addiction counselors and therapists are trained to bring out the best in people by teaching them how to recognize their strengths, triggers, and goals. Individual therapy helps people with fentanyl use disorder every day by teaching personal awareness and self-advocacy.
Get Help Today at ReVIDA Recovery®
Recovery from fentanyl use disorder is possible, and it happens every day. Do you feel like you could benefit from the care we provide at ReVIDA Recovery®? To learn more about how ReVIDA can help you reclaim your life, call today at (423) 631-0432.