Signs Of Fentanyl Abuse: Addiction, Effects, And Treatment

Signs Of Fentanyl Abuse: Addiction, Effects, And Treatment


Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, more potent than heroin, first used in 1927. It has recently been associated with increased rates of overdose and death. Fentanyl and the related compound fentanyl analogs are often mixed with heroin, resulting in lethal overdose by an accidental or intentional exposure to the mixture.

Fentanyl abuse is on a sharp rise, and its effects cannot be predicted or controlled. As per 2013 statistics, the fentanyl abuse rate is 7.8 per 100,000 of the population (279,000 people) in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than half a million people overdosed and died of drug overdoses in 2016, most of them caused by opioids. 

Fentanyl is several times stronger than heroin but is prescribed as an anesthetic. It is used in the form of patches, which are applied to the body to relieve the pain of cancer patients.

The following article provides a detailed overview of fentanyl addiction, its effects, and treatment.

Table Of Contents:

What Is Fentanyl Addiction?

Fentanyl abuse is not a new phenomenon but an isolated case of drug addiction. Yet, two major emerging trends have been observed: the accidental exposure to fentanyl and the increased production of illicit fentanyl. Neither of these trends could be controlled.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that acts like pain-relieving drugs like morphine, oxycodone and heroin. It is used in hospitals to induce surgery patients to sleep and eliminates pain after surgery. But, fentanyl is usually too potent to be a painkiller in standard medical settings.

Abuse of fentanyl has reached an alarming level, and fentanyl addicts are susceptible to fatal overdoses. Fentanyl overdose is a severe condition, and one must take the necessary measures to diagnose and treat it. People who have become dependent on fentanyl need immediate treatment for their addiction and support to overcome the negative consequences of their addiction. 

It usually takes months and even a year to stop drug abuse, but with the right help, it can be done, and the addiction can be stopped.

Statistics Of Fentanyl Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people who abused fentanyl were 18-34 years old, single and did not have a drug problem. They are most likely to have been addicted to other drugs such as cocaine, alcohol, meth and marijuana, but fentanyl was the only drug that caused death in all such cases. 

The primary route of administration of fentanyl was intravenous, but other methods include snorting and smoking. Also, most of the people who died from an opioid overdose (more than 50%) were already receiving prescribed pain medicine.

The results suggest that increased availability and use of illicitly manufactured fentanyl can contribute to a rapid rise in overdoses and deaths. Moreover, there has been significant growth in the number of states where fentanyl abuse is widespread, implying that fentanyl may be the biggest drug-related health crisis since heroin. 

Physical, Mental & Behavioral Signs Of Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl use is seen in the general population, especially amongst those on prescription medication or those suffering from chronic pain, often due to an accident or surgery. 

Yet, individuals may take the drug without prescription as it is available in the stores without much regulations. Thus, it is crucial to be aware of the physical and mental signs associated with fentanyl abuse. Upon immediately recognizing these signs, one can seek professional help and support. The effects of fentanyl abuse are typically seen within 5 to 8 hours of taking it and can last for more than 36 hours. 

The effects of fentanyl abuse include the following:

Physical Effects:

  1. Drowsiness: The opioid effects of fentanyl are often seen after just one use. The Peak effect occurs within 30 minutes, lasting up to four hours. The initial effects include drowsiness and relaxation, followed by a sense of warmth or tingling sensation.
  2. Hypotension: It is the most common overdose sign and happens when the opioid functions result in low blood pressure due to lowering the heart rate and other vital functions.
  3. Dizziness: Fentanyl may cause dizziness, making it difficult to stand and walk. Therefore, it is crucial to be cautious when engaging in activities requiring high concentration levels.
  4. Blurred vision: It is common in the early stages of fentanyl abuse and may cause the person to have difficulty focusing on a task. It can also affect the field of vision and make the person feel nauseous.
  5. Constipation: Fentanyl can slow intestinal function and cause constipation, making it difficult to pass stool or gas, resulting in abdominal pain and flatulence.
  6. Dry mouth: The opioid functions of fentanyl can reduce saliva production and may result in a dry mouth that is uncomfortable or even painful. 
  7. Changes in urination: Fentanyl abuse may result in increased urination – up to 10 times the average rate – or the opposite effect of decreased urination that can lead to dehydration and constipation.

Mental effects:

  1. Anxiety: Fentanyl abuse can contribute to anxiety and fear, which may persist even after the effects of the drug have worn off. It can lead to helplessness and feelings of depression, which are common signs that one has an addiction problem.
  2. Hallucinations: Like other opioids, fentanyl can result in hallucinations and delusions, which may be accompanied by fear or terror to ward off withdrawal symptoms. 
  3. Depression: Fentanyl abuse may result in depression, a vital sign of opioid addiction. It may last a significant time and make the person feel suicidal or helpless.
  4. Anger: The effects of fentanyl abuse can cause irritability, impatience and even rage, which can put others at risk if there is a possibility of violence. It can also lead to aggressiveness and make one feel like they need to defend themselves against a perceived threat that is unlikely to exist.
  5. Nervousness: High doses of fentanyl may produce anxiety, which can interfere with the ability to perform tasks that need high levels of concentration and precision. It may include activities such as driving a car or operating heavy machinery.
  6. Slowed reaction time: Signs of fentanyl abuse can cause an increase in reaction time and mental or physical sluggishness, which may make it difficult to undertake any activity that requires quick thinking or fast movement.
  7. Confusion: This is likely to be an early sign of fentanyl abuse, which may persist for a significant time. It is also possible that the person can become unconscious and will not respond to any stimuli.
  8. Sedation: It is a sign of fentanyl abuse and may last for hours or even days. It may make one lose awareness of surrounding reality, be unable to control their actions or thoughts, and even forget essential words and concepts like address or telephone number.

Behavioural effects:

  1. Change in eating habits: Fentanyl abuse may produce changes in eating habits. For example, it can cause the person to eat massive portions of food or stop eating altogether for fear of becoming weak and not being able to defend themselves against their abuser.
  2. Disinhibition: The effects of fentanyl can result in a feeling of being physically invincible, which can make the user feel free to do things that most people would otherwise find dangerous or taboo.
  3. Sleep disturbances: Fentanyl abuse can cause insomnia, resulting in the person sleeping 12 to 16 hours a day and making it difficult for them to get up and go about their daily life.
  4. Withdrawal: The effects of fentanyl abuse can result in a sudden need for more of the drug to have any effect, which is also a symptom of substance dependence or addiction.

Fentanyl Abuse Treatment

The effects of fentanyl abuse may vary depending on the amount you take and how often and long you have taken it. While many people abuse opioid drugs without suffering any significant health problems, others can develop serious problems that can interfere with their daily life and make it difficult to carry out activities of daily living. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of fentanyl abuse, Fentanyl Dependency Centre recommends the following treatment options:

  • Rehabilitation centers offer the best opportunity for recovery from fentanyl abuse and dependency. Since they serve as a place of refuge and a long-term treatment option, patients can receive physical, psychological and spiritual care to get healthy and move forward with their lives.
  • Inpatient rehab center; this is one of the best treatment options for fentanyl abuse and dependency. In some cases, staying in an inpatient drug rehab center is required since the illness can make it difficult for the patient to carry out daily tasks. 
  • Outpatient treatment: This is another excellent treatment option for fentanyl addiction. Patients can receive the same care and treatment in a much shorter period.
  • Methadone: This drug helps prevent symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including anxiety and cravings for fentanyl. In some cases, this is good enough for those who have developed an abuse problem with fentanyl or others that their doctor may prescribe.
  • Narcotics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous: This organization provides a free 12-step program to individuals trying to stop taking drugs. 
  • Support groups: These groups are created to help individuals get the support they need to recover. Most support groups focus on abstinence, respect, self-responsibility and having fun without drugs.


Fentanyl abuse can cause many physical and mental problems, resulting in death or severe injury. In both cases, getting treatment for the pain is essential as soon as possible so the individual can start on the path toward recovery. 

Also, it is crucial to understand that no matter the amount of fentanyl that you take or how long the abuse may last, it can still result in dependence and addiction. So, if the only solution is a detox, we recommend that it should be done in an inpatient rehab center. 

The combination of different types of treatment will ensure that the individual has a better chance of recovery and avoiding relapse.


How Much Time Does It Take To Recover From Fentanyl Abuse?

It can take 3 to 6 months for an individual to recover from fentanyl abuse. Identifying the initial cause of the problem and addressing it is essential to have a good chance of overcoming your addiction. Besides, it is also necessary to understand that there is no guaranteed way of getting over addiction and staying sober permanently.

Is There A Safe Process To Detox From Fentanyl At Home?

No, it would be best if you didn't attempt to go through a detox process at home. You might need medical attention in case of complications. For example, you may experience excessive vomiting during the process or feel very weak and dizzy. Additionally, you can take too much of the drug while trying to stop using it, which can cause serious complications.

How Does Fentanyl Make You Feel When It Wears Off?

You may experience symptoms when the drug wears off: anxiety, heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, sweating, chills and muscle spasms. Yet, these symptoms usually subside within an hour of stopping the drug. Thus, it is also imperative to understand that fentanyl use does not always lead to physical dependence or addiction.

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