Fentanyl is the generic name of a drug in the class of opioids. While it is a legal prescription drug used to manage severe levels of pain, its use can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Dependence can in turn cause withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop taking fentanyl, but professional addiction treatment can help reduce or manage these symptoms.
When opioid drugs like fentanyl are taken for long periods of time or in high doses, the body can become physically dependent on these substances. It grows accustomed to functioning with the presence of the psychoactive drug and adapts to only receive the brain chemical dopamine—associated with reward and pleasure—when given the opioid. When fentanyl is taken away, the body goes through a withdrawal process as it learns how to function normally again.
There is a high level of dependence risk with a strong and fast-acting opioid like fentanyl. Its use—and especially its misuse and abuse—can quickly lead to dependence, with resulting withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking the drug.
About Fentanyl Withdrawal
Opioids such as fentanyl can create dependence in just a couple of weeks. These drugs are often only meant to be used for short periods of time, which can provide short-term pain management without dependence and addiction.
However, fentanyl tends to be used for cases when other pain medications aren’t working and the person needs continuous and long-term pain relief. It is also used as a form of anesthesia. Plus, people make illegal forms in labs and use fentanyl recreationally.
Ongoing and long-term use is risky with such an addictive substance. It is highly likely that this type of use will lead to dependence and addiction. When physical dependence happens, stopping the use too quickly will generally lead to a period of withdrawal.
While withdrawal may be difficult, the consequences of continuing with fentanyl misuse and abuse come with a greater potential for danger, such as a fatal overdose or respiratory depression. Illegal fentanyl and other synthetic opioids became the main source of overdose deaths in the U.S. opioid epidemic in 2016.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage yet are generally not life-threatening. Symptoms can vary from case to case depending on certain factors such as the length of time the drug has been taken.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Muscle pain
- Increased heart rate
- Insomnia or drowsiness
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Treatment for Fentanyl Withdrawal
A medical detox program can assist with stopping the use of fentanyl to reduce and manage symptoms of withdrawal. This type of treatment provides medical monitoring to ensure safety and comfort. It also tends to include medication to manage symptoms and might encourage tapering off the drug for a safer, easier process.
Certain FDA-approved medications can help with symptoms during the fentanyl withdrawal process. These include:
- Methadone: This medication can help control drug cravings and to taper off fentanyl with a weaker form of an opioid.
- Buprenorphine: This is another opioid option that helps control withdrawal symptoms, as well as minimize the length of the withdrawal period.
- Naltrexone: This drug can work to prevent relapse to keep you on the path of recovery.
- Clonidine: This medication can ease some of fentanyl’s withdrawal symptoms.
Additional withdrawal treatment options may be available in the future. For example, recent research found that an anti-gout medication already in use helped manage fentanyl withdrawal symptoms in rodents. The researchers are creating a clinical trial to determine results in humans.
Addiction treatment doesn’t end with detox. A detoxification program helps you get past the physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, but it does not treat addictive behaviors. Ideally, a detox program should transition into a rehab treatment program. Rehab provides individual therapy and other methods to work on addictive behaviors and address factors that led to the addiction. It can also provide strategies and resources for sticking with recovery after the treatment program is finished.
While fentanyl withdrawal comes with symptoms that are often difficult to manage, it tends to be more dangerous to continue using and abusing this drug. Also, a professional detox treatment program can ease the withdrawal process and help to prevent relapse. After completing detox, a rehab program can help you work on overcoming an addiction and move into recovery.