Fentanyl Tolerance: Chronic Pain Treatment And The Risk For Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 6, 2022

Fentanyl, also known by the brand name Duragesic, is a prescription opioid analgesic used to treat severe pain. It is addictive and can build tolerance quickly.

How Long Does Fentanyl Last? High, Effects, & Withdrawal

Fentanyl is a prescription painkiller that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is an opioid analgesic with similar pharmacology properties to oxycodone and hydromorphone.

Due to its potency, fentanyl is used almost exclusively to help with cancer pain that doesn’t respond to other opioids. It may also be prescribed for chronic pain if you have already built a tolerance to other opiates.

Regardless of the case, the use of prescription fentanyl is highly regulated. The drug can be addictive and dangerous without carefully monitored use.

How Long It Takes To Develop A Tolerance To Fentanyl

The length of time between the initiation of a fentanyl prescription and the formation of a tolerance varies.
You may experience the first signs of tolerance within a week of starting your prescription if you are more susceptible to opioid tolerance. The process could take as long as two weeks in some cases.

If you find that your current dose is no longer providing the same pain relief, you may need to seek medical treatment.
You should not take a higher dose without oversight from a practiced healthcare professional.

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Factors That Contribute To Fentanyl Tolerance

If you are using fentanyl recreationally or for pain management, you will likely eventually develop a tolerance.

The cause for your tolerance is biological as well as physical and emotional.

Opioid Receptors

Fentanyl is an opioid agonist. It binds with your opioid receptors to block your pain. This phenomenon is known as analgesia.

Like other opioid drugs, fentanyl also causes your brain to release massive amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The sheer volume of dopamine causes a feeling of intense euphoria.

Your brain adapts to these changes, reducing its normal activity to counter the effects of fentanyl. As a result, taking your normal low dose will no longer have the same effect.

Chronic Pain

Many people who become addicted to opioids start with legitimate use for severe pain.

Fentanyl is usually a last resort, only prescribed if your pain is no longer being effectively treated by other forms of opioid therapy.

Unfortunately, fentanyl will gradually lose efficacy. You will have to work with your doctor to find treatment options that may help to manage your pain in order to prevent drug addiction.

Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl can be extremely addictive if its use is not carefully regulated. What starts as tolerance can easily become dependence and eventually addiction.

With a fentanyl addiction, your body and your brain cease to function normally on their own.

Adverse Effects Of Fentanyl Tolerance

Fentanyl tolerance is potentially dangerous because of the addictive behaviors that often follow.

If you are not working closely with your doctor to manage your doses of opioids, there is a high risk of fatal overdose, as well as addiction and dependence.

Higher Risk Of Overdose

The risk of fentanyl overdose will depend on your history of drug use and the level of regulation. Working with a licensed physician who regularly manages patient opioid use is considered low risk.

You are at an increased risk of overdose if you encounter fentanyl in street drugs or if you increase your dose without the input of your doctor.

When you overdose on fentanyl, your breathing will slow to dangerous levels. It may even come to a complete stop. Both situations could deprive your brain of oxygen, making you hypoxic.

Coma, irreversible brain damage, and death are all common side effects of fentanyl overdose. In fact, fentanyl deaths are on the rise as of 2022.

As a result, any sign of fentanyl overdose should be treated as an emergency situation.

Physical Dependence

Your brain and extended central nervous system are highly adaptable. It’s one of the wonders of human biology, but this flexibility will hurt you when you use drugs.

Yet your brain comes to expect the changes caused by fentanyl use. It reduces the amount of positive neurotransmitters it produces and stimulates certain nerve responses.

When you aren’t using enough fentanyl to match the adaptations made by your brain, you will start to experience withdrawal as a result of physical dependence.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • pain
  • blood pressure changes
  • sleep disruption
  • nausea
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • cold flashes
  • uncontrolled movement
  • severe cravings
  • Sedation

Clinical trials show that fentanyl has a sedative effect. If you develop a fentanyl tolerance and start taking a high dosage, you may not be able to function or stay awake.

These side effects will interfere with your daily life, contributing to the damage addiction can cause.

Treatment Programs For Fentanyl Addiction

The opioid crisis is a threat to the physical and mental health of our population. In response to the seriousness of the problem, qualified treatment centers have been built all over the country to help people.

If you are not immediately ready to quit, contact your local harm prevention program. They can help to provide an overdose emergency kit.

These kits may contain Narcan, the brand name of naloxone, to help reverse the effects of an overdose while you wait for emergency services.

When you are ready to quit, you can sign up for medically assisted detox. These programs use medications like buprenorphine and methadone to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Once you’ve been through detox, you can enter counseling through an inpatient or outpatient program.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, and support groups can all help you work toward lasting recovery.

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment Today

With all of these options, there’s no reason to continue battling an opioid addiction. You can find a treatment program that is suited to your needs and provides the support you require.

Reach out to our helpline and find an addiction recovery program today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 6, 2022
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