Fentanyl Detox: How Does It Work?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

To overcome an addiction to fentanyl, a person must go through a period of detox. This withdrawal and detox period can be very uncomfortable, but there are a few things that a person can do to make the process go more smoothly.

Fentanyl Detox

Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid that was designed for the treatment of severe pain. It also produces a pleasant euphoria that makes it very addictive.

Because fentanyl is addictive, it can be very difficult and uncomfortable when a person tries to stop taking it. Many times, people continue using fentanyl simply to avoid withdrawal.

When detox and withdrawal are conducted at a specialized detox center or treatment facility, the chances for success are much greater.

A professional detox treatment program ensures that medical help is always available, making withdrawal from fentanyl addiction safer and more comfortable.

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What Is Detoxification From Fentanyl?

Detoxification is the process of eliminating fentanyl from a person’s system completely while abstaining from further use of fentanyl.

There are multiple ways for a person to achieve this, but the end goal is always to be completely sober from fentanyl and all other opioids.

Why Is Fentanyl Detox Necessary?

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug to be addicted to because it poses a very high risk of overdose. The longer a person uses fentanyl, the higher their risk for fentanyl overdose.

While it is possible for a person to quit using fentanyl suddenly, or “cold turkey,” this method does not have a high success rate and can be very dangerous.

Instead, a medical detox program allows for safe withdrawal either under constant supervision or at a person’s convenience — whichever is best for them.

The Stages Of Fentanyl Detox

The three stages of fentanyl withdrawal are early, peak, and long-term. Long-term withdrawal is also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

The early stage of detox begins between six and 12 hours after the last dose of fentanyl was taken. Withdrawal symptoms generally start as somewhat mild and grow in intensity over time.

The worst symptoms of withdrawal are felt during the peak phase of detox, which usually begins about two days after the last dose of fentanyl. This phase is when relapse is most likely.

Long-term withdrawal begins after physical withdrawal symptoms subside. During this time, a person may still experience mild psychological symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal.

For most people, long-term withdrawal will only last for a few weeks. In some cases, however, it can turn into PAWS.

Why Opioid Addiction Leads To Withdrawal

When someone is addicted to opioids, they are dependent on them in order to feel normal in their everyday lives.

Without opioids, they may feel physically ill and mentally agitated. They will also likely experience very strong cravings to use opioids again.

Once someone has developed an opioid use disorder, they may find themselves in a constant cycle of active opioid use and withdrawal.

How Common Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms Are Treated

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, but they can be treated with opioid replacement therapy.

These types of medications activate opioid receptors and can mimic the effects of fentanyl, while allowing a person to be weaned off the drug at a comfortable rate.

Common symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal may include:

  • runny nose
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • muscle aches and pains
  • cravings
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • restlessness
  • chills
  • sweating

How Life-Threatening Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms Are Treated

Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl are rarely considered to be life-threatening.

A person may develop complications such as dehydration, however, from excessive vomiting or diarrhea during withdrawal. This can be treated with intravenous fluids and electrolytes.

Strong cravings can be life-threatening if they lead to continued fentanyl abuse, as a person is at higher risk for overdose if their tolerance has been brought down through detox.

Someone who is going through opioid detox should plan to have naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, on hand in the event of relapse and overdose.

Top Fentanyl Detoxification Treatment Methods

While it is possible for a person to go through detox on their own, it is not recommended. This is especially true for a drug like fentanyl, which poses a high risk of overdose.

It is much safer to go through the detox process under the supervision of healthcare providers.

Medical Detoxification

Medical detox usually happens within an inpatient or residential treatment setting and can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

This detox method uses medications to help ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, allowing a person to get through this difficult period safely and comfortably.

One of the biggest benefits of this method is that the person going through withdrawal has constant medical supervision in case any problems arise during detox.

Drug Tapering

Drug tapering involves decreasing the dose of a medication gradually over time, giving a person’s body and brain time to adjust between each decrease in dosage.

This type of detox is usually done under the guidance of a medical professional and can take up to several months to complete.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses the opioid replacement medications methadone and buprenorphine to help ease a person through the withdrawal period.

Naltrexone is also a medication used in the treatment of opioid addiction, however, a person must be completely detoxed from opioids before using it.

This type of treatment can be done at an outpatient substance use treatment center and usually lasts several weeks to several months.

Post-Detox Addiction Treatment For Fentanyl

As beneficial as detox is while overcoming addiction, it is only the very first step in the recovery process.

After detox has been successfully completed, it is a good idea for anyone overcoming an addiction to fentanyl to continue their recovery in either an inpatient or outpatient center.

Other treatment options for opioid addiction may include:

  • behavioral therapy
  • interventions
  • individualized treatment plans
  • peer support groups
  • medication management
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • case management
  • aftercare and relapse prevention support

FAQs For Fentanyl Detox

The following are a few of the most common questions that people have about fentanyl detox and withdrawal.

Fentanyl detox can take anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on the severity of the addiction and the type of detox method used.

Both methadone and buprenorphine are effective, however, buprenorphine for addiction treatment is often considered the most favorable because it has less severe potential side effects.

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome from fentanyl addiction can last anywhere from six months to two years.

The biggest risk associated with fentanyl relapse is an opioid overdose, as it becomes much easier for a person to accidentally take too much fentanyl after not using it for a period of time.

Find Substance Use Treatment Today

There is no shame in asking for help with fentanyl abuse if you are concerned about yourself or a loved one.

Call our helpline when you are ready to get started with fentanyl detox treatment, and we can help you find a quality rehab center in your area.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on
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