Fentanyl withdrawal is one of the most difficult parts of fentanyl addiction recovery.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid drug, and as a result, stopping fentanyl use can create especially difficult withdrawal symptoms.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may last from a period of a few days to several weeks or more, depending on certain factors.
Medical detox and other treatment options can help people manage their symptoms safely before moving into the next stages of recovery.
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The Cause Of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Drug withdrawal occurs when the brain expects a particular drug, but does not receive that drug and responds accordingly in a negative way.
Fentanyl withdrawal is similar to other types of opioid withdrawal.
Opioids such as fentanyl work by attaching to opioid receptors within the brain. This process blocks pain and releases calming neurotransmitters.
However, many people develop a physical dependence on opioids.
The brain compensates by slowing the release of endorphins and increasing the release of excitatory neurotransmitters.
When opioid use stops, the brain will continue to release lower levels of calming chemicals and higher levels of excitatory chemicals.
Without the immediate calming effect of opioids, these chemical reactions cause uncomfortable and often painful withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms Of Fentanyl Withdrawal
The symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include both physical and psychological symptoms.
Physical symptoms of withdrawal are sometimes dangerous, especially in cases of opioid dependence.
The side effects may exacerbate existing health conditions, and some effects such as vomiting may cause chronic dehydration.
The physical effects of fentanyl withdrawal are:
- drug cravings
- runny nose
- muscle aches
- changes in blood pressure
- changes in heart rate
- nausea and vomiting
Fentanyl withdrawal also creates several mental health symptoms.
Psychological symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal may include:
- thoughts of suicide
The Stages Of Fentanyl Withdrawal
The stages of fentanyl withdrawal may vary from person to person.
Factors that impact the fentanyl withdrawal timeline include:
- whether the person has used drugs other than fentanyl (polysubstance abuse)
- whether a person tapers off fentanyl or quits cold turkey
- the amount of time the person has used fentanyl
- the amount of fentanyl the person has used
- route of administration
- type of fentanyl
- individual brain chemistry and metabolism
The earliest withdrawal symptoms may appear within a few hours after the last dose.
However, the withdrawal process may begin later for long-acting opioids such as a transdermal fentanyl patch.
Symptoms usually reach their peak between one to two days after the last dose of fentanyl, and they often gradually subside over the following weeks.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
An estimated 90% of people in recovery from opioid abuse experience prolonged withdrawal symptoms, according to addiction information from UCLA.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may persist for several weeks or even months after quitting opioids such as fentanyl.
PAWS symptoms often mimic mood disorders, and a combination of therapy and medication may alleviate them.
Treating Fentanyl Withdrawal
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms often prevent people from quitting the drug even when they would like to stop.
Medical treatment and addiction therapy can help people manage their symptoms as they recover.
Medical detoxification (detox) occurs in many rehab centers as well as standalone detox centers.
A person can stay in a detox program as the drugs leave their system, while medical professionals provide care for withdrawal management.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications as part of the addiction recovery process.
Many detox centers use a form of MAT called tapering, especially for participants with a painkiller addiction.
Often, people with a fentanyl addiction are prescribed methadone, a long-acting opioid.
Over time, the person can take smaller and smaller doses of methadone until they have tapered completely off of the drug.
Other medications can be used to treat opioid use disorders. For example, opioid antagonists can block the effects of opioids and may help people prevent relapse.
Likewise, non-narcotic pain medications and mental health medications can help people deal with opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction Treatment For Fentanyl
After completing detox, many people continue to recover in an intensive treatment program.
These programs provide various types of addiction treatment, including inpatient and outpatient options, support groups, aftercare, mental health care services, and behavioral therapy.
FAQs On The Duration Of Fentanyl Withdrawal
The idea of fentanyl withdrawal can seem alarming, and it is natural to have questions about it. Here you’ll find common questions about fentanyl withdrawal.
Can You Quit Fentanyl “Cold Turkey?”
While it is possible to quit fentanyl cold turkey, it is safest to taper off this drug slowly. A gradual taper causes less shock to the brain and body, and it can ease withdrawal symptoms.
Can Fentanyl Withdrawal Be Life-Threatening?
Yes, fentanyl withdrawal can be life-threatening. Some symptoms may lead to dehydration, which can become fatal in extreme cases.
Furthermore, fentanyl withdrawal may also cause thoughts of suicide. Pursuing fentanyl detox at a treatment center can mitigate these risks.
Does The Route Of Administration Affect The Timeline For Fentanyl Withdrawal?
Yes, the route of administration makes a difference.
For instance, fentanyl lollipops (Actiq), are fast-acting medications with a short half-life. Because they leave the body quickly, people often experience withdrawal symptoms quickly.
Transdermal fentanyl patches (Duragesic) have a longer half-life, and people taking this form of fentanyl may have delayed withdrawal symptoms.
Is There An Opioid Overdose Antidote?
Yes, naloxone can be used to reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose. Naloxone is known to lessen the risk of overdose death when administered quickly.
Once given, it’s imperative that you call 911 and wait with the overdosing person until emergency personnel arrives.
Find Substance Use Treatment Today
Fentanyl detox can be difficult and dangerous, but you do not have to deal with the symptoms on your own. With the right treatment options, it is possible to recover from opioid addiction.
If you or a loved one need care for a substance use disorder, contact our helpline today.
Published on November 25, 2022
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- Mayo Clinic
- Mayo Clinic
- National Library Of Medicine
- National Library Of Medicine
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)