The Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction: Plus Tips for Recovery

In recent years, fentanyl has emerged as a catastrophic contributor to the modern opioid epidemic. Originally developed for its potent analgesic properties more than half a century ago, the synthetic opioid quickly…

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In recent years, fentanyl has emerged as a catastrophic contributor to the modern opioid epidemic. Originally developed for its potent analgesic properties more than half a century ago, the synthetic opioid quickly gained popularity due to its minimal cardiovascular effects, lack of plasma histamine increases, rapid onset of action, easy synthesis, and overall familiarity among clinicians. Initially, it served as a crucial element in the management of both cancer-related and noncancerous chronic pain. 

However, the rise in illicit production and distribution, coupled with its excessive potency—roughly 50 times more potent than heroin—has transformed fentanyl into a significant public health threat. According to DEA administrator Anne Milgram, “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat (the US) has ever encountered.”

The misuse of opioids, especially fentanyl, has resulted in the worst drug crisis in US history. A recently published CDC report revealed that fentanyl-involved overdoses increased by 279% over a 6-year study period, with 80,997 reported deaths in 2021. The crisis, which initially stemmed from the overprescription of legal pain medications, has significantly intensified due to influxes of cheap heroin and synthetic opioids supplied by foreign drug cartels. 

Few drugs are as dangerous as fentanyl. Given that even small doses can result in death, recognizing the signs and symptoms of a fentanyl addiction is critical to preventing a potentially deadly overdose. 

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic drug that belongs to the class of drugs known as opioids. It’s significantly more powerful than other commonly used opioids, such as morphine and heroin. 

Fentanyl was originally developed for medical purposes to treat severe pain. When provided under a healthcare professional’s guidance, it can be administered in several ways—injected, applied topically via a skin patch, or taken orally in the form of lozenges. Now, fentanyl is also produced illicitly and used as a recreational drug. Due to its high potency, even small amounts of it can cause profound respiratory depression and overdose, which can be life-threatening. 

The drug is typically available in various forms, including pills, powders, and patches. Fentanyl abuse has become a major public health concern in recent years, contributing to a significant increase in opioid-related overdoses and deaths. 

At Maui Recovery, we’re committed to raising awareness about the dangers of fentanyl, working towards effective prevention, education, and treatment strategies.

The dangers of fentanyl addiction

The misuse of both prescription fentanyl and its derivatives has seen a concerning surge in recent years. 

If you take fentanyl beyond the recommendations of your healthcare provider, you may face the risk of developing a challenging-to-treat substance use disorder. The risk amplifies if you consume unregulated and illegal versions of fentanyl derivatives, many of which harbor unknown toxic substances.

If unaddressed, this type of opioid misuse can detrimentally impact your physical health and emotional wellness and in extreme cases, can be fatal. So if you’re grappling with a fentanyl use disorder, it’s crucial to seek help from a treatment center that specializes in understanding and addressing the complexities of fentanyl dependence.

Factors influencing fentanyl addiction

The underlying reasons and risk elements for fentanyl addiction can be complex and multifaceted. Ultimately, no solitary factor guarantees the development of an addiction to fentanyl. Still, there are common indicators that might make a person more prone to a fentanyl use disorder. This is determined by each person’s unique experiences and circumstances. 

Some potential influencing factors include:

Environmental exposure 

Research suggests that early exposure to environments where substance misuse is common may predispose an individual to develop chemical dependence later in life. This could be due to the normalization of drug or alcohol misuse within these contexts.

Genetics and epigenetics

It’s widely acknowledged that a family history of addiction could potentially lead to addictive behaviors in those from the same lineage. However, it’s the complex relationship between environment and genes that play a significant role in the potential for addiction. 

Epigenetics refers to the exploration of functional changes in gene activity and regulation, which can sometimes be inherited but are not reliant on the gene’s sequence. Using drugs like fentanyl can cause epigenetic changes, which alter the way genes express themselves. These alterations can affect your neural circuits and behavior, potentially increasing susceptibility to addiction or relapse. 

Personal characteristics

Certain personality traits commonly observed in people with chemical dependence include risk-taking tendencies, impulsivity, thrill-seeking behaviors, and co-existing mental health conditions.

Trauma

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Traumatic experiences such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, the loss of a loved one, or witnessing a violent act can lead to overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness. To cope with these feelings, some people might turn to substances like fentanyl, seeking temporary relief or escape from their painful realities. Trauma is now recognized as a key influence behind addiction

Effective trauma treatment can prevent a potentially devastating fentanyl addiction from developing and/or benefit people in recovery from it. 

The signs of fentanyl addiction

Observing someone’s behavior and physical state can provide important clues about a potential fentanyl addiction. Here are some of the most common signs:

Behavioral changes

  • Withdrawal from social and family activities
  • Unexplained absences or tardiness at work or school
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Increased secrecy or changes in social circles
  • Unusual risk-taking behavior
  • Neglect of personal hygiene and appearance
  • Frequent mood swings

Physical signs

  • Persistent flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and sweating
  • Slowed breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness or constant fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Pupil constriction, often described as “pinpoint pupils”

Psychological indicators

  • Increased anxiety or paranoia
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Uncharacteristic bouts of euphoria or lethargy
  • Evidence of hallucinations or delusions

Evidence of fentanyl misuse

  • Presence of fentanyl patches, needles, or unusual pill bottles
  • Frequent visits to different doctors to obtain more prescriptions (a practice known as “doctor shopping”)
  • Financial problems due to spending significant sums on obtaining fentanyl

The symptoms of fentanyl addiction

cropped view of stressed african american man having heart attack at home

There are many symptoms that can surface with a fentanyl addiction. Recognizing them is crucial as they could be potentially life-threatening. 

Always remember that if you or someone you know is dealing with a fentanyl addiction, seeking immediate medical attention is of paramount importance. 

Some common symptoms of fentanyl addiction include: 

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Frequent bouts of confusion or cognitive impairment
  • Respiratory distress or slowed breathing (in severe cases, this can lead to hypoxia, a condition characterized by low levels of oxygen reaching the brain)
  • Chronic gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Severe fatigue or drowsiness, often to the point of nodding off suddenly
  • Weakened immune system, leading to frequent infections or illnesses
  • Dental issues, including tooth decay or loss, often associated with neglect of personal hygiene
  • Skin problems, such as itching, rashes, or infections at the site of injection
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia or oversleeping
  • Appetite changes that can lead to significant weight loss or gain
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms, often indicating withdrawal
  • Frequent nosebleeds if the drug is being snorted
  • Euphoric or depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Preoccupation with obtaining more of the drug
  • Severe cravings for the drug
  • Need for increasing dosage or frequency of use to achieve the same “high”
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures, which can be life-threatening 

How can you identify a fentanyl overdose, and what actions should you take?

Spotting a fentanyl overdose early can be crucial in saving a person’s life. 

The CDC recommends being watchful for the following indicators:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Sudden sleepiness or loss of consciousness
  • Breathing that is slow, shallow, or has stopped altogether
  • Unusual choking or gurgling noises
  • A body that is limp and unresponsive
  • Skin that is cold, clammy, or pale
  • Skin discoloration, particularly in the lips and nails

Actions to take if you suspect a fentanyl overdose include:

  • Immediately dial 911 for medical assistance. (Be aware that many states have laws designed to protect individuals who are experiencing an overdose or those who call for help from legal repercussions.)
  • If available, administer naloxone, a medication that can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.
  • Make an effort to keep the person awake and encourage them to breathe.
  • Position the person on their side to prevent potential choking.
  • Stay with the individual until emergency medical personnel arrive.

Tips for healing from fentanyl addiction—how Maui Recovery can help

Overcoming fentanyl addiction is a challenging journey, but with the right treatment plan and a supportive environment, lasting recovery is entirely achievable. 

Here are some strategies and treatments for overcoming fentanyl addiction:

Professional treatment

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The first and most important step towards recovery is often medically supervised detoxification to manage withdrawal symptoms. This is just the beginning, however. Comprehensive addiction treatment programs such as those offered by Maui Recovery, an expert in the field, can provide a range of therapy, counseling, and medical support services in a serene and nurturing environment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) 

Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are often used to treat fentanyl addiction. They can help reduce cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and maintain long-term sobriety—but should only be used under the guidance of a medical professional. 

Therapy and counseling 

Utilizing evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), can help you understand your addiction, develop coping strategies, and address any underlying mental health disorders—all essential for lasting recovery.

These therapies are available at Maui Recovery, along with a range of experiential therapies, that can take you outside your comfort zone, enabling you to tackle your addiction in a non-traditional setting.

Peer support 

Maui Recovery fosters a strong sense of community, and the healing power of peer support is at its core. Our group therapy and support sessions provide a network of individuals who are experiencing the same struggles and victories, offering emotional support and practical advice.

Lifestyle changes 

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At our recovery center, there’s a significant focus on holistic healing. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices can all help to improve your physical health, resilience, and overall well-being—elements that can also help to reduce cravings and improve mood.

Ongoing care

Recovery from fentanyl addiction is a long-term process, often necessitating ongoing care. This could include regular check-ups with a healthcare provider, ongoing therapy, or support group participation. 

Maui Recovery offers a comprehensive aftercare program, providing continued support for its clients.

Family involvement 

We understand that addiction impacts the whole family, which is why we offer family therapy sessions to help repair relationships, improve communication, and create a supportive environment for your recovery.

Since we opened our doors over a decade ago, we’ve been firm believers in the uniqueness of every person’s recovery journey. Our integrative, personalized treatment plans are guided by professionals who specialize in addiction recovery. 

With Maui Recovery, you’re not just healing from addiction but joining a caring, supportive family that will support you every step of the way on your transformative journey and pave the way to lasting recovery.

If you’d like to talk to us about fentanyl addiction or are interested in joining our ohana, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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