Fentanyl Withdrawal | Timeline, Symptoms, Detox
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Fentanyl Withdrawal

Fentanyl is an opioid medication used to treat chronic pain. However, it is now being found in street drugs such as heroin and even pills like Xanax. Fentanyl is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths and accounts for a large number of the opioid-related death rates in the United States.

Fentanyl is highly addictive since it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Addiction to fentanyl leads to dependence, tolerance, and fentanyl withdrawal—all of which are extremely dangerous and have the potential to be fatal.

Fentanyl can be used in a number of forms like injection, sublingual tablets, nasal sprays, transdermal patches, and even lozenges. The use of fentanyl is under high surveillance due to its addictive and dangerous properties. However, the drug has now become easily accessible and it’s causing more and more individuals to succumb to the opioid epidemic.

In 2016, synthetic opioids like fentanyl were responsible for over 20,000 overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which made up more than 30 percent of all overdose deaths that year.

Fentanyl can be used in a number of forms like injection, sublingual tablets, nasal sprays, transdermal patches, and even lozenges. The use of fentanyl is under high surveillance due to its addictive and dangerous properties. However, the drug has now become easily accessible and it’s causing more and more individuals to succumb to the opioid epidemic.

What Are the Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms?

Since fentanyl acts as an opioid, the withdrawal symptoms of fentanyl mimic those of other drugs in its class. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity depending on the individual, how much they are using, and how long they have been using. Fentanyl is actually more dangerous during active addiction than when you are experiencing withdrawal. However, fentanyl withdrawal is severe and it can be agonizing.

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An opioid activates and binds to the opioid receptors in the brain-altering brain chemistry and proper body functioning. When there is an influx of fentanyl entering the body, both the body and brain become dependent on the increase of dopamine. This dependence creates a tolerance, which will develop greater over time.

Dependence and heightened tolerance are only two symptoms of fentanyl use. Fentanyl withdrawal occurs when the drug is no longer entering the body. The withdrawal aspect of addiction is the most feared and one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.

Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal consist of:

  • Muscle Aches
  • Increased yawning
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness leg syndrome
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Insomnia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Gooseflesh skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

On top of the physical withdrawal symptoms, these psychological effects can linger long after the fentanyl is out of your system:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Drug Fixation
  • Irritability
  • Decreased Mental Performance
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia

These long-term psychological effects make up a phenomenon known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), which may not dissipate for several months after the last use of fentanyl. This is because opioid abuse creates not only a physical dependence but also a psychological dependence, establishing the drug as a source of comfort and happiness. When that is removed, it can be difficult to find a more stable and constructive source for these things. This is why continued treatment is essential once the detox process is over.

How Fentanyl Affects the Brain

Fentanyl is commonly used in the medical field as a powerful pain reliever and is often prescribed as an injection, patch, or a lollipop. Once the drug has been absorbed or injected into the skin, the molecules are received by opioid receptors in the central nervous system, causing a sharp reduction in pain as well as euphoria and drowsiness.

Overall, under the influence of fentanyl, your emotions, speech, critical thinking, judgment, and motor skills will all be impaired. This is due to the fact that its presence affects the neurotransmitter response between brain cells and depresses the central nervous system.

One such neurotransmitter is dopamine, which is responsible for the pleasure/reward system in your brain. By artificially flooding your brain with dopamine, your body will naturally stop producing it on its own, which leads to severe withdrawal symptoms if you stop using fentanyl cold turkey. This is why psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression can linger for months after detox.

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What Are the Stages of Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline?

Initial symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal will be acute. The symptoms will vary from mild to severe throughout the duration of withdrawal, depending on the individual. The beginning symptoms of withdrawal can begin in as little as three hours after the last dose.

The symptoms you might experience consist of sweating, muscle aches, upset stomach, and dilated pupils. As the body adjusts to the lack of fentanyl, the symptoms will then begin to worsen.

Full fentanyl withdrawal will take effect. This time will be critical and may require medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms.

The withdrawal symptoms will peak. During this time, you might experience diarrhea, vomiting, restless leg syndrome, extreme irritability, and mood swings. Withdrawal can last anywhere up to 10 days.

Although the most extreme aspect of withdrawal may be over with, PAWS can last anywhere up to four months after the last dose.

The timeline of fentanyl withdrawal varies from person-to-person. Some people might not have as severe of withdrawal as the next. The treatment timeline for fentanyl withdrawal and addiction may also vary depending on your unique situation, your insurance coverage, and your willingness to see treatment all the way through.

Medications for Fentanyl Withdrawal

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the commonly-used method of administering medications during detox to help mitigate the withdrawal symptoms. Because the withdrawal process from substances like opioids and alcohol can be severe, MAT is essential in many cases.

It is important; however, that these medications be used alongside clinically-proven therapies so that the treatment as a whole can be as effective as possible. Simply administering the medication without therapy is like putting a small bandage on a gaping wound. Instead, these medications serve to replace the more dangerous opioid (such as fentanyl) and allow the user to taper off of opioid dependence in relative safety.

Here are some common medications used for fentanyl withdrawal:

A well-known option for MAT, Suboxone binds with opioid receptors without delivering the addictive high provided by drugs like fentanyl and heroin. This helps with cravings, alleviates painful withdrawal symptoms, and allows you to taper off more easily. However, a dependence on Suboxone can develop if not done correctly.

Also known by its brand name Narcan, Naltrexone is both useful as a tool to fight fentanyl withdrawal symptoms and also as an overdose reversal agent.

Used to fight both opioid and alcohol relapse, Naltrexone (Vivitrol) has the primary purpose of decreasing the desire to use drugs such as fentanyl. However, this should not be used in conjunction with another opioid such as Suboxone.

This powerful pain reliever is both effective and safe to treat fentanyl withdrawal when taken as prescribed by a doctor. It is a primary element in Suboxone.

This highly controversial medication acts similarly to Suboxone, but a dependence on Methadone is common. For this reason, Methadone is becoming less and less popular for fentanyl withdrawal.

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  • Why Should I Detox?

    Seeking medical help for fentanyl addiction and withdrawal will be your best option in successfully abstaining from mind or mood-altering substances. Fentanyl withdrawal is not usually fatal.

    However, the symptoms are uncomfortable, can lead to fatal complications, and they can lead a person to give in to their addiction if they are not in a medical facility. Quitting any drug cold-turkey decreases the success rates of maintaining long-term sobriety. Not to mention the fact that it is grueling, painful, and uncomfortable.

    dilaudid withdrawal symptoms

    Additionally, detox is a vital first step to overall treatment. By ridding your body of the addictive substance, you are setting yourself up for a much more successful therapeutic process. Imagine trying to explore your behavioral motivations for using while you are experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Detoxing first helps you get your mind in the right place before starting treatment.

    The detoxification process in a professional setting will ensure your safety and comfort throughout the process. Medical staff will guide you through cravings and provide you with the proper care. 

    They will also provide you with the medication you need to safely combat fentanyl withdrawal. The medications used in detox programs will alleviate and can sometimes diminish all of the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal.

    What Is the Next Treatment Step?

    After successfully completing a detoxification program, you will be suggested to attend a higher level of care. Inpatient programs can help you continue sobriety and allow you more time away from environments that may trigger a relapse. Inpatient and residential treatment programs are highly beneficial and the success rates after completing the program are higher than if you were to only detox without continuing care.

    Solidifying a foundation in early recovery is vital and the tools to help you learn how to do so can be provided in licensed facilities such as the Palm Beach Institute.

    An inpatient program typically lasts around 45 days. The goal of extended care is to assess the root of addiction and treat it using effective and proven therapeutic methods. You will also be educated in relapse prevention while learning how to use coping mechanisms to sustain recovery.

    Fentanyl addiction is currently sweeping the nation, which is why it is important to seek medical attention and complete an entire treatment program beginning with detox. After inpatient or residential programs, you will be suggested to attend the final level of care: intensive outpatient and outpatient.

    This type of program is less extensive. However, it still provides you with the support and therapy you need in early recovery. These programs also subject their patients to drugs screenings, which will keep you accountable and motivated.

    Begin Your Recovery Journey Today

    Fentanyl addiction is dangerous and it can cost you your life. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don’t wait until it’s too late. The Palm Beach Institute has over 40 years of experience treating drug addiction and alcoholism. Don’t hesitate to take the first step into a detoxification program.

    Our trained professional staff is highly knowledgeable and understanding about the hardships of addiction. If you want to get help or have questions or concerns, contact us at (855) 960-5456. It’s never too late to turn your life around, so why wait?