Fentanyl Effects & Warning Signs

Understanding Fentanyl Addiction

Learn About Fentanyl Abuse & Addiction

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain medication, is most frequently used to help relieve pain caused by a surgery or other medical procedure. Similar to, but more potent than morphine, fentanyl can bring on much-needed relief to those who are battling with crippling and disabling physical pain. Fentanyl helps boost levels of dopamine to the reward center of the brain, bringing on feelings of relaxation and euphoria, all while helping control pain. However, while this medication is very effective to those who need it, its effects also entice others who do not need it for medical purposes. In addition, those who start taking fentanyl for a medical purpose can develop a tolerance to the substance, leading to him or her consuming larger doses more frequently just to achieve the same effects. Regardless of why fentanyl is being consumed, it is important to know that tolerance can develop quickly and turn into an addiction, causing fentanyl users to lose control over their behaviors. As they lose their ability to function regularly, it is likely that these individuals have developed fentanyl use disorder, which often requires professional treatment to defeat.


Statistics of Fentanyl Abuse

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), within 2013 and 2014 alone, more than 13 million prescriptions for fentanyl were written. This number does not relate to how many people are abusing this substance, rather it shows how available and easily accessible this substance is. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) offered estimates that showed that between 2007 and 2011, fentanyl abuse was linked to an increased rate of emergency room visits, increasing the total number of these visits by nearly 5,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that from 2005 to 2007, more than 1,000 individuals died from fentanyl abuse and overdose.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & Risk Factors of Fentanyl Abuse

The causes and risk factors that can impact an individual’s likelihood of developing an addiction to fentanyl can include:

Genetic: Some of the susceptibility that individuals face in developing an addiction to opioids like fentanyl can be traced back to their genetic history. Those with family members who abuse opioids or have fentanyl use disorder are more likely to also abuse these substances than those who do not have this background. In addition, a number of personality traits and temperaments can add to an individual’s desire to try substances like fentanyl. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that those traits are inheritable.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Prior experience with abusing other substances
  • Having a novelty-seeking personality type
  • Having an impulsive temperament
  • Suffering from a condition for which fentanyl was prescribed
  • Being in an environment where drug and/or alcohol abuse is commonplace

Signs & Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

The signs and symptoms that an individual will show when abusing fentanyl will vary, however they might include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • No longer taking care of daily responsibilities
  • Spending increasing amounts of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the use of fentanyl
  • Slurred speech
  • Declined performance in work or at school
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for fentanyl
  • Forging prescriptions in order to obtain fentanyl
  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite the onset of detriments as a direct result of that use
  • Social withdrawal

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Constricted pupils
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Drowsiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Attention difficulties
  • Cravings for fentanyl
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Declined interest in things one was once interested in
  • Euphoria, typically followed by apathy
  • Depression


Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

The chronic and untreated abuse of fentanyl can cause any number of negative repercussions to develop. Some of these consequences can impact all areas of an individual’s functioning, from home life and work responsibilities to life at school and in social circles. An individual’s health is always at risk when fentanyl abuse is in the picture. Some of the many effects that can occur from untreated fentanyl use disorder can include:

  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Slowed gastrointestinal activity
  • Suffering from an oxygen deficiency in the body’s tissues (anoxia)
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Legal interactions due to criminal activity taking place in order to obtain fentanyl (e.g. forging prescriptions)
  • Disturbed relationships

Co-Occurring Disorders

Fentanyl Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Fentanyl use disorder can also occur alongside of other mental illnesses. Some of the many disorders known to co-occur with this type of substance abuse problem can include:

  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose From Fentanyl

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal: Similar to the abuse of other opioids, when the abuse of fentanyl is suddenly stopped or reduced, symptoms of withdrawal will set in. Some of these symptoms can be painful, and can include the following:

  • Intense cravings for more fentanyl
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Insomnia
  • Aching muscles
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea

Effects of fentanyl overdose: Overdosing on a substance like fentanyl is highly risky and even more likely when an individual consumes more fentanyl than his or her body can metabolize. An overdose on this substance should be treated as a medical emergency, and help should be sought immediately. Signs that an overdose on fentanyl has occurred can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Inability to think or talk in a normal manner
  • Inability to walk
  • Disorientation
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Severe dizziness
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Confusion

Wilmington is an amazing place to receive treatment and go through recovery from this deadly disease of addiction. Honestly, I would probably still be addicted to pills if I'd done anything differently.

– Megan C.
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