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fentanyl withdrawal symptoms and treatment

What to Expect from Fentanyl Withdrawal

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. This prescription opioid is approved to treat chronic pain often after surgery or for patients experiencing pain from chronic conditions like cancer. Unfortunately, fentanyl produces a rather intense high that makes it highly addictive. Fentanyl is a common substance found in overdose deaths across the United States. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold under the brands Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. On the streets, fentanyl goes for names like apache, china girl, china white, goodfella, TNT, and dance fever, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Fentanyl is so potent and effective at altering the brain that even if someone tries to quit it, they’re likely to experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that cause them to start using again and increase their risk of overdose.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Like other opioids, withdrawal symptoms start within 12-30 hours after the last dose. Fentanyl patches, however, are an extended-release version of the medication that can sometimes last 72 hours to get out of your system after taking it off. Compared to other drugs, fentanyl often comes in an extended-release form. This means the drug is slowly released into the bloodstream and stays in your system for longer. Once someone stops taking it, fentanyl may take longer than other opioids to reach its half-life. Thus, most withdrawal symptoms will take a bit longer to appear. Regardless of the type of administration, as the drug starts to leave the system, most people experience:

  • Sleepiness
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Backache
  • Cramps
  • Pain in joints
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline

The timeline for opioid withdrawal will depend on various factors. The type of fentanyl abused, how long someone’s been taking it, and if they mix them with other substances. Opioid withdrawal side effects can start within 12 hours after the last dose. But the timeline can extend for up to a week in most cases.

  • 4-12 hours: people might experience headaches, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. 
  • 12-48 hours: at this point, most people will also experience flu-like symptoms, excessive sweating, insomnia, and panic attacks. 
  • 2-3 days: here’s where short-acting opioid symptoms will reach their peak. Expect to experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; without treatment, these symptoms can lead to dehydration. 
  • 4-7 days: here’s where long-acting opioid symptoms reach their peak. Most people experience shivering, digestive discomfort, cramping, and chronic fatigue.

Factors That Affect the Withdrawal Timeline

Just like no two addictions are the same, withdrawal processes may also vary from person to person. Different factors affect how long and how intense someone’s withdrawal timeline will be. Some of these factors include:

  • Level of dependency: the more significant the dependence, the more it will take for withdrawal symptoms to appear. They’ll also need a slower detox or tapering process to prevent severe symptoms.
  • Addiction or abuse: someone abusing fentanyl for nonmedical purposes isn’t necessarily struggling with a substance use disorder. This will affect how psychologically challenging it will be for someone to stop using this substance.
  • Co-occurring disorders: someone suffering from a medical condition or mental health disorder may need to take certain medications during their detox process.
  • Length of time taking fentanyl: the longer someone takes opioids, the slower the detox process may need to control withdrawal symptoms.
  • Abuse of other drugs or alcohol: if someone is also abusing other substances, they need to be factored in the detox and withdrawal process. They can also produce intense symptoms that can become troublesome without treatment.

What’s the Best Way to Quit Fentanyl?

Deciding to quit drugs is a huge step for anyone struggling with dependence or addiction. However, sudden discontinuation of fentanyl can cause opioid withdrawal and increase the risk of overdose. Tapering or weaning off the drug is often the recommended method by addiction specialists to quit any addictive drug.

Cold Turkey vs. Tapering Methods

Because fentanyl is so highly addictive, withdrawal symptoms can kick in even after a few hours of the last dose. Once someone develops physical dependence, they’re almost bound to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using fentanyl. That’s what’s known as quitting cold turkey. Another tapering method involves slowly removing the drug from the system to prevent intense withdrawal symptoms from occurring. To taper off fentanyl, your doctor will likely switch you to another long-acting opioid such as methadone. Once you’re using a new medication, your doctor will reduce the dosage by about 20-50 percent each day. Then, they’ll slowly reduce the dosage until you no longer need the tapering medication either.

Medical Detox

Another method to prevent fentanyl withdrawal symptoms is medical detox. This is by far the safest alternative to get rid of any drug in your system. Most detox facilities incorporate medication-assisted treatment or the tapering method explained above to help patients wean off the drugs in their system. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we offer comprehensive and tailor-made addiction recovery solutions that look at addiction’s physical, mental, and social effects. Our detox treatment process incorporates individual therapy sessions, medication-assisted treatments, and ongoing monitoring to guarantee a safe detox process. Eventually, our patients move to reassess their life and continue to maintain their sobriety through our aftercare recovery programs, visiting 12-step meetings, and other long-term sobriety skills.

Addiction Treatment 

Now, managing withdrawal symptoms isn’t an effective addiction treatment. Just because someone manages to quit a substance doesn’t mean they’ll address their addictive behaviors.  A combination of medication and behavioral therapies can be effective at treating fentanyl addiction. While treatment will vary from person to person, it will include one or more of these treatment services in most cases. 

  • Opioid detox: because fentanyl produces life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, it’s not advisable to try to quit on your own. A medical detox program can help you taper off the drug gradually and manage withdrawal symptoms to help you remain comfortable and stable throughout the process. 
  • Medication-assisted treatment: in addition to detox, buprenorphine and methadone bind to opioid receptors in the brain. These medications prevent fentanyl from affecting the brain. 
  • Psychotherapy: behavioral therapies for opioid addiction can help people modify their behaviors related to drug use. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing are all common practices used in fentanyl addiction treatment.

If you or someone you know is thinking about quitting fentanyl and other opioid drugs, seek professional help. Call us at 866-308-2090 today and speak with our addiction specialists to learn more about our comprehensive and personalized addiction treatment programs. Our substance abuse treatment center offers unique and personalized treatment plans because we believe no two addictions are alike. The journey towards recovery is a long one, but together and with your family and friends’ support, we’ll make it. 

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