Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction and Its Treatment

Fentanyl is a very potent narcotic painkiller that is often prescribed and administered to individuals who have already developed tolerance to other types of pain medications. In fact, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is for this reason that it is the painkiller of choice when managing the pain syndromes of clients undergoing cancer therapy, post-surgery clients, and other health conditions whereby the pain can be described as severe and intractable. In many cases, fentanyl is also indicated in the management of breakthrough pain.

How Does it Work?

Like any substance of the opioid family, fentanyl acts on opiate receptors in the brain. This effectively blocks the transmission of pain impulses from the spinal cord so they don’t reach the brain. Because the pain transmission pathway is blocked, the brain is unable to perceive the presence of pain; hence, pain-free. In addition to its pain pathway-blocking effects, fentanyl also increases the synthesis and secretion of dopamine which is responsible for the many pleasant effects that opiate addicts are known to crave for – relaxation and euphoria.

Fentanyl Effects and the Dangers of its Abuse

Fentanyl has a high abuse and addiction potential. The National Institute on Drug Abuse issued a statement warning the public of a possible fentanyl addiction epidemic primarily because of the painkiller’s extreme potency and superlative addictive potential. Individuals who are known to misuse or abuse fentanyl – using the drug in an unprescribed manner – experience intense feelings of happiness, euphoria, and calmness. It has been described that the effects of fentanyl closely resembles the “high” seen in heroin.

Individuals who have not yet developed tolerance to any form of opioids are especially vulnerable to fentanyl abuse. This greatly increases the risk of fentanyl overdose. Fentanyl abuse is commonly indicated by the following signs and symptoms.

  • Unusually slow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Itching
  • Constipation

These manifestations may look benign. However, the major dangers are in the slowed breathing and in the occurrence of seizures. Fentanyl depresses the respiratory center in the brain affecting the rate and depth of breathing. This can lead to insufficient supply of oxygen to the different organs of the body. When vital body organs like the heart and the brain don’t receive enough oxygen, they eventually lead to tissue death. Eventually, when the respiratory depression reaches a critical point, it can lead to respiratory arrest. Seizures have almost the same effects albeit concentrated more in the brain. Seizures cut off the supply of blood to the brain while the convulsions or seizures are occurring. This can lead to motor and sensory deficits, if not worsening of respiratory depression.

One of the main reasons why many succumb to the effects of fentanyl is when they mix the painkiller with other illicit drugs such as heroin or cocaine and other stimulants. The problem is that these substances can potentiate the damaging side effects of fentanyl leading to increased risk for fatal overdose. It should be understood that fentanyl is a very volatile substance and that it is a potentially lethal drug regardless of whether it is taken as prescribed or is abused or misused.

Fentanyl Addiction

The issue about the addictive potential of fentanyl is that, like all other narcotic analgesics, people simply don’t believe that it is an inherently dangerous drugs. Many believe that it is not as addictive as heroin or any other illicit substance. Because of this misconception, the likelihood of fentanyl abuse – accidental or purposeful – is inherently high.

One of the effects of fentanyl is the artificial induction of increased dopamine synthesis and secretion. Normally, human experiences or events are the primary stimulus for the secretion of dopamine in the brain. When fentanyl or any other opioid is used, it replaces the primary stimulus to initiate a cascade of dopaminergic activity.

Over time, the body adjusts to the presence of fentanyl leading to a dampening of the euphoric effects. By this stage, it is said that the person has already grown tolerant of the fentanyl dose. This is the new “normal”. To experience the euphoria again, the person needs to consume sufficiently larger doses of fentanyl or in substantially increasing frequency or even both. By the time that the person is already preoccupied with how to obtain fentanyl to make sure he gets the “high” he craves for, he is already in a stage of dependence. These two, tolerance and dependence, are already hallmarks of addiction.

Healthcare professionals today can readily pinpoint if someone is already developing tolerance for a particular substance or is already suffering from withdrawal symptoms. They use the guidelines and criteria set by the DSM-V to help them diagnose substance use disorder.

Getting Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

Going cold turkey can be a very miserable experience. The abrupt cessation of fentanyl can have its complications often stemming from a variety of withdrawal symptoms. These can range from chills and marked irritability to restlessness and excessive sweating. The severity of the symptoms are often dependent on the nature and history of fentanyl abuse. It is therefore, important to seek fentanyl addiction treatment from highly qualified inclient and outclient treatment centers.

Medical supervision is advised during the fentanyl detoxification process. This helps ensure better management of the withdrawal symptoms, more efficient removal or flushing of the drug metabolites from the body, and greater chances of preventing a drug relapse.

The treatment and rehabilitation phases of fentanyl addiction recovery is best accomplished with a long-term rehab program that typically runs 60 to 90 days. The rehabilitation focuses on equipping the person with the personal competencies needed to manage the different stresses in his life and to resist the temptations associated with drug abuse. The rehab process can include cognitive behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, brain wellness programs, mindfulness training, life skills training, individual and group counseling, and family therapy.

Breaking Your Addiction

Addiction treatment centers that provide comprehensive and evidence-based fentanyl detox and rehab services provide you the best solutions to break your fentanyl addiction. Fentanyl addiction can be a really grueling challenge to overcome. But, with the right help, the struggle can be won.

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