The first step of recovering from fentanyl dependence or addiction is to clear the body of fentanyl and its toxic by-products, a process known as detox. As the body eliminates fentanyl and adapts to its absence, the uncomfortable experience of withdrawal will begin to occur.
Many individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol want to escape their addiction, but fear of withdrawal prevents them from attempting to do so. However, millions of individuals have found solace in sustaining recovery. They found that the detox period was a relatively brief but unavoidable price to pay for massive, long-lasting rewards.
Fortunately, licensed health professions can help an individual manage withdrawal symptoms in a clinical setting. By participating in an inpatient detox program, people can make it through the experience safely and with increased comfort, versus trying to endure withdrawal at home.
What Is Fentanyl and Why Is It Dangerous?
Fentanyl is commonly used for anesthetic purposes during medical procedures for sedating patients and sometimes end-of-life pain management for terminal patients. Fentanyl is incredibly potent even in small amounts, so the drug must be used with extreme care. It has a rapid onset of action and is also rapidly eliminated from the body.
These same qualities make fentanyl an ideal choice for illicit drug makers and dealers looking to cut costs. Tiny amounts of powder can be laced into drugs, such as heroin, to increase potency. It can also be used to make drugs mismarketed as a less dangerous product (e.g. oxycodone) and make it easier to smuggle. Persons exposed to fentanyl may begin to feel high in a matter of moments, and then the drug is rapidly broken down in the body.
As a result, withdrawal symptoms also onset rapidly, and persons who use fentanyl are often compelled to obtain and use another dose in a brief amount of time. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and its closely related analogs, are currently the main drugs driving the opioid crisis and drug overdose fatalities in the United States today.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms
Because fentanyl has a relatively short half-life of 3-5 hours, withdrawal symptoms usually onset just a few hours after the last use. This can be longer in those using a transdermal fentanyl patch, which is a slow-release delivery system. In that case, withdrawal symptoms may not appear until 24-36 hours of patch removal.
The Stages of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Fentanyl withdrawal’s duration can be separated into roughly three stages. Among the first fentanyl withdrawal symptoms to appear include the following:
- Intense cravings
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Hot flashes and chills
Peak withdrawal effects are usually seen 24-36 hours after the last use of the drug. These typically last until about a week after the previous use.
After the acute detox period, which usually lasts about 5-7 days in most individuals, the longer-term symptoms become more apparent. These are primarily psychoemotional and include the following:
- Relapse dreams
- Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)
- “Pink cloud” syndrome
- Adverse feelings typical of addiction such as guilt, remorse, low self-esteem, and anger
- Physical symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal
These symptoms are especially likely to instigate relapse. For this reason, long-term intensive rehab treatment is often necessary to help people return to good mental and physical health and sustain lasting recovery from substance use.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
Fentanyl’s withdrawal timeline can vary. It can depend on several factors, such as the following:
- The individual’s overall physical and mental health
- Genetic and biological characteristics of the individual
- Duration and intensity of the drug use
- Whether or not withdrawal was medically-assisted
For most individuals, withdrawal symptoms subside after 7-10 days.
The Food and Drug Administration currently approves three medications for treating opioid withdrawal – methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
Of the two approved opioids for the treatment of fentanyl withdrawal, buprenorphine tends to have a more favorable side-effect profile than methadone. The buprenorphine-naloxone combo product Suboxone is sometimes used during opioid detox. Naloxone blocks opioid receptor sites and prevents abuse attempts and overdose.
Other pharmaceutical interventions can also be used during fentanyl detox to help with unwanted emotional symptoms, including certain sedatives and mood stabilizers.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Abruptly or “Cold Turkey”
Discontinuing fentanyl use without tapering off will result in a rapid onset of withdrawal symptoms that tend to be severe. The likelihood of relapse during withdrawal is high, as the cravings to use fentanyl to reduce or prevent symptoms can be overpowering. When individuals attempt to self-taper off fentanyl, they are seldom successful because the ability to control substance use is not characteristic of addiction.
Quitting cold turkey is strongly discouraged, as it is the most challenging way to stop fentanyl use. Instead, medically supervised detox and medications, fentanyl abuse counseling support, and symptom management make the experience much more comfortable, safer, and more likely to result in a successful recovery.
Fentanyl detox is a medically-supervised withdrawal process that promotes optimal safety and comfort. It is important to remember that recovery from substance addiction requires much more than merely ending drug use. The underlying factors that contribute to addiction and the mental and physical devastation that result from addiction must be addressed through therapeutic services for the best chances of a successful recovery.
A medical detox involves using medications and medical supervision to withdraw from fentanyl or other substance use safely. An inpatient detox program is the first part of any addiction treatment program. It can also serve as a natural transition to treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support, which are also integral parts of an overall treatment plan.
How to Help a Loved One Addicted to Fentanyl
Before attempting to help a loved one through the withdrawal and recovery process, it is best to consult a licensed medical professional or addiction treatment center familiar with fentanyl addiction detox.
People with addiction problems tend to overestimate their ability to end substance use independently, even if they have failed on previous attempts. Fentanyl withdrawal can prove incredibly challenging. As such, it would likely be prudent to question a loved one’s decision to self-detox if that is their plan.
Recovery from substance abuse is often a lifelong process, and people in recovery from substance use require continual support. Friends and family should be encouraging and become involved in the recovery counseling process as well.
Getting Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
Fentanyl abuse and dependence are highly damaging and potentially lethal, and recovering from such an addiction is an urgent issue. Undergoing detox followed by long-term, comprehensive treatment at an accredited facility such as Just Believe Recovery is the safest, most effective way to rid the body of substances and begin the recovery journey.