Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Fentanyl is a highly addictive, potent synthetic opioid. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. Because it is so addictive, quitting fentanyl can be quite difficult. Stopping fentanyl use can also lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal syndrome often occurs in people with substance use disorders or those who have developed an opioid dependence or reliance on fentanyl. Opioid withdrawal is a potentially dangerous condition, so prompt treatment is necessary.
What Is Fentanyl Withdrawal?
Fentanyl withdrawal is what happens when you stop taking fentanyl after your body and brain have become dependent on or addicted to the substance.
Fentanyl is a potent, addictive synthetic opioid agonist. It is used in medical settings to treat severe pain and is commonly abused recreationally.
The drug is dangerous because of how easy it is to overdose on the substance. Since it is so powerful, a dose as small as 2 mg can be fatal.
People who rely on fentanyl or other opioids to function (due to an addiction or dependence) may experience opiate withdrawal when they try to quit using.
Withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as 12 hours after your last dose and may linger for several days.
Common Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can vary based on the severity of the dependence or addiction.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense cravings
- Muscle aches and pains
- Abdominal cramping
- Runny nose
- Having trouble getting and staying asleep
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
Causes of Fentanyl Withdrawal
Opioids such as fentanyl cause the brain to release the feel-good chemical known as endorphins by attaching themselves to the opioid receptors in the brain.
Endorphins are what produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. They also cover up feelings of pain, which is why opioids are commonly prescribed as painkillers.
The feelings of pleasure or euphoria produced by opioids can be so strong that you may begin to experience cravings for the increased rush of endorphins.
With time, your brain may cease to create dopamine and other feel-good chemicals.
At this point, the brain and body may start to act negatively when there are no opioids in the system. These negative reactions lead to opioid withdrawal symptoms.
The Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline
The length that withdrawal symptoms linger largely depends on the severity of the drug abuse or addiction, how often fentanyl was taken, and the dosage.
Typically, withdrawal symptoms can begin between 8 to 12 hours after the last dose.
Symptoms typically peak at around the 36- to 72-hour mark and can last as long as 7 to 10 days.
These symptoms can sometimes linger for weeks, particularly the mental and psychological side effects.
Spotting Fentanyl Withdrawal
To help yourself or a loved one through opioid withdrawal, it helps to recognize withdrawal when it happens.
If you suspect someone close to you may be undergoing fentanyl withdrawal, there are some signs you can watch out for.
Try asking yourself the following questions:
- Do you experience flu-like symptoms when you don’t use fentanyl?
- Do you crave fentanyl or other opioids?
- Are you experiencing feelings of anxiety when you don’t have access to opioids?
- Do you feel like you can’t get through the day without using fentanyl?
- Are you seeking alternatives to fentanyl?
- Have you called more than one doctor to try to get a fentanyl prescription?
- Are you buying fentanyl off the streets?
- Have you stolen a loved one’s fentanyl patches or tablets?
While these signs cannot provide a fentanyl withdrawal diagnosis, they may help you learn whether you need help.
If you or a family member are showing signs of fentanyl withdrawal or addiction, it’s important to seek help immediately to avoid the risks of these conditions.
How Is Fentanyl or Opioid Withdrawal Diagnosed?
To diagnose fentanyl withdrawal, healthcare professionals will assess a person’s physical and mental symptoms and look for signs of fentanyl addiction.
They will also rule out other conditions, like alcohol intoxication or withdrawal, opioid-induced depressive disorder, or other withdrawal disorders.
Safely Withdrawing From Fentanyl
If you are considering stopping fentanyl use, you should talk to your primary healthcare physician or a treatment professional before stopping.
Abruptly stopping fentanyl use (aka stopping “cold turkey”), especially if you have been taking it for more than two weeks for pain relief, can be incredibly dangerous.
Tapering off Fentanyl
One of the safer ways to stop taking fentanyl is to slowly reduce the amount you are taking until you are no longer taking it. This process is called tapering.
If tapering is recommended, your healthcare provider or treatment professional will likely create a personalized tapering schedule to wean you off fentanyl.
It is important to follow your tapering plan closely and regularly check in with your doctor or treatment professional for monitoring.
Visits with a mental health professional might also be recommended while tapering to help manage the mental and psychological side effects associated with the withdrawal process.
The safest way to withdraw from fentanyl is through the detox process. Detoxing is eliminating harmful substances from the body so the brain and body can begin to heal.
Before starting the detox process, it’s important to consult your primary care physician or a treatment professional.
Self-detox can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. For this reason, it’s best to undergo the detox process under the care of trained medical professionals at a local medical facility, a detox center, or a treatment center that offers detox services.
During the fentanyl detoxification, you might be prescribed medications to help curb cravings and other withdrawal symptoms.
Medications that have been FDA-approved for fentanyl detox include:
Follow-Up Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Options (Aftercare)
People facing fentanyl withdrawal may have an opioid use disorder (fentanyl addiction or physical dependence). And detoxing is the first step in the recovery process for opioid addiction.
Once detox is complete, the next step is to start an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
Drug Rehab Programs
Intensive inpatient treatment programs, where people stay at a treatment facility overnight, are the most effective way to overcome fentanyl addiction.
Opioids are some of the most addictive drugs of abuse, and inpatient rehab helps people learn methods for withdrawal management, coping strategies, recognizing triggers for drug use, and ways to prevent relapse.
Many people with substance use disorders involving opioids benefit from medication-assisted treatment (MAT). In fact, MAT is the most effective way to treat fentanyl and other opioid use disorders.
Medications help to stave off fentanyl withdrawal symptoms, which is important since withdrawal is often what prompts a person to keep using a substance.
Methadone and buprenorphine are the most commonly used and effective medications in opioid treatment programs.
Opioid Addiction Support Groups
Support groups are a vital resource both during and after treatment. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and SMART Recovery provide safe and supportive environments.
Here, people in fentanyl addiction recovery can share what they are going through with others who have had similar experiences.
Get Help For Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
If you are battling fentanyl dependence or addiction and want to stop taking the substance, it’s important to consult your doctor or a treatment professional.
They can perform a drug assessment to determine the severity of your substance use disorder or withdrawal symptoms and offer medical advice for optimal treatment plans.
Call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find fentanyl and opioid addiction treatment options in your area.
If you aren’t ready to commit to a rehab program, search for Narcotics Anonymous meetings in your area to find support and peers in recovery.
Fentanyl Withdrawal FAQs
What is fentanyl withdrawal?
Fentanyl withdrawal is the body and the brain’s reaction to no longer having fentanyl in its system after becoming dependent on or addicted to the substance.
What causes fentanyl withdrawal?
Fentanyl releases extra endorphins into the brain. When you stop taking fentanyl and the brain can no longer get the endorphins it craves, it begins to act negatively.
This negative reaction is what leads to fentanyl withdrawal symptoms.
How long does fentanyl withdrawal last?
Fentanyl withdrawal may begin within 12 hours after the last dose of fentanyl and last up to 10 days.
However, many factors can affect the fentanyl withdrawal timeline, such as how long a person misused fentanyl, how much they were using it, and how often they misused the drug.
People abusing opioids like fentanyl for a long time may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which causes prolonged withdrawal symptoms for weeks or months after ceasing the use of fentanyl.
What are the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal?
Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can vary based on the severity of the dependence or addiction, the length of time you have taken fentanyl, and the dosage.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may include:
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
What helps with fentanyl withdrawal?
The most effective form of treatment for fentanyl withdrawal is medication, which helps curb withdrawal symptoms.
Common opioid withdrawal medications include methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone (Vivitrol).
Can fentanyl withdrawal be fatal?
The process of fentanyl withdrawal is not typically fatal. However, the fatal risk associated with fentanyl use is often highest in people who have undergone detox, then returned to fentanyl use.
After detox, the lack of fentanyl in their system may have lowered their tolerance. As a result, they are more likely to overdose when returning to fentanyl abuse.
Fentanyl overdose is still possible at any time since only a small amount of the drug can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 67% of overdose deaths in 2021 were caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl
For these reasons, anyone addicted to fentanyl should seek help immediately.
Is fentanyl withdrawal treatable?
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be addressed by either tapering off fentanyl slowly or through medical detox. Once detoxification is complete, treatment for fentanyl addiction can begin.