Fentanyl Addiction

Estimated reading time: 30 minute(s)

As a powerful synthetic opioid, the use of fentanyl is on the rise across the United States. The medication is routinely used to relieve severe injury and pain following a surgical procedure as it quickly eliminates pain perception by altering the brain chemistry. Unfortunately, fentanyl has recently become a concern for health experts as many people have started using it as a source of recreation or to achieve a pleasureful high. Most of them are unaware of the potential dangers this recreational fentanyl use carries, including addiction and overdose.

Fentanyl Use and Abuse Statistics

  • More than 356,000 people over the age of 12 years misused fentanyl in 2020. Keep in mind that this does not include people who used recreational variants of this drug
  • Approximately 150 people die every day from overdoses associated with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
  • From 2014 to 2018, the United States witnessed a 4000% increase in the number of fentanyl traffickers.
  • In 2021, hospitals across the United States received around 123,000 visits related to fentanyl use.

What Is Fentanyl? An Overview of How it Causes Addiction

Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid that comes from the opioid poppy plant. Many doctors prescribe this medication to people in intense pain, especially following a surgical procedure. Sometimes, it also helps cancer patients manage their chronic pain levels, especially if they have become tolerant to less-potent variants.

Read Also About Fentanyl Overdose

Inside the body, fentanyl works by attaching itself to the opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for controlling pain and emotions by releasing endorphins. These endorphins are also responsible for triggering feelings of pleasure and happiness in the brain. When fentanyl binds to these receptors, the body experiences feelings of pain relief along with pleasure and happiness. At the same time, this opioid drug can sometimes overload the brain with reward circuit signals, leading to intense euphoria.

With continuous use of this drug, the brain adapts itself to the presence of opioids and finds it difficult to feel happiness without having fentanyl in its system.[1] When this happens, many people lose interest in hobbies and other activities that they previously used to enjoy, one of the hallmarks of fentanyl addiction. From here, things slowly start going downhill, and if no help is sought, an individual is likely to develop an addiction soon enough.

Sings of Fentanyl Addiction

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction is important to seek timely treatment. Keep in mind that addiction is entirely treatable. Still, it can be a bit tricky to overcome it because of its complex interactions with genetics, brain circuits, life experiences, and environment.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), you may be suffering from fentanyl addiction if you suffer from two or more of the following symptoms:[2]

  • Using more fentanyl than prescribed
  • Using it for longer than intended
  • Experiencing intense cravings to use the medication
  • Spending a considerable amount of time acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of fentanyl use
  • An inability to complete responsibilities at school, home, or work due to excessive fentanyl use
  • Developing tolerance, i.e., the need to keep increasing the daily dose to experience the usual effects
  • Frequently using fentanyl is risky situations, such as during driving
  • Giving up hobbies and other activities that you previously enjoyed due to fentanyl use
  • Experiencing withdrawal as soon as you stop taking the medication
  • Continuing to use fentanyl even if it negatively impairs the relationships

Keep in mind that you may develop tolerance and dependence on fentanyl even if you are using it as prescribed. These two mechanisms are the natural consequences of consuming opioids for a very long time and occur as the body becomes progressively less sensitive to their use. Once dependence sets in; it can get very difficult to get off the drug without experiencing withdrawal effects. Some common withdrawal effects associated with fentanyl use include the following:

  • Goosebumps
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Cold flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Uncontrolled drug movements
  • Achy bones and muscles
  • Severe cravings for the drug

Most people with fentanyl dependence go on to develop an addiction to this drug which they keep on using despite facing the negative consequences. There is no way to predict precisely who develops addiction; however, it is more likely for those who:

  • keep using this drug for a longer duration of time
  • started using fentanyl at an early age
  • have a family member suffering from a drug addiction

Helping a Loved One Seek Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Watching a loved one struggle with fentanyl addiction and continuing to succumb to this life-threatening illness may be extremely painful. Regardless of how helpless the situation may feel, know that you can always play a role in helping them get back to an everyday, healthy life. Mentioned below are some steps to help a loved one break free from the fentanyl addiction cycle:

Learn as much as possible about fentanyl addiction. While the drug can be relatively safe to use as long as a person is following a doctor’s instructions, it is an opioid drug that can lead to harm and damage if misused. Reach out to different resources, books, and treatment professionals so you can truly understand what your dear one is going through.

Conduct research on the treatment options and appropriate rehab centers that specialize in providing fentanyl abuse treatment. This is important to ensure that if your loved one is ready to seek help, you have options to guide them. If possible, shortlist a few treatment facilities and pay them a visit. Talk to the treatment teams and get an overview of their environment and the programs these rehabs offer to determine if they can benefit your loved one.

Make sure to constantly be in touch with your loved one. Fentanyl addiction can easily make a victim lose connection with their loved ones and strain all relationships. In such circumstances, keep an open and nonjudgmental approach as you share your concerns with your loved one, and make sure to lend an ear to their responses.

If your loved one is ready to seek help for their addiction, do whatever is in your capacity to make the transition. For example, you may help them by arranging transportation to the rehab or setting up appointments with the team. You may offer to accompany them to their appointments to make them feel more well-supported. If they are entering a residential rehab, you may help them take care of their everyday responsibilities, such as bills or childcare.

Do not ignore yourself as you continue supporting a loved one through addiction. Taking care of an addict through recovery can be extremely stressful and can quickly put your physical and mental health at risk. So make sure you take some time out to exercise, eat healthily, and get enough sleep. Consider reaching out to your family and friends to lessen your emotional burden from time to time.

How to Treat Fentanyl Addiction Through Professional Treatment?

If you or someone you love has been struggling with fentanyl abuse, know that help is available. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing this issue, most people require a stepwise approach to achieve full recovery.

Most fentanyl drug rehab programs include the following levels of care:


This is the first and the most crucial recovery step that may occur in a standalone fentanyl detox center or as a part of a comprehensive rehab program. Detoxification allows individuals to safely rid their bodies of this drug while managing the consequent emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms as comfortably and safely as possible. The entire process takes place under expert supervision.

Inpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient addiction treatment includes 24/7 care as clients remain onsite throughout the program. As a part of this program, they engage in individual and group counseling, behavioral therapies, psychoeducation, and medications as needed. Joining an inpatient program allows people to remove themselves from stressful environments and triggers and recover in peace.

Outpatient Rehabilitation

Outpatient rehab programs allow clients to attend virtual or onsite therapies and counseling sessions while returning home in the evening. These therapies are more or less similar to what an inpatient program offers but are less intensive.


Aftercare, also known as continuing care, begins when a client officially completes rehab treatment. The purpose is to set people up for lasting recovery in a community setting and hold them accountable for maintaining sobriety.


How addictive is fentanyl?

With up to 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl is highly addictive. The DEA has classified it as a Schedule II drug which indicates that it has a very high abuse liability and can easily lead to addiction in people, even those using it as prescribed.

Are there any other side effects of using fentanyl?

Apart from triggering addiction, fentanyl use can lead to side effects, such as:

  • Sedation
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Anyone who is using fentanyl or any other type of medication is also at risk of experiencing an overdose. An overdose occurs when this medication triggers potentially life-threatening side effects, such as dangerously low breathing rates. This slowed breathing rate hinders the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, leading to a condition caused by hypoxia. If hypoxia persists for a long, it may even lead to brain damage, coma, or even death.

What is the cost associated with fentanyl addiction treatment?

The cost of treating fentanyl abuse varies depending on how intense the issue is, the presence of any co-occurring disorders, and more. Most rehabs offering these treatment programs accept different insurance plans and self-pay options. Additionally, some people can pay using a sliding scale so that the condition becomes easily manageable. In general, the following factors accurately determine the cost of treatment for someone with fentanyl addiction:

  • The duration of treatment
  • The type of care provided
  • The facility’s location
  • The type of insurance coverage you have
  • Amenities included in the treatment plan, such as private rooms, chefs, etc.

How long does fentanyl addiction treatment last?

The length of treatment for fentanyl can vary depending on various factors, such as the severity of your addiction, your treatment needs, and how you respond to treatment programs. Most people recover in up to 90 days while some may continue for longer. Keep in mind that addiction recovery is generally a life-long commitment and most people need to continue supporting themselves with follow-ups and regular participation in support groups for years after completing a rehabilitative program.


1 NIDA. 2021, June 1. Fentanyl DrugFacts. Retrieved from on 2023, February 15

2 Hasin, D. S., O’Brien, C. P., Auriacombe, M., Borges, G., Bucholz, K., Budney, A., Compton, W. M., Crowley, T., Ling, W., Petry, N. M., Schuckit, M., & Grant, B. F. (2013). DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorders: recommendations and rationale. The American journal of psychiatry, 170(8), 834–851.

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