Fentanyl Abuse Information

Understanding Fentanyl Addiction

Learn About Fentanyl Addiction & Abuse

Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid pain medication that is most commonly used to treat pain following a surgery or another type of significant medical procedure. Similar to morphine, yet much more potent, fentanyl can provide much-needed relief to individuals who are suffering from the distressing, and often debilitating symptoms, of severe pain. Fentanyl works by increasing the level of dopamine that is released to the reward areas of the brain, eliciting feelings of profound relaxation and euphoria, while simultaneously eliminating an individual’s ability to feel pain. Yet, while this serves a very specific medical purpose for many individuals, the effects of this substance are also so pleasurable that they are enticing to people who do not possess a medical reason for consuming it. Additionally, people who begin taking fentanyl for legitimate medical purposes may also find that they have developed a tolerance to the substance, resulting in their taking greater dosages or consuming the drug more frequently in order to achieve the same desired results. Whether being taken for legitimate purposes or for recreational reasons, the tolerance that develops can quickly morph into an addiction and leave fentanyl users struggling to gain control over their behaviors. As their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis begins to deteriorate, it is likely that they have developed fentanyl use disorder and will ultimately require professional intervention in order to defeat it.


Fentanyl Abuse Statistics

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has reported that, in 2013 and 2014 alone, over 13 million prescriptions were written for fentanyl. While this does not directly correlate with the number of people who abuse this substance, it does demonstrate the ease of access with which individuals may be capable of obtaining it. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) provided estimates that, between 2007 and 2011, fentanyl abuse played a direct role in an increased amount of emergency room visits, increasing the total number by almost 5,000. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, between 2005 and 2007, over 1,000 people died from fentanyl abuse and overdose.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Fentanyl Abuse

The causes and risk factors that can impact an individual’s susceptibility to developing an addiction to fentanyl are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Some of the vulnerability that individuals possess towards developing an addiction to opioids like fentanyl can be found in their genetic background. Individuals who have family members who have struggled with fentanyl use disorder or another type of opioid use disorder are at a greater risk for developing the same type of addiction than are individuals who do not have that type of family history. Additionally, there are certain personality types and temperaments that can contribute to the desire to experiment with substance abuse, and those personalities and temperaments are noted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as being inheritable.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a novelty-seeking personality type
  • Having an impulsive temperament
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Prior experience with abusing other substances
  • Having easy access to obtaining fentanyl
  • Suffering from a condition for which fentanyl was prescribed
  • Being in an environment where drug and/or alcohol abuse is commonplace

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

The signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse will vary from person to person, but may include some or all of the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite the onset of detriments as a direct result of that use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Spending increasing amounts of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the use of fentanyl
  • Slurred speech
  • Declined performance in work or at school
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • No longer taking care of daily responsibilities
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for fentanyl
  • Forging prescriptions in order to obtain fentanyl

Physical symptoms:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Attention difficulties
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Cravings for fentanyl
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria, typically followed by apathy
  • Declined interest in things one was once interested in


Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

The continued abuse of fentanyl can lead to the onset of many negative consequences in an individual’s life. Such consequences can impact all areas of functioning, including life at home, at work, in school, or in social settings. Furthermore, an individual’s health is consistently placed at risk as fentanyl abuse continues. Examples of various effects that can arise from untreated fentanyl use disorder may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal interactions due to criminal activity taking place in order to obtain fentanyl (e.g. forging prescriptions)
  • Disturbed relationships
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Slowed gastrointestinal activity
  • Suffering from an oxygen deficiency in the body’s tissues (anoxia)
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Fentanyl Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

An addiction to fentanyl can often exist alongside other mental health conditions. Examples of various disorders known to co-occur alongside fentanyl use disorder include:

  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Fentanyl Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal: As is true for other opioids, when the use of fentanyl is suddenly ceased or drastically reduced, symptoms of withdrawal are likely to set in. Such symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Aching muscles
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Intense cravings for more fentanyl

Effects of fentanyl overdose: Overdosing on fentanyl is a risk that everyone who abuses this substance takes. An overdose occurs when more fentanyl is ingested than can safely be metabolized by the body. An overdose on any substance, including fentanyl, is extremely dangerous and should viewed as a medical emergency with treatment being sought immediately. Signs that someone may have overdosed on fentanyl can include:

  • Shallowed or labored breathing
  • Confusion
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Severe dizziness
  • Inability to think or talk in a normal manner
  • Inability to walk
  • Disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Cold, clammy skin

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