Warning Signs, Symptoms, and Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

This Page was last reviewed and changed on June 15th 2021

Content Overview

The powerful drug known as fentanyl is one that is commonly abused, both intentionally and unintentionally. Whatever the reason for the abuse, it is important that the signs are recognised early so that intervention can take place to avoid a full-blown addiction. Since fentanyl use can quickly progress to fentanyl abuse and addiction, knowing how to spot the early warning signs could help you to regain control of your life.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that is effective in pain treatment and management and for use as anaesthesia before surgery. However, it is also an extremely addictive drug and one that is more than capable of destroying the life of the user if it is allowed to spiral out of control. If you have been prescribed fentanyl for a medical condition, you should be aware that there are certain signs that could indicate that your use has progressed to abuse. Being alert to these signs could help prevent a full-blown addiction from developing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to prescription medications such as fentanyl, there is a fine line between use and abuse. Even those using their medication at recommended doses risk developing physical dependence, particularly if the drug is used for a prolonged period. While physical dependence does not mean having an addiction, it does usually come before it, so it is important to be aware of the signs.

When Does Drug Use Become Drug Abuse or Addiction?

When fentanyl is prescribed by a doctor, and when recommendations are followed, it is considered a safe and effective drug. Nevertheless, use can quickly become abuse. The problem is that most people do not comprehend what prescription drug abuse actually means.

Fentanyl affects various parts of the brain, but over time, the way in which the brain responds to the drug will change. When tolerance to fentanyl develops, you are likely to find that the drug does not provide the same relief that it did when you first began taking it. This means that it is going to be less effective.

Many people wrongly assume that prescription drugs are completely safe and that upping the dose will not result in any harm. Moreover, if they are getting the desired relief from an increased dose, they will assume that this is completely safe to do. The reality is that increasing the dose of any prescription medication, including fentanyl, without consulting a doctor is classed as abuse.

Another form of fentanyl abuse is taking it without a prescription. Whether you are taking fentanyl without a prescription for recreational purposes or to get relief from a painful condition, it is abuse if the drug has not been prescribed specifically for you.

Negative Effects

Fentanyl is a potent drug that should be used with caution. Opiate drugs are generally prescribed for short-term use only because of the potential for addiction. Once an addiction develops, it can be difficult to break the cycle of abuse without treatment.

Continued abuse of fentanyl can lead to many negative effects in various areas of your life. While it can initially induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation and reduce pain, prolonged use can lead to negative side effects that include weakness, constipation, nausea, vomitting, swetaing, slow breathing among others.

You may also start to notice that your relationships with those around you begin to suffer. As you lose interest in people and activities and become more and more isolated and withdrawn, tensions can build, and some relationships may be pushed to a breaking point.

Fentanyl addiction can also have a negative impact on your ability to perform well at work or at school. If you are regularly under the influence of this drug, you could struggle to go about daily life, which will have an impact on your prospects as well as your ability to earn an income.

How it Can Change Your Loved One

It can be hard for addicts to see how their behaviour has changed because of the way in which the mind has been clouded by the substance abused. But family members and friends will notice. In the early days though, they may not understand the reason for these changes.

If someone you love has been abusing fentanyl, you might notice that he or she has started to lose interest in spending time with others. This could be because all that matters to him or her now is the drug being abused.

Once an addiction to fentanyl has developed, nothing else really matters except the drug. Things that were once important, such as family members, friends, hobbies, sports, and other activities, will take second place to fentanyl.

The affected person may stop meeting his or her responsibilities and commitments and might start to neglect his or her physical appearance and hygiene. It can be difficult to watch someone you care about fall down the path of addiction knowing that there is little you can do to stop it.

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Shifts in Behaviour

As your loved one’s addiction progresses, you will notice that he or she becomes more concerned with a need for privacy. Addicts often try to hide what they are doing from the others in their life. Some are ashamed of having a drug addiction while others are worried that they will have to stop taking the substance they are addicted to if their loved ones find out.

You might also notice that the addicted individual is prone to mood swings. To you, he or she may be up one minute and down the next. It is likely that when he or she is feeling down or depressed, it is the result of the effects of the drug wearing off. Once he or she takes fentanyl again, you will notice the mood lightening as the effects of the drug take hold.

Fentanyl Addiction and the Brain

Fentanyl works by depressing the central nervous system. This slows down certain physiological functions and prevents pain messages from reaching the brain. It can induce feelings of relaxation and warmth as well.

Fentanyl also stimulates the brain’s pleasure centres, causing dopamine chemicals to be released. Dopamine is the brain’s natural feel-good chemical and when it is released, the reward centre of the brain is stimulated. The brain learns to associate fentanyl use with pleasure and reward and this is what causes a person to want to use it repeatedly.

Signs of an Overdose

Fentanyl overdose is a common problem for users of the drug, particularly among those who have mixed it with other substances or those taking street versions of the substance. Fentanyl is much more powerful than heroin, but many users are unaware of this fact. Taking too much fentanyl, or taking a dose that is stronger than you are used to, can result in a devastating overdose.

It is important to be alert to the signs of overdose so that you can get immediate medical attention. Doing so could save your life. Below are some of the signs of overdose to be aware of:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Severe confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Fainting
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures

Overdose Prevention

Being addicted to fentanyl makes the risk of overdose higher. Every time you take the drug, you could be putting your life in danger. To prevent overdose then, it is crucial to seek help for your addiction as soon as possible.

You can also reduce your risk of overdose by avoiding taking high doses of the drug or mixing it with other substances.

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Early Warning Signs of Teen Fentanyl Use

Fentanyl use among teens is a problem, so being alert to the warning signs is vital. As teenagers often wrongly assume prescription medications to be safe, there is a risk that they could begin abusing fentanyl in the hope of getting high ‘safely’.

While many of the early warning signs associated with drug abuse are similar to those displayed by teenagers in general (moodiness and withdrawal, for example) it can be hard to tell when behaviour is normal or something more sinister.

If fentanyl abuse is an issue, you might notice a sudden change in behaviour in your teenage son or daughter. For example, a drop in performance in school could signify a problem, especially if it is coupled with a change of friends or a sudden need for privacy. You might also notice physical symptoms such as confusion, constricted pupils, nausea, and vomiting.

Being alert to the warning signs of teen fentanyl use will allow you to take immediate action and prevent an addiction from developing.

Common Physical Warning Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

Below are some of the common warning signs of fentanyl addiction:

  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fainting
  • Tremors
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Itchy skin

Common Emotional and Social Warning Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

There are also quite a few emotional and social warning signs associated with fentanyl addiction, including:

  • defensiveness
  • denial
  • isolation
  • withdrawal
  • rationalising addictive behaviour
  • losing interest in people and activities
  • being unable to deal with stress
  • irritability
  • diversion tactics
  • being argumentative

Behavioural Warning Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

Those who abuse fentanyl will usually begin displaying behavioural warning signs. They might start prioritising the drug and putting it above everything else, including work, school, and family commitments. Addicts tend to become secretive about their behaviour and will develop an intense need for privacy in a bid to hide their addictive behaviour.

They could develop money problems because they are spending increasing amounts of money on feeding their habit. They might even start taking risks or getting involved in criminal activities out of desperation.

Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal

When you develop a physical dependence on fentanyl, your body will rely on it for normal functioning. If you try to cut down on your use or quit it completely, you are likely to suffer some withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are usually the result of the body trying to get back to normal.

Many of those who have gone through fentanyl withdrawal liken the symptoms they experience to having a bout of the flu. These can include sweating, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting.

You might also find that your eyes get watery, you have a runny nose, and you are yawning constantly. The good news is that most of the symptoms associated with fentanyl withdrawal will subside within a few days or weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do drug abuse and addiction develop?

Drug abuse often occurs as a result of increased tolerance. Those using prescription medications such as fentanyl may find that it becomes less effective after a while and so they increase their dose to get the relief they desire. This is drug abuse.

The longer a drug is used, the higher the chance a physical dependence will occur. When it does, withdrawal symptoms are likely to manifest when trying to quit or cut back on your use of the substance. Most people realise very quickly that these symptoms subside when they take more drugs; it is this realisation that can cause a cycle of abuse, which in turn often progresses to addiction.

How to know when your teen has a drug problem?

If you are worried about your teenage son or daughter, look for physical signs such as confusion, pinpoint pupils, and slurred speech. If this is coupled with behavioural signs such as isolation, poor performance in school and a change in friends, it is probably best to seek advice from a doctor or other professional. You can talk to us here at UKAT for advice on how to handle this situation.

Are heroin and fentanyl the same thing?

Heroin and fentanyl are both part of the same family of drugs, but there are distinct differences between the two. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid while heroin is derived from morphine – a natural opioid. Fentanyl is also much more potent than heroin.

Another significant difference between the two is the fact that fentanyl is a prescription drug used for the treatment of pain; heroin, on the other hand, is an illegal drug that has no accepted medical benefits.

How can you know if a family member is addicted to fentanyl?

If you are worried about a loved one’s use of fentanyl and have noticed changes in his or her behaviour, it is important to assess the situation to determine if an addiction has developed. Addiction is characterised by a preoccupation with the drug and an overwhelming desire to use it, even when doing so will cause problems.

What does fentanyl treatment involve?

Treatment for fentanyl typically involves a programme of detoxification to break the cycle of abuse, which is followed by rehabilitation, where emotional and psychological issues are addressed. Treatment may mean a combination of medication, behavioural therapies, and holistic treatments for a more whole-person approach.

What to do if you are concerned for a loved one?

If you believe that someone you love has developed an addiction, it is important to raise the issue as soon as possible. Find out all you can about fentanyl addiction and how it is treated before talking to your loved one.

Pick a time when he or she will not be distracted or when there is a reason to leave. Explain why you are concerned and avoid being judgemental or critical. Instead, show your support and offer help. Even if the person gets angry and denies that the addiction exists, you will have planted a seed and given him or her something to reflect on. You might find that he or she comes back to you for help.

When to go to rehab for fentanyl addiction?

Admitting to having a problem with fentanyl can be difficult. However, if your use of the drug is affecting your ability to live a normal life, and if you continue to use it even though you know that it is going to cause problems, you need help. The sooner you sign up for a programme of detox and rehabilitation, the sooner you can get your life back on track.

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