Understanding Fentanyl Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Updated On: June 15, 2024
6 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid known for its powerful analgesic and euphoric effects.[1] The drug, originally developed for medical use in managing severe pain, has gained notoriety for its widespread illicit distribution and abuse in recent decades.

Despite its potentially lethal consequences, fentanyl is often more accessible and affordable than prescription opioids or heroin, contributing to its widespread misuse. This accessibility, coupled with its rapid onset of action, increases the risk of addiction, overdose, and fatality among users.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Key Points

  • Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, is used for managing severe pain but has also become notorious for its widespread illicit distribution and abuse.
  • Fentanyl addiction and abuse are fueled by its potent impact on the central nervous system, altering neurotransmitter activity and inducing feelings of euphoria and relaxation.
  • The surge in overdose deaths, attributed largely to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, has prompted increased regulatory efforts and awareness campaigns.
  • The physical health effects of fentanyl abuse include respiratory depression, neurological damage, gastrointestinal disturbances, and even fatal overdose.
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    What is Fentanyl?

    Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is commonly prescribed by healthcare providers for severe pain management. However, fentanyl is also increasingly being illicitly manufactured and distributed on the street, contributing to a surge in opioid-related overdose deaths worldwide. Its potency (over 50-100 times more than morphine) makes it significantly more dangerous than other opioids, with just a small amount capable of causing a fatal overdose.[2]

    Fentanyl is often sold on the black market in various forms, including pills, powders, and patches. Illicitly produced fentanyl is frequently mixed with other substances as well, further increasing the risk of overdose and death among users.

    Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are predominant contributors to overdose fatalities, with even minute quantities posing lethal risks. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are responsible for 70% of overdose-related deaths.[3]

    Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II substance per the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), signifying its recognized medical value but also its high potential for abuse and addiction.[4] Efforts to combat fentanyl misuse include increased regulation of its production and distribution, as well as initiatives aimed at raising awareness of its risks among both healthcare professionals and the general public.

    Fentanyl Addiction and Abuse

    Fentanyl addiction is fueled by the substance’s impact on the central nervous system. Fentanyl alters neurotransmitter activity in the brain, inducing feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and distorted perception. These psychoactive effects significantly heighten the risk of addiction, as individuals may seek out the intense and immediate gratification provided by fentanyl use.[5]

    Its accessibility in various forms, including pills, patches, and illicitly manufactured versions, makes it particularly susceptible to misuse.

    Fentanyl Quick Reference Chart

    Drug Category Opioid
    Commercial & Street Names Apace, China Girl, Goodfellas, He-Man, Jackpot, King Ivory, Murder 8, Poison
    DEA Schedule Schedule II
    Administration Injected, ingested, snorted


    Statistics on Fentanyl Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    According to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 from April 2020 to April 2021, marking a 28.5 percent increase over the previous year and representing the highest number ever recorded in 12 months.[6] This surge was largely driven by overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, primarily illicit fentanyl and its analogs, which increased by 55 percent in 2020.

    Furthermore, from fiscal year 2020 to 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported a 36% increase in drug arrests related to fentanyl, rising from 2,305 to 3,138.[7]  In 2021, the number of drug arrests for fentanyl (3,138) surpassed those for heroin (2,591) for the first time, underscoring the alarming prevalence of fentanyl-related illicit activity and its impact on law enforcement efforts.

    Fentanyl Addiction and Abuse

    The misuse of fentanyl can lead to several adverse effects, including respiratory issues, neurological damage, and cardiac complications.[8] These health ramifications can manifest as chronic conditions or acute emergencies.

    Fentanyl addiction can precipitate psychological symptoms such as mood swings, agitation, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. Those grappling with fentanyl addiction often encounter disruptions in their social, academic, and occupational spheres, intensifying the toll on their overall well-being.

    The cessation of fentanyl use can also incite withdrawal symptoms, compounding the hurdles of recovery. These symptoms may encompass irritability, insomnia, nausea, tremors, and cravings, presenting formidable obstacles to breaking free from the cycle of dependence.

    Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

    Physical Health Effects

    Fentanyl abuse poses significant risks to physical health, leading to symptoms and complications from misuse.[9] Chronic fentanyl use can lead to severe respiratory depression, characterized by shallow breathing, slowed heart rate, and even respiratory failure. Fentanyl use can also result in neurological damage, evidenced by impaired coordination, muscle stiffness, and seizures. Individuals may also experience gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, constipation, and abdominal pain, accompanied by headaches and dizziness.

    Risks and Complications

    Using fentanyl poses the risk of developing tolerance and dependence, necessitating higher doses to achieve the desired effect. Dependence on fentanyl can precipitate compulsive drug-seeking behavior and difficulty controlling use despite adverse consequences.

    Additionally, fentanyl overdose can be deadly, especially when individuals consume doses exceeding the intended therapeutic limits. Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose may include respiratory arrest, profound sedation, cardiac arrhythmias, and possibly death.[10]

    Notably, it can also take very little fentanyl to cause severe and potentially fatal effects.

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    Fentanyl Addiction and Mental Health

    Fentanyl abuse can have profound implications for your mental health, exacerbating existing conditions and precipitating new ones.[11] Prolonged fentanyl usage may trigger mood disorders, such as anxiety, agitation, and depression, which can significantly impair your overall well-being and functioning.

    Moreover, individuals grappling with fentanyl addiction may experience cognitive impairments, including memory deficits, impaired judgment, and difficulty with decision-making and concentration. These cognitive challenges can further exacerbate mental health struggles, impeding individuals’ ability to navigate daily life effectively.

    Addressing the complex interplay between fentanyl addiction and mental health necessitates comprehensive interventions that integrate substance abuse treatment and mental health support. By addressing underlying psychological issues and equipping individuals with coping strategies to manage cravings and triggers, they can embark on a path toward recovery and rebuild a fulfilling and balanced life.

    Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

    Treatment for fentanyl addiction is highly individualized, taking into account each person’s unique needs and circumstances. The cost of fentanyl addiction treatment can vary, influenced by factors such as the type of program (inpatient, outpatient, or residential), duration of treatment, and any additional services provided.

    The duration of fentanyl addiction treatment can also vary based on several factors, including the severity of the addiction, the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions, and progress in recovery. Treatment may span from several weeks to several months or longer, aiming to address underlying issues contributing to fentanyl abuse and develop effective coping strategies.

    Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    If you or someone you know is struggling with fentanyl addiction, then it’s important to seek the right level of care. Fentanyl addiction treatment often encompasses various levels of care throughout the process, each one tailored to meet individual needs and circumstances:

    • Medical Detoxification (Detox): Medical detoxification is often the first step toward recovery, providing a foundation for subsequent treatment interventions and therapies. Detox is conducted with close supervision from medical professionals, allowing individuals to safely rid their bodies of substances while effectively managing withdrawal symptoms.
    • Medically Managed Care: For individuals requiring intensive medical attention and oversight, medically managed care provides a structured environment with round-the-clock monitoring and support from trained medical professionals.
    • Inpatient Residential Treatment: Residential inpatient treatment provides individuals with a supportive and structured environment conducive to recovery. Clients live full-time at the treatment facility, receiving comprehensive care and support from a multidisciplinary team of professionals. With a highly structured schedule of therapy sessions, group activities, and support groups, inpatient treatment allows individuals to focus entirely on their recovery journey, free from distractions or triggers from the outside world.

    Therapies Used in Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

    Alpas offers a range of evidence-based treatment approaches to address fentanyl addiction and support individuals on their path to recovery:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a commonly utilized therapeutic approach focused on identifying and addressing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction. Through CBT sessions, individuals learn coping strategies, problem-solving skills, and techniques to manage cravings and triggers. This empowering process helps individuals develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors, supporting their progress toward recovery.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is a therapeutic approach that combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with practical strategies to help individuals manage emotions, improve relationships, and develop distress tolerance skills. In addiction treatment, DBT focuses on addressing the underlying emotional dysregulation often linked to substance abuse.
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI): MI is a client-centered approach to enhance intrinsic motivation for change. In addiction treatment, MI helps individuals explore their ambivalence toward substance use and recovery. Therapists help clients identify personal values, goals, and aspirations through empathetic listening and collaborative conversations. By fostering a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy, MI empowers individuals to make positive changes in their behavior, leading to a more sustainable recovery journey.
    • Contingency Management: Contingency management is a behavioral therapy approach that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors, such as abstinence from substance use. This modality rewards individuals for meeting their treatment goals, such as attending therapy sessions, abstaining from drug use, or achieving milestones in their recovery journey.
    • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET is a goal-oriented therapeutic approach to enhancing individuals’ intrinsic motivation and commitment to change. MET explores ambivalence toward behavior change through structured conversations and personalized feedback, identifies personal values and goals, and bolsters self-efficacy. Unlike other therapies, MET does not delve deeply into the root causes of addiction but instead focuses on fostering a strong internal drive for positive change.
    • Experiential Therapy: Experiential therapy is a hands-on therapeutic approach that utilizes practical activities and immersive experiences to facilitate emotional processing and personal growth. Instead of relying solely on verbal communication, experiential therapy engages individuals in various activities such as role-playing, art therapy, and outdoor adventures. These activities allow individuals to explore and express their emotions, confront challenges, and develop new coping skills in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.
    • Relapse Prevention Therapy: Relapse prevention focuses on identifying and managing triggers, developing coping strategies, and establishing a structured plan to prevent relapse. Individuals learn to recognize early warning signs of relapse, such as stress or negative emotions, and develop skills to cope with these challenges effectively. By enhancing self-awareness and equipping individuals with practical tools and strategies, relapse prevention therapy empowers them to navigate difficult situations and maintain long-term sobriety.
    • Twelve-Step Facilitation: Twelve-step facilitation involves active participation in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to support recovery from addiction. Individuals engage in group meetings, work through the Twelve Steps, and receive encouragement from peers with similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and accountability.

    Alpas Wellness is a premier addiction treatment center that Maryland residents can rely on. We offer an in-depth range of services, including individual therapy, group counseling, and family support. We are dedicated to helping you achieve sustainable recovery.

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Fentanyl


    How is fentanyl different from other opioids?


    Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is significantly more potent than other opioids, such as morphine or heroin. It is used medically for pain management, especially in cases of severe or chronic pain, and is sometimes prescribed as a patch, lozenge, or injection.


    What are the approved medical uses of fentanyl?


    Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is significantly more potent than other opioids, such as morphine or heroin. It is used medically for pain management, especially in cases of severe or chronic pain, and is sometimes prescribed as a patch, lozenge, or injection.


    Can fentanyl be detected in drug tests?


    Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is significantly more potent than other opioids such as morphine or heroin. It is used medically for pain management, especially in cases of severe or chronic pain, and is sometimes prescribed as a patch, lozenge, or injection.


    [1] Fentanyl. (n.d.). DEA. Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl on April 2, 2024

    [2] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, June 1). Fentanyl Drug Facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institute of Health. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl on April 2, 2024

    [3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, September 6). Fentanyl Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/stop-overdose/caring/fentanyl-facts.html on April 2, 2024

    [4] Abuse, N. I. on D. (2021, December 2). The Overdose Crisis: Interagency Proposal to Combat Illicit Fentanyl-Related Substances. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2021/the-overdose-crisis-proposal-to-combat-illicit-fentanyl on April 2, 2024

    [5] LA County Department of Public Health. (n.d.). Www.publichealth.lacounty.gov. http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/sapc/managepainsafely/docs/Fentanyl%20FINAL.pdf?pdf=fentanyl on April 2, 2024

    [6] CDC. (2022). Provisional Drug Overdose Data. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm on April 2, 2024

    [7] Heroin, Fentanyl, and Other Opioid Offenses in Federal Courts, 2021 | Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Bjs.ojp.gov. https://bjs.ojp.gov/library/publications/heroin-fentanyl-and-other-opioid-offenses-federal-courts-2021 on April 2, 2024

    [8] United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2022, October). Fentanyl. Dea.gov. https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl on April 2, 2024

    [9] National Library of Medicine. (2018). Fentanyl: MedlinePlus Drug Information. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605043.html on April 2, 2024

    [10] Fentanyl. (n.d.). DEA. Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl on April 2, 2024

    [11] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). The connection between substance use disorders and mental illness. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness on April 2, 2024

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