Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

signs of fentanyl addiction wolf creek recovery
This entry was posted in Addiction and tagged on by .

Arizona is facing a surge in opioid-related overdose deaths, and fentanyl is at the heart of them. In 2022, Arizona recorded 1,927 opioid deaths. Mostly all (93.4 percent) of opioid deaths are accidental. In fact, many people who ingest fentanyl don’t realize it, as this substance has no distinguishable taste, texture, or odor.

Recognizing a fentanyl use disorder in a loved one can save their life, as you can start an important conversation and hopefully make them more receptive to potential fentanyl addiction treatment. While you can’t necessarily force someone into treatment, you can start researching your options, setting healthy boundaries, and enforcing consequences until they do agree to get help.

At Wolf Creek Recovery, many of us are in recovery and recognize that it can take time to accept help. We are here when people are ready, and we try to make the recovery process as fulfilling and rewarding as possible. Let’s learn more about the behavioral and psychological signs of fentanyl addiction, who is most at risk, and the withdrawal effects that can delay treatment.

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

Not everyone becomes dependent on fentanyl in the same way. Some people become dependent after being prescribed pain medication to treat severe pain. Because prescription painkillers are heavily regulated, these individuals may turn to illicit fentanyl. Other people engage in fentanyl use to get a stronger “high.” They may or may not be aware that fentanyl is in the substances they are taking. Fentanyl has no taste, texture, or odor, so many people who ingest it don’t realize it.

Due to the potency of fentanyl, it doesn’t take long to form a fentanyl use disorder Many people can no longer experience pleasure without the substance (anhedonia), which is why obtaining and using it takes center stage. This is often when loved ones start noticing that something is different about their friend or family member, even if they can’t put their finger on it. They may notice that their loved one has a change in attitude, is engaging in secretive behavior, or is visiting the doctor more frequently.

If your loved one is acting differently, it’s important to pay attention. Fentanyl use disorder involves a number of behavioral and psychological changes that can prompt a life-changing conversation with your loved one.

Signs of Fentanyl Use Disorder and Its Impact on the Body and Mind

Because fentanyl is such a powerful substance, it takes a toll on the mind and body relatively quickly. Some of the effects are immediate, while others happen over time. Fentanyl use disorder presents itself in similar ways as other substance use disorders, with individuals experiencing mood swings, a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, tolerance, and continuing to use the substance despite negative consequences. Over time, fentanyl use can lead to even more problems, including depression, suicidal thoughts, poor nutrition, and a substance use disorder.

Behavioral Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

The DSM-5 is a diagnostic tool for mental health conditions. A person is considered to be experiencing a substance use disorder if at least two symptoms emerge within a 12-month period. Two to three symptoms indicate a mild disorder, four to five symptoms indicate a moderate disorder and six or more symptoms indicate a severe disorder.

The behavioral signs used to diagnose a fentanyl use disorder are:

  • Taking more fentanyl or using it for longer than intended
  • Attempting to quit fentanyl with no success
  • Spending a large part of your day using fentanyl
  • Experiencing strong urges and cravings
  • Trouble managing day-to-day responsibilities
  • Continuing to use fentanyl despite negative consequences
  • Withdrawing from hobbies, activities, friends, etc.
  • Using fentanyl even though you are aware of its dangers
  • Using fentanyl even when it’s causing psychological or physical problems
  • Building a tolerance to fentanyl
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop or cut back

Psychological Changes

When a person takes fentanyl, it binds to the body’s opioid receptors, which are responsible for controlling pain and emotions. As a result, there are several psychological changes that can occur. Short-term mental effects include dizziness, confusion, and “going on the nod” (being in and out of consciousness). While these effects do wear off, long-term psychological changes can occur as well, such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and trouble controlling impulsive behavior.

After taking opioids many times, the brain can adapt to fentanyl. When this happens, the substance becomes less effective, and it becomes difficult to experience pleasure from anything other than the opioid. As fentanyl use disorder forms, it takes center stage in a person’s life, with obtaining and using the substance becoming the top priority. This is the nature of a substance use disorder.

Physical Changes

Fentanyl has a number of physical effects as well. Besides strong pain relief, fentanyl can cause drowsiness, slow breathing, constricted pupils, nausea and vomiting, and an itching or warm sensation on the skin. These effects are short-term and wear off in a few hours. Due to the potency of fentanyl, life-threatening effects can occur within a few minutes of use.

With repeated use of fentanyl, long-term physical changes can also develop, such as constipation, sexual and reproductive problems, poor nutrition, weight loss, and irregular menstrual cycles. Another complication that can occur is that the pain actually gets worse. At high doses, opioids change signaling in the central nervous system, making the body more sensitive to painful stimuli.

withdrawal symptoms or other side effects

“Drug-Seeking Behavior”

“Drug-seeking behavior” is a term used to describe a person’s attempts to obtain specific medications such as opioids. Doctors are trained to watch for these behaviors, as they can indicate a substance use disorder. However, it’s important not to accuse people who are truly in need of pain medications of seeking them for illicit use, and that those who use them illicitly need help, too.

Examples of “drug-seeking behavior” are:

  • First-time visits. Does your loved one seem to schedule a lot of first-time visits? Rather than going to the same doctor, they may seek out medical care in a different town. The visits are also centered on obtaining pain medications — not a diagnosis or alternative treatments.
  • Doctor shopping. “Doctor shopping” refers to trying different medical providers to get more prescription opioids. Do you find that your loved one is constantly looking for new doctors in a short amount of time? Another warning sign is using multiple pharmacies and emergency departments.
  • Disinterest in other treatments. While pain medications can provide pain relief, there are other treatments that can work as well. Do you find that your loved one is open to trying these other treatments or are they set on using this medication only?
  • Exaggerated symptoms. Do you feel that your loved one is exaggerating their symptoms to receive prescriptions? While pain is subjective, it could indicate a problem when the pain seems worse than reality.

Withdrawal Symptoms or Other Side Effects

When a person tries to cut back or quit fentanyl, they’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can occur within 6 to 12 hours from the last dose, with symptoms reaching their peak between one and three days. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids and include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Severe cravings
  • Insomnia or poor sleep
  • Irritability
  • Overall dissatisfaction with life
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Causes and Risk Factors for Fentanyl Use Disorder

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, and it takes just one use to change your life. Even people who are prescribed prescription fentanyl by their doctors can experience dependence, which is characterized by withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped.

It is possible to be dependent on a substance but not have a substance use disorder, but medication dependence puts you at risk for a substance use disorder. Here are some of the causes/risk factors for fentanyl use disorder:

  • Taking a high dose. The higher the opioid dose, the greater the risk of illicit use and fentanyl overdose.
  • Extended use. Prolonged use of fentanyl is associated with a higher risk for fentanyl use disorder. Physical dependence can occur in just a few days, and the withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult to stop.
  • Mental health conditions. Having a mental health condition can put a person at risk for developing a fentanyl use disorder, as they may be using it to numb their pain. Until the underlying mental health concerns are treated, the person may seek out substances to cope.
  • Younger age. People who start using substances at a younger age are at a higher risk for substance use disorder.
  • Family history. About half of a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder comes from their genes. Therefore, having a close family member with a substance use disorder puts a person at a higher risk as well.
  • Environment. Being around fentanyl and other opioids also raises the risk of illicit use. It’s difficult to know how to handle stress and everyday life when the people around you are modeling substance use.

causes and risk factors for fentanyl use disorder

Get Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction in Prescott, AZ

The withdrawal symptoms from opioids can make it difficult to quit, but there are tools to make this process easier. The gold standard treatment for fentanyl addiction is medication and behavioral therapies. Detox is the first step in the process, and it involves eliminating substances and toxins from the body. Acute physical withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as six hours from the last dose, reaching their peak over the next 24 to 72 hours and then tapering off. Some symptoms — sleep problems, anxiety, depression, cravings — can last for months or even years.

The FDA has approved three medications to treat a fentanyl use disorder: buprenorphine, naltrexone and methadone. Buprenorphine is the most effective, and most commonly used. It blocks the effects of opioids, decreasing cravings, and reducing withdrawal symptoms. Taking this medication as part of a treatment plan can make it easier to abstain from opioids.

Behavioral therapies are equally important, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help modify a person’s attitudes toward substance use and help them effectively manage stress and triggers. Holistic therapies, such as yoga and mindfulness, can also help manage everyday challenges and empower people to rebuild their lives.

At Wolf Creek Recovery, we can relate to what our clients are going through, as many of us are in recovery as well. This is a long journey that involves many challenges, but it also teaches individuals a lot about themselves and what they need to thrive. With our Extended Care program, clients have the opportunity to spend at least 90 days in our program, learning essential life skills and coping tools while rebuilding their lives. To learn more about our programs and how they can support a full recovery from fentanyl, contact us today at 833-732-8202.

FAQs About the Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

What are the behavioral signs of fentanyl addiction?

The behavioral signs of a fentanyl use disorder are similar to other substance use disorders and include a change in friends, secretive behavior, a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, mood swings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

What are the psychological signs of fentanyl addiction? 

People who use fentanyl may appear dizzy and confused, as well as go in and out of consciousness, which is referred to as “going on the nod.” Prolonged use can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and an increase in pain.

How can you recognize drug-seeking behavior?

“Drug-seeking behavior” refers to seeking out specific drugs, such as pain medication. You may notice that your loved one is visiting new doctors frequently, changing pharmacies, or shopping around for doctors.

Who is most at risk for developing a fentanyl use disorder?

Those who are most at risk for a fentanyl use disorder have a family history of substance use, a history of trauma, untreated mental health concerns, and access to substances in their everyday lives. However, substance use disorders do not discriminate. Anyone who uses fentanyl can develop a fentanyl use disorder

How is fentanyl use disorder treated? 

Medications and behavioral therapies are effective at treating fentanyl use disorder. There are three FDA-approved medications that curb cravings, decrease withdrawal symptoms, and block the effects of opioids, with buprenorphine being used the most Behavioral therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy, can teach individuals in recovery how to manage stress and triggers.