Fentanyl Withdrawal: Timeline, Side Effects, Detox

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The United States opioid crisis began in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies reassured those in the medical community that opioids were safe to treat pain and wouldn’t lead to addiction. When you fast forward to today, those assurances couldn’t have been any more wrong. Not only were they unethical and driven by profits, but it was a sinister plan that has caused carnage across our beautiful country. In 2019 alone, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdoses. 

In a long line of opioids introduced to the public, the final nail in the coffin was the emergence of fentanyl. In the 1990s, the new drug “OxyContin,” which is a longer-lasting version of the instant-release drug oxycodone, swept the nation and caused unprecedented levels of addiction. Once the government got involved, opioid addicts transitioned to heroin when doctors clamped down and restricted the number of drugs prescribed. Shortly after, fentanyl took over as a cheaper and more potent alternative to heroin. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger.

Fentanyl has stolen many lives, even pop culture icons like Prince and Mac Miller, and it continues to ravage our communities. The drug was initially concocted in the 1960s as a means to treat opioid-resistant chronic pain patients who sought relief for their conditions, but today, it’s cooked up in clandestine labs south of the border and sold as counterfeit prescription pills.

Unfortunately, because of its potency, fentanyl withdrawals are among the most uncomfortable of any drug you’ll find on this planet. Although it’s not considered a fatal experience, most will be unable to overcome these challenges alone, meaning that treatment is necessary. If you’re struggling with fentanyl addiction or worried about someone else who is, it’s important to understand the effects of fentanyl withdrawal to prepare yourself for what’s ahead. 

What Is Fentanyl Drug Detox?

The primary focus of fentanyl drug detox is to reduce cravings for the drug and withdrawal symptoms in those ready to change their lives and overcome fentanyl dependency or addiction. In a majority of the cases relating to opioid withdrawal, the individual will experience severe pain and discomfort to the point where returning to fentanyl is the only feasible solution. Fortunately, fentanyl detox will provide medication that alleviates withdrawal symptoms so that people can experience a successful, safe, and more comfortable fentanyl withdrawal experience. 

withdrawal-from-fentanyl

How Does Fentanyl Detox Work?

Fentanyl detox typically takes place in a designated drug and alcohol detox facility. These facilities usually offer addiction counseling and therapy. During a stint of fentanyl detox, the treating physician will replace fentanyl with methadone, buprenorphine, or Suboxone. Each of these three drugs is FDA-approved, and they help reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. As time goes on, the dosage of the medication your doctor decides will be reduced as your level of dependency on fentanyl and other drugs decreases. 

What Are the Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms?

Fentanyl belongs to a class of drugs known as opioids, a wide range of substances from codeine to morphine. The withdrawal experience is determined by how long fentanyl was used and how much was taken at a time. For example, someone who uses fentanyl once a day will experience milder symptoms than a person who uses it all day. 

There are two phases of fentanyl withdrawal. The initial stage is similar to the common cold, and the second phase is said to be like the worst flu a person’s ever had. While physical symptoms are going to happen, fentanyl withdrawal will also include psychological and emotional symptoms. Agitation and anxiety will accompany the first stage, and depression will follow in the second. Depression might also lead to suicidal thoughts, which should not be taken lightly. 

The first stage of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Increased tearing
  • Sweating
  • Body aches
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Hot and cold flashes

The second phase of fentanyl withdrawal is when you’ll experience the symptoms peaking and become unbearable. You should consider getting help at this stage to avoid relapse. These symptoms include:

  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Pupil dilation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe discomfort
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression

As you’ll find with any drug withdrawal, intense cravings will accompany withdrawal symptoms. When this happens alongside other uncomfortable symptoms, it’s common for a person to seek chemical relief and relapse. Unfortunately, this can be dangerous if you consume a dose you were accustomed to taking, and your tolerance has dipped.

Although fentanyl withdrawal isn’t deadly when you compare it to benzos or alcohol, it’s quite challenging to overcome without help. You might think it’s easier to detox at home, but you’re particularly vulnerable to overdosing, as was mentioned above. Medical detox is the safest option at this critical juncture in your life. 

What Are the Stages of the Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline?

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are going to vary from moderate to severe based on how much fentanyl was used, how long it was used, and the dosage you’ve become tolerant of using. The size of the last dose will also play a significant role in how severe the symptoms become. A person who can tolerate fentanyl typically has a higher tolerance because of its sheer strength compared to other opioids. 

The most common withdrawal symptom across the board is a severe craving for fentanyl, which is hard to shake. The irresistible craving will lead to drug-seeking behavior and cause the person to use whatever they can obtain. Drug cravings will start off mild and increase in intensity as time goes on. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will start as soon as 12 hours after your last dose, meaning the users re-dose more frequently than other opioids. 

The cold-like symptoms will occur first and last a few days, and around 72 hours, the symptoms will reach their peak. Once you pass this mark, the severity and intensity of symptoms will subside. However, this is when depression, fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia will kick in and persist for weeks, months, or in some cases, years. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)

Why Should I Detox?

Stopping a drug like fentanyl cold turkey is nearly impossible, and doctors will advise against this act. With so many options available, going through this level of pain is unnecessary. At the moment, it might seem like a cost-effective solution, but fentanyl withdrawal can have extreme effects on the body. 

If you’ve been using fentanyl for an extended period, it’s risky to stop all at once by yourself. If your tolerance is high, you can expect a severe comedown. If you experience overwhelming drug cravings or any other painful symptoms, it’s better to be under the care of addiction specialists to cope with your cravings to use. Without that help, relapse is imminent. 

Although opioid withdrawal isn’t considered deadly, it may lead to dehydration that causes severe medical complications. If you experience confusion, extreme fatigue, diarrhea, or vomiting, it could lead to fatal outcomes. Dehydration requires immediate medical attention. 

During a stint in medical detox, experienced and licensed professionals will help you transition into a sober state comfortably, and most importantly, safely. They’ll provide you with medications to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal. By doing this alone, you give up these options and are at increased danger of exacerbating psychological symptoms. 

Detox will also hold you accountable for your actions. Without an authoritative presence, you’ll likely give in to your cravings and use fentanyl or other opioids. A detox center will keep you on track and guide you into the next stages of care. 

Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. Unfortunately, many who purchase what they believe to be oxycodone or heroin are shocked to find out the drug they’re using is fentanyl. If they’re not prepared for this strength of drug and use a standard dose of heroin or oxycodone, it can lead to an immediate overdose, which is just one of the many reasons it’s so dangerous. 

As if oxycodone or heroin withdrawal wasn’t bad enough, fentanyl being more potent means the withdrawal symptoms are that much more intense as well. When given by a doctor, fentanyl is seldom prescribed for more than two weeks at a time because of its addictive properties. If you’ve become addicted to fentanyl, it’s time to get the help you deserve to overcome this deadly affliction. 

Sources

NIDA (February 2021) Heroin. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/heroin

NIDA (February 2021) Opioid Overdose Crisis. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

MedlinePlus (February 2021) Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

UCLA (February 2021) Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS

NIDA (February 2021) Fentanyl. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/fentanyl

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