Fentanyl Addiction & Abuse

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, a painkiller, that is more potent than morphine and heroin (50-100 x more potent – Fentanyl DrugFacts), prescription Fentanyl is used to treat patients who need 24/7 relief from severe pain. Although there have been cases of illegal Fentanyl on the black market in the U.S since 1970, it has been in more recent years that the availability of Fentanyl has surged in the UK.

Illegal Fentanyl can be produced quickly and cheaply in a lab, and when used to cut heroin, the heroin/Fentanyl mix is markedly more potent and addictive.

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What is Fentanyl Addiction?

After taking Fentanyl many times, your brain adapts to the medication, diminishing its sensitivity, making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the Fentanyl. Addiction is when you find yourself drug-seeking and Fentanyl use take over your life.

Fentanyl addiction is an uncontrollable, chronic disease that causes severe withdrawal symptoms when you haven’t had a ‘hit’ for a few hours, these symptoms may exhibit as:

  • muscle and bone pain
  • sleep problems
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • cold flashes with goosebumps
  • uncontrollable leg movements
  • severe cravings
    (Fentanyl DrugFacts)

The uncomfortable withdrawal is what often leads to a relapse, but please remember there is help available to assist in your recovery.

Fentanyl Addiction VS. Abuse

Prescribed Fentanyl in the UK is typically in the form of patches designed to provide a steady release of the active ingredient for long-term pain relief, each patch is worn for an extended period, typically 3 days, discarded and a new one is applied. Misuse of these discarded patches has occurred due to the significant amount of Fentanyl (up to 8.4mg for a 10mg patch) still contained in the used patches, which can be cut open, smoked, chewed, swallowed, injected, and even inhaled through heating.

As your tolerance to Fentanyl increases, so to does the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects, since prescription rates are relatively low, you may have found that you are using the patches in an unrecommended way, sourcing Fentanyl from illicit sources or even stealing them from friends and loved ones that have a prescription.

Although abuse doesn’t necessarily lead to addiction, addiction only happens where abuse is evident. If you are concerned about how your relationship with Fentanyl has evolved or if someone you know has a problem with Fentanyl use, please reach out for help, recovery is possible. (Difference Between Abuse and Addiction)

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What Makes Fentanyl Addictive?

By mimicking the naturally occurring endorphins in your body, Fentanyl causes the brain to release dopamine and attaching to the opioid receptors that are in your central nervous system. Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical that is involved with mood, thinking, and movement. Using Fentanyl may cause intoxicating effects such as:

  • Joy (euphoria) and less inhibition, similar to being drunk
  • pain relief,
  • sedation

The risk of dependency and addiction to Fentanyl is largely due to the rapid onset of effects due to the speed with which Fentanyl can cross the blood/brain barrier. (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs)

How Fentanyl Addiction Develops

Fentanyl addiction doesn’t happen all at once or overnight, your body has to first build up a tolerance to the medication, then craving the effects Fentanyl has on your body will lead you to seek higher and higher doses – abuse of the medication often starts first through continued use and can be influenced by a genetic predisposition to addiction, trauma or pre-existing mental health issues.

Understanding what has led you to a Fentanyl addiction can be beneficial to your treatment, and we have the resources available to support you through recovery and into a life free from Fentanyl.

Repeat Exposure

Changes in dopamine levels affect the reward areas of your brain and reinforce Fentanyl use. When your brain is repeatedly exposed to Fentanyl, your reward centre becomes accustomed to the Fentanyl presence and once you start to struggle to feel those positive effects, the ability to stop using becomes difficult.

Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions

You may feel you are blocking troublesome thoughts and feelings by using Fentanyl unfortunately self-medicating) can exacerbate the symptoms of any existing mental health conditions you may have—including anxiety, depression, bipolar, and PTSD.

Having both an addiction as well as suffering from a mental health issue is called a Dual Diagnosis, many studies have shown that, in many cases, users with a dual diagnosis of mental and substance use disorders have histories of abuse both sexually and physically as well as trauma. (Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population)

A Family History of Drug Use

Although addiction is a disease of its own, science has proven a close correlation between a family history of substance abuse (alcohol, cannabis, opiate etc) and dopamine sensitivity, increased risk-taking, and changes in the gene structures of people currently suffering from addiction. This has led to a strong belief that genetics are largely responsible for an increased risk of addiction development. That is not to say that every person that had parents suffering from addiction will in turn succumb themselves, there is just a marked risk. (Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts) Generally, positive family influences, such as family bonding and consistent rules, appear to reduce the risk of drug abuse among teens, while negative family influences tend to increase risk, the same is true of positive and negative peer factors.

Environment and socioeconomics play a role in addiction as well, and community involvement in the development of healthy activities for children to alleviate boredom and experimentation with substances.

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    Signs & Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction

    Whilst there are many similarities between the effects of Fentanyl and other opiates such as:

    • Being very mellow or relaxed
    • Dilated pupils
    • Amnesia
    • Slowed breathing
    • Difficulty with learning, thinking, and recollection
    • Involuntary muscle movements

    Other signs may start to emerge as your addiction grows:

    • Unproductive at home or work
    • Self-isolation
    • Loss of enjoyment and interest in what used to bring you pleasure
    • Loss of control
    • Depression
    • Inability to stay away from Fentanyl
    • Ignoring the risks you are taking whilst using Fentanyl

    If you are growing concerned about your need for Fentanyl, please know that there are facilities available to help you today.

    Diagnosing Fentanyl Addiction

    Since the effects of Fentanyl are short-lived, diagnosing will generally follow the DAST-10 (Drug Abuse Screening Test) questionnaire and assessment from your medical provider or chosen treatment centre:

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    The Dangers of Fentanyl Addiction

    When you suffer from an addiction to Fentanyl you develop tolerances, requiring you to use more significant doses to produce the same results. This can hasten the effects of Fentanyl and when mixed with alcohol, raise the risk of overdosing. (Fentanyl)

    Fentanyl Use in Teens

    Fentanyl use by teenagers whether prescribed or obtained illegally can lead to an increase in

    • depression,
    • developmental lags,
    • apathy,
    • Withdrawal socially,
    • conduct problems,
    • personality disorders,
    • suicidal thoughts,
      (Teens and Drugs Fast Facts)

    Fentanyl Use in Pregnancy

    Generally, Fentanyl isn’t recommended during pregnancy, there is a risk to your baby’s development in the womb and if Fentanyl is taken at the end of your pregnancy, your baby may be born addicted to Fentanyl and at risk of withdrawal symptoms. (best use of medicine in pregnancy)

    Mixing Fentanyl with Other Drugs

    Fentanyl has grown in popularity amongst drug dealers as a cheap cutting agent for other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. this has become very risky as users are not aware that they are now consuming a drug that has a higher opioid than they are used to. (Fact sheet: Fentanyl.)

    Taking Fentanyl whilst consuming alcohol will increase the effects that alcohol has on your system, and lead to impaired balance, slow breathing, low pulse rate and lowered blood pressure (ADF – Drug Facts – Fentanyl.)

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    Getting Help for Fentanyl Addiction

    Suffering from a Fentanyl addiction is not a moral defect but instead a diagnosable disease that can be managed efficiently to lead to a healthier, Fentanyl-free existence.

    If you believe you are suffering from substance abuse or addiction and are searching for a way out, therapy will help you get on the path to recovery.

    Private residential rehabilitation facilities consider your unique needs when structuring a treatment plan and treatment may include a combination of medical care, psychiatric services, counselling, behavioural therapy, vocational training and other services to best support the whole of you throughout recovery.

    The NHS also offers outpatient care for the treatment of Fentanyl addiction. You can start with your GP who may offer treatment in the practice or refer you to your nearest treatment centre.
    Charity organisations may sponsor a stay in a Private Treatment Facilities, but as with the NHS, there are long waiting lists so if you require immediate admission, contact us.

    There are also counselling groups available for yourself and support groups for your loved ones if needed. The treatment centre you choose will be able to assist you with finding the best support groups in your area.

    Jason Sheirs
    Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
    Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.