During times of acute pain resulting from severe bodily trauma, such as cancer or a life-threatening injury, doctors may prescribe the legal prescription painkiller fentanyl when other powerful opioids are not sufficient enough to manage pain.
Understanding Fentanyl Addiction
Learn about fentanyl addiction
This drug is reserved for short-term use in the hospital setting, and can alleviate suffering and provide comfort in times of significant distress. Fentanyl has many benefits when used properly, but carries some dangerous side effects as well. Like all opioids, this drug could become problematic for some because of its habit-forming properties. When used outside of its intended guidelines, fentanyl can produce an intensely euphoric state that leads some to continue abusing the drug long after its original use.
In addition to the growing problem of fentanyl dependence, abuse of another, more insidious opioid category has emerged. It has been found that synthetic opioid derivatives such as carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer, are being mixed with heroin to achieve a more potent high. These street drugs are even more dangerous than prescription fentanyl because of their unknown composition, and have been responsible for a growing number of opioid-related deaths.
No matter what type of opioid one develops a dependence upon, it is likely that professional help will be necessary to combat the effects of this deadly substance use disorder. Fortunately, treatment centers are available across the country to offer comprehensive care for addictions of all kinds as well as any accompanying co-occurring mental health concerns.
Fentanyl addiction statistics
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued two nationwide alerts identifying illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) as a threat to public health and safety. These alerts were the result of a staggering wave of fentanyl-related deaths across the country, with the greatest concentration occurring in the state of Ohio that year where fentanyl-related deaths rose by 1,043% from 2013 to 2014, alone.
Law enforcement, emergency response personnel, public health officials, and addiction specialists are working diligently to mitigate the effects of this growing epidemic through a variety of education and outreach efforts aimed at preventing opioid abuse.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and risk factors for fentanyl addiction
In light of the tragic statistics listed above, one may wonder how an individual may come to be dependent upon fentanyl or a synthetic fentanyl derivative, given the tragic outcomes that often accompany this kind of opioid abuse. It is impossible to predict with perfect accuracy who will or who will not develop a substance use disorder. However, there are some key factors that seem to coincide with chemical dependency, including:
Environmental: Being exposed to substance abuse in the home at an early age may serve to normalize addictive behaviors, and may lead an individual to be more inclined to seek out substances of abuse later in life.
Genetics: Having a close family member who has a history of struggling with substances of abuse puts one at a greater risk for developing a chemical dependence him or herself. Additionally, individuals who have shown a propensity for certain risky behaviors, impulsivity, aversion to boredom, and thrill-seeking may be more inclined to begin abusing substances as well.
- Possessing certain personality traits
- Personal history of experiencing pain due to a medical condition or injury
- Family history of substance abuse and/or addiction
- Being raised in an environment in which substance use was present
- Personal history of mental illness
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction
Fentanyl and fentanyl derivative abuse affects countless individuals, many of whom go to great lengths to conceal their addictive behaviors. However, there are some signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of a substance use disorder, some of which are briefly outlined in the following:
- Goes to great lengths, and even deceptive measures, in order to acquire more of one’s substance of choice
- Using fentanyl and/or fentanyl derivatives in situations that are hazardous
- Continuing to abuse fentanyl and/or fentanyl derivatives despite problems caused by this type of substance abuse
- Displaying unusual or erratic behavior that is uncharacteristic of the individual
- Social isolation
- Being unable to control the frequency and amount of one’s substance abuse
- No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed in favor of substance abuse
- Slowed breathing
- Swollen feet and hands
- Racing heart
- Trouble concentrating
- Intense cravings for the drug
- Fixation on finding more of the drug
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities
Effects of fentanyl addiction
The abuse of drugs like fentanyl and synthetic fentanyl derivatives can cause damage to all aspects of a person’s life. Without fentanyl abuse treatment, an ongoing addiction will compromise one’s physical health, emotional wellbeing, cognitive acumen, and the ability to fulfill one’s daily responsibilities. Some of the major consequences of fentanyl abuse are described in the following:
- Polysubstance abuse
- Legal trouble
- Sexual dysfunction
- Damage to internal organs
- Social isolation, damage to key relationships
- Family problems
- Loss of child custody
- Job loss
Fentanyl addiction and co-occurring disorders
The effects of an untreated mental illness are difficult to endure without professional support. And sometimes, individuals seek to self-medicate in order to relieve the psychological symptoms of their mental health condition by abusing substances such as fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative. A few common co-occurring disorders to substance abuse are listed below:
- Additional substance use disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Antisocial personality disorder
Withdrawal and Overdose
Fentanyl withdrawal and overdose
Effects of Fentanyl withdrawal: Despite the damaging effects to the mind and body, individuals who abuse fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives develop a tolerance for these drugs, meaning that their bodies become reliant upon them to function. When a man or women attempts to end his or her drug abuse, symptoms of withdrawal will soon set in and may include:
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Aches and pains
- Abdominal cramping
Effects of Fentanyl overdose: As symptoms of withdrawal set in, many individuals resort to resuming their substance use in order to halt the discomfort of this experience. It is during these times that the risk of overdose is especially high, and emergency medical help must be sought immediately if the individual begins showing any of the following signs, as it could indicate that he or she has overdosed:
- Passing out
- Cold, clammy skin
- Slow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination