Fentanyl is notoriously dangerous. According to the CDC, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, accounting for 150 fatalities every day. Learning how to spot warning signs of fentanyl use can help you keep your loved ones safe. Keep reading to explore the signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse and how to seek treatment.

Despondent man with head in hands showing potential signs of fentanyl use

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid, roughly 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and morphine. Doctors typically prescribe pharmaceutical fentanyl to manage severe pain from injuries, surgeries or other health complications, including late-stage cancer. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is distributed on the streets for its heroin-like effects.

Due to its high potency, fentanyl is commonly mixed with other drugs to make them cheaper and more powerful. In its powdered form, it looks nearly identical to drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, making it challenging to identify fentanyl-laced substances.

Fentanyl is also available as a liquid and can be sold as eye drops or nasal sprays. It has a high risk of drug abuse and is very difficult to quit once addicted.

Common Symptoms and Signs of Fentanyl Use

Many people use fentanyl because of the euphoric high it creates. However, it also causes harmful or unpleasant physical, behavioral and psychological symptoms. Understanding common signs of fentanyl addiction is crucial in helping a loved one end their substance abuse for good.

Physical Signs

Fentanyl abuse can cause a range of physical symptoms, including:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen hands or feet
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight gain
  • Clammy skin
  • Slowed breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate

An individual may also experience intense cravings if they try to stop using fentanyl or go extended periods without a dose.

Behavioral Signs

If someone struggles with a fentanyl addiction, they may exhibit behavioral symptoms, including:

  • Spending a lot of time using or trying to obtain fentanyl
  • Taking higher doses to achieve the same high
  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite the physical, emotional and social conflicts it causes
  • Prioritizing fentanyl use over work, school or social obligations
  • Trying and failing to end fentanyl usage
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut back

People who are prescribed fentanyl may become addicted if they use the drug outside its intended use. Signs of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Claiming prescriptions have been lost or stolen to get more
  • Attempting to acquire prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Refusing treatments not involving opioids
  • Displaying signs of overmedication, such as poor coordination or drowsiness

Psychological Signs

There are also psychological symptoms of fentanyl addiction to consider. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression or apathy
  • Mood changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Abnormal thoughts
  • Reduced interest in pleasurable activities
  • Impaired judgment, memory or concentration
  • Suicidal ideation

Man in distress breathing into paper bag, indicating potential opioid overdose symptoms

The Dangers of Fentanyl Use

Fentanyl misuse can quickly spiral into a severe opioid use disorder because of its addictive nature. Not consuming fentanyl at all is the most effective prevention technique. However, many individuals unknowingly consume fentanyl because it’s usually mixed with other drugs.

Because fentanyl is tasteless and odorless, it’s nearly impossible to tell when a drug is laced. Fentanyl can also be made into a pill, making it even harder to detect. Some individuals may purchase what they believe is a less potent opioid, such as oxycodone, not knowing it’s pure fentanyl.

This leads to individuals accidentally consuming high levels of fentanyl, resulting in overdoses. A fentanyl overdose can cause slow or shallow breathing, muscle stiffness, constricted pupils, choking sounds or death.

Even small amounts of fentanyl present dangerous risks. Like other opioids, fentanyl causes sedation and drowsiness, resulting in respiratory depression that makes it difficult to breathe. If someone loses consciousness and stops breathing altogether, they can die within minutes.

How to Respond to Suspected Fentanyl Use

If you believe someone has a fentanyl use disorder, it’s essential to understand that addiction is a disease, not a character flaw. There’s usually an underlying reason, such as a mental health condition, why people turn to substances. Opioid use disorders are dangerous and difficult to break, but they can be treated.

If you notice the first symptoms of fentanyl use, don’t wait to seek help. Contact a counselor, a doctor or an addiction specialist. Tell them you believe your loved one is abusing fentanyl and describe any patterns, including how often they use drugs, how long you think they’ve been using and whether they’ve experienced work, financial or legal issues.

A medical professional can also offer advice on how best to approach your loved one about their fentanyl addiction. Refrain from judgment when expressing your concerns, and talk to them while they’re sober. Be supportive and patient, but don’t be afraid to set physical, emotional or financial boundaries. Family support is crucial in overcoming substance abuse issues, but not at the expense of your health and well-being.

Treatment and Recovery for Fentanyl Addiction

Recovering from fentanyl abuse is extremely difficult without professional help. Fentanyl addiction treatment provides medical supervision to help manage withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse and assist individuals in accessing further support, including counseling or behavioral therapies.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and can cause someone to resume drug use to make them stop. During fentanyl addiction treatment, medical professionals can prescribe medications such as methadone or buprenorphine to reduce drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, helping individuals safely navigate detox.

Additionally, individuals have access to therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing, to process their drug use, identify co-occurring mental disorders and learn healthier coping strategies. These methods encourage individuals to change their thoughts and behaviors associated with drug use and sustain long-term recovery once treatment is complete.

Recover From Fentanyl Addiction at Changing Tides

At Changing Tides in North Carolina, we offer multiple treatment options for fentanyl addiction to help individuals kick their drug habits for good. Our beachfront location fosters a comforting, soothing environment, allowing individuals to focus solely on recovery. Contact us today at 252-715-3905 to learn more about our services.

Ready to Get Started?

Our caring and compassionate staff can guide you all the way through the admissions process.