Fentanyl Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, & Getting Help
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.1 It is a legal prescription drug used to treat severe pain, however, most of the fentanyl that is misused and sold as a street drug is illegally manufactured.1, 2
Unfortunately, the increase in fentanyl use has also led to a significant increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths. In 2017, around 59% of fatal opioid overdoses involved fentanyl, compared to around 14% of overdose deaths in 2010.1
When a person uses fentanyl, they may experience feelings of euphoria.1 Over time, they can become dependent and experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to cut down or stop taking fentanyl.1 Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be particularly unpleasant.1
This article will help you understand fentanyl withdrawal, including the symptoms, timeframe, and how to get help for misuse or addiction.
Why Fentanyl Withdrawal Occurs
When a person uses fentanyl, they can experience several symptoms, including confusion, drowsiness, and euphoria.1 Like other opioids, fentanyl can impact the areas of the brain that control decision-making.3 While fentanyl can make a person feel euphoric, it can simultaneously increase the desire for continued use.3
Even if someone uses fentanyl as prescribed by a doctor, they can experience dependence.1 Dependence occurs when the body adapts to a drug, resulting in symptoms of withdrawal if they cut back or stop taking the drug.4 The extreme discomfort and intensity of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms make it very difficult to stop using this drug.1
What Are the Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal?
All opioids, including fentanyl, produce similar withdrawal symptoms, but genetic, physiological, and psychological factors can affect a person’s withdrawal experience.5 While fentanyl withdrawal is not generally life-threatening, it is highly unpleasant and medical complications can occur
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can include:1, 5
- Bone and muscle pain.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Sleep problems.
- Uncontrollable leg movements.
- Severe cravings.
Because fentanyl withdrawal is highly unpleasant, many individuals have a high potential for relapse, which is why the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that clinicians do not attempt to manage opioid withdrawal without medication.5 Fentanyl withdrawal can be managed under medical supervision to relieve these withdrawal symptoms and make the process much more comfortable and safe.5
How Long Does Fentanyl Withdrawal Last?
Many people wonder how long the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal will last. In general, the overall fentanyl withdrawal timeline is around 14 days. However, several factors can influence the duration and severity of the withdrawal process, such as the opioid’s half-life, the length of use, the daily dose, and the interval between doses.5, 6
Long-acting opioids like fentanyl will typically result in withdrawal symptoms starting up to 36 hours after the last use.6, 7 The first symptoms of withdrawal vary in intensity, but can include bone and muscle pain, muscle twitches, runny nose, teary eyes, stomach cramps, restlessness, and yawning.6
Initial symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can peak in intensity around 72 to 96 hours after the last use, at which many people will go into fully developed withdrawal.7 There are several fentanyl withdrawal symptoms of various intensity, including:6
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Increased heart rate.
- Rapid breathing.
- High blood pressure.
- Extreme restlessness.
Getting Help for Fentanyl Withdrawal
Although fentanyl withdrawal is typically not life-threatening, most clinicians believe that it should be treated aggressively with detoxification at a drug detox center.5 Medical detox provides medication, monitoring, and support to help a person comfortably and safely withdraw from fentanyl.5
Detox may involve the use of certain medications to help manage the acute symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal, with the most common ones being buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.6
Medical detox has numerous benefits for people with opioid use disorders (OUD), including:8
- Helping to keep people in treatment.
- Lowering death rates from opioid use.
- Increasing rates of employment.
- Lessening chances of criminal activities.
- Improving outcomes for women who are pregnant.
For many people, detox is an important part of the recovery process. However, detox is not a substitute for more comprehensive treatment efforts. Rather, detox can help facilitate the transition into ongoing fentanyl addiction treatment, such as inpatient or outpatient programming.5 Rehab can help address the underlying issues that lead to substance use.5
If you or your loved one is struggling with fentanyl use, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. AAC is a leading provider of evidence-based treatment for substance use. When you can you will be connected with an admissions navigator who can listen to your story, provide information on treatment options, and verify your insurance.