Fentanyl Use Symptoms & The Side-Effects of Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl addiction can be difficult to identify. If you’re concerned you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl, this page outlines the warning signs, symptoms, and causes of this lethal addiction.

About Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is typically prescribed to individuals who are suffering from breakthrough pain that cannot be alleviated by morphine or other less potent analgesic medications. Fentanyl’s strength is estimated to be about 50 times greater than that of morphine, which dramatically increases its effectiveness but also underscores the danger of using this drug in any manner except as directed under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider.

In addition to relieving pain, fentanyl elicits a sense of relaxed euphoria, which makes this drug an enticing choice for those who are in search of an intense recreational high. Regardless of whether a person misuses fentanyl in an attempt to self-medicate or abuses it for recreational purposes, the danger remains the same, with possible negative outcomes including long-term damage, the development of an addiction, and even sudden death due to overdose.

Complicating the matter even further is the fact that many synthetic derivatives of fentanyl exist, with similar effects and even greater dangers. One such synthetic derivative of fentanyl is carfentanil, which is estimated to be 10,000 times stronger than heroin. The only recognized legitimate use of carfentanil is as a veterinary anesthetic, used to sedate large animals such as elephants. However, some individuals have abused this synthetic fentanyl derivative by mixing it with heroin. This behavior can easily be fatal, and those who survive are likely to struggle with addiction.

Anyone who abuses fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl is in grave danger and needs effective professional assistance. Without proper care, the continued abuse of fentanyl and synthetic derivatives of fentanyl will continue to wreak devastation on virtually all aspects of an individual’s life. However, with proper care, a person can develop the ability to control the life-threatening compulsion to abuse fentanyl and synthetic derivatives of fentanyl and can learn to pursue a drug-free future.


According to data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual age-adjusted rate of death from synthetic opioids including fentanyl and synthetic derivatives of fentanyl increased by 80% between 2013 and 2014. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that in the 20-year period between 1991 and 2011, the annual number of painkiller prescriptions written in the United States rose from 76 million to 219 million, an increase of more than 288%. In 2013 and 2014, more than 13 million of those painkiller prescriptions were written for fentanyl. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) the annual number of deaths among women that were attributed to prescription painkiller overdose increased by more than 400% during the first decade of the 21st century.

Causes and Risk Factors Fentanyl Addiction

Several factors can influence a person’s risk for abusing and becoming addicted to fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl, including the following:

Genetic: Several heritable traits, including impulsivity and novelty-seeking personality, can increase the likelihood that a person will develop opioid use disorder. Also, individuals who have a parent, brother, or sister who has struggled with a substance use disorder are at an increased risk for also developing a similar problem. Also, advances in genetic research capabilities have enabled experts to identify individual genes and gene clusters that appear to influence whether or not a person will develop a substance use disorder.

Environmental: Experiencing childhood adversity or overwhelming amounts of stress, associating with peers who abuse fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl, and living in poverty are among the several environmental factors that can increase a person’s risk for abusing and becoming addicted to fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl.

Risk Factors:

  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Family history of addiction
  • Previous opioid abuse
  • Access to fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl
  • Being prescribed fentanyl for a disease or injury

Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

An individual who has been abusing or has become addicted to fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl may demonstrate many signs and symptoms, including the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Acting lethargic
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • No longer participating in activities that were previously significant
  • Lying or otherwise engaging in secrecy and/or deception
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or otherwise dangerous behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Gastrointestinal distress

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion and/or disorientation
  • Inability to focus and/or concentrate
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria or dysphoria

Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

People who fail to get treatment for an addiction to fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl may be at risk for a variety of negative effects and outcomes, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Significant physical and psychological health problems
  • Physical harm due to impaired motor functioning and/or poor decisions
  • Failed interpersonal relationships
  • Diminished performance in school or at work
  • Inability to find and keep a job
  • Financial problems
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Withdrawal or ostracization
  • Homelessness
  • Overwhelming sense of hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

People who become dependent upon fentanyl or synthetic derivatives of fentanyl may also be at an increased risk for the following co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of withdrawal from fentanyl or synthetic derivatives of fentanyl: Stopping one’s use of fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl after having become addicted to these drugs can trigger a series of painful withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Powerful cravings for fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Inability to experience pleasure, or dysphoria
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Lost appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Pain in muscle and bones

Effects of fentanyl or synthetic derivative of fentanyl overdose: Ingesting fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl in a quantity that overwhelms one’s body to effectively process it can lead to several dire outcomes. Anyone who exhibits the following symptoms after abusing fentanyl or a synthetic derivative of fentanyl should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified medical expert:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Faint pulse
  • Labored, shallow, or otherwise irregular respiration
  • Loss of coordination and motor functions
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion and/or disorientation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure

Timberline Knolls saved my life. The therapists are truly incredible and they really care about us. I made friends for life and I got my life back on track.

– A former resident
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