Fentanyl is one of the world’s strongest pain relievers. Unfortunately, the same potency that makes fentanyl extremely effective also makes the substance highly addictive. Being addicted to fentanyl can cause mental health challenges and negatively affect nearly every system in the body. Unfortunately, an addiction to fentanyl isn’t always easy to identify. This can be especially true when individuals actively work to hide their addiction. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse can help you determine if someone you care about may be addicted to fentanyl.
What Is Fentanyl Used For?
Fentanyl is an opioid drug that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. The substance, which is categorized as a Schedule II drug, was designed for medical use for specific circumstances that require a prescription. But illegal manufacturers send unauthorized versions of the drug to Mexico and other countries. From there, street dealers export the substance into the United States.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is mostly used to manage acute and chronic pain. These afflictions can include nerve damage, sports and back injuries, physical trauma, cancer-related pain, and pain before and after surgery. Generally, prescription fentanyl takes the form of a shot, patch, or lozenge that looks and feels like a cough drop. When individuals take these medications, fentanyl interacts with opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in temporary pain relief, relaxation, contentment, and short-lived pleasure sensations. But pharmaceutical fentanyl, although legal, can be addictive. In fact, many people who have a prescription for fentanyl find themselves increasing their dosage or taking the drug more often than prescribed.
Illicit fentanyl is mostly taken for recreational purposes. Even though illegal fentanyl is most commonly sold as a powder, individuals can blot the substance on paper, put it in eye droppers and nasal sprayers, or swallow pills that look like prescription opioids. But instead of using the drug to relieve physical pain, many recreational users take fentanyl to experience a euphoric high. When consumed, fentanyl encourages the brain to produce an excessive amount of dopamine. When this happens, individuals experience an intense surge of pleasure. When the high ends, individuals can experience a wide range of adverse symptoms. Since the brain is designed to repeat rewarding activities, however, many individuals find themselves regularly consuming fentanyl despite these symptoms.
When individuals abuse prescription or illicit fentanyl for any reason, they’ll start to display certain signs and symptoms.
5 Common Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction
Addiction can look different from person to person, but generally, individuals addicted to fentanyl experience:
1. Constant Itchy and Irritated Skin
Fentanyl, like other opioids, works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. This interaction blocks the brain from receiving pain signals which decreases individuals’ perception of pain. Fentanyl interacts with a specific receptor protein called Mas-related G-protein coupled receptor member X2, or MRGPRX2. This receptor protein plays a key role in the production of immediate allergic reactions. When fentanyl interacts with MRGPRX2, the immune system responds by releasing histamine, which can trigger severe itching across the body.
Individuals addicted to fentanyl will likely experience itchy, irritated skin every time they use fentanyl. Other physical symptoms to look out for can include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Dizziness and fainting spells
- Lack of coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
2. Difficulty Breathing
When fentanyl enters the bloodstream, the drug interacts with opioid receptors responsible for an individual’s respiration rate, slowing down their breathing. Because of this, many individuals addicted to fentanyl have a slow, shallow breathing rate. For many individuals, this looks like taking deep breaths that are slower and shallower than normal. Instead of taking 12 to 20 breaths per minute, which is the normal breathing rate of a healthy adult, individuals addicted to fentanyl typically take 8 to 10 breaths per minute.
This difficulty breathing can also lead to respiratory depression, a condition that happens when the lungs fail to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen efficiently. Common symptoms of respiratory depressions can generally include:
- Bluish toes and fingers
- Abnormal breath sounds such a whistling or crackling sound while breathing
- Apnea, an abnormally long pause between breaths that precedes a deep breath resembling a sigh
3. Withdrawal Symptoms When Fentanyl Isn’t Used or Consumed
When individuals regularly abuse fentanyl, their bodies become dependent on the drug. This means that they need fentanyl to feel “normal.” When individuals addicted to fentanyl aren’t using the drug, they tend to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, are tell-tale signs that an individual is addicted to fentanyl.
Some of the most common symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle and bone pain
- Excessive yawning
- Trouble sleeping
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Intense fentanyl cravings
- Loss of appetite and stomach cramps
- Tearing or watery eyes
- Unexplained anxiety
4. An Inability to Concentrate and Unexplained Psychological Changes
Many individuals addicted to fentanyl have difficulty concentrating and remembering things. They might appear as though they’re disoriented, constantly daydreaming, or not paying attention during a conversation. They might also display unexplained psychological changes that can include:
- Rapid mood swings
- Anxiety followed by depression or vice versa
These changes typically take place when an individual has become dependent on fentanyl. Without the drug, they have difficulty functioning normally which often negatively affects their mental well-being.
5. Unexpected Behavioral Changes and Fentanyl Overdose
Over time, individuals addicted to fentanyl will start to act differently. This can include isolating themselves from others, refusing to participate in activities they once enjoyed or acting erratically. They might make up excuses to miss school or work and avoid taking care of their daily responsibilities. Instead, they’ll focus the majority of their attention on obtaining more fentanyl. This can include forging prescriptions and visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for the drug. Sadly, this kind of behavior often leads to overdose, the scariest sign of fentanyl addiction.
Since fentanyl is highly potent, small amounts of the drug can lead to overdose. One of the first signs of fentanyl overdose is depressed breathing and pinpoint pupils. You might also notice a loss of coordination, unconsciousness, and a faint pulse.
Additional signs of fentanyl overdose can include:
- An inability to talk
- Difficulty walking
- Blue-tinted skin due to a lack of oxygen
Should you notice any of these symptoms of fentanyl overdose, seek medical attention immediately.
Helping You Help The Ones You Love
Watching a loved one struggle with an addiction to fentanyl can be heartbreaking, frustrating, and devastating. But knowing and recognizing the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction can help save your loved one’s life. Spotting the signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse can also help motivate you to intervene on behalf of your loved one.
Our professional intervention services can help you encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Our flexible treatment programs can help provide your loved one with the help they need without separating them from loving and supportive family and friends. Let us help you help your loved one. Contact us today to speak to one of our recovery experts.