Fentanyl Abuse Effects, Signs & Symptoms

What is Fentanyl Abuse

Understanding Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl, a popular opioid prescription painkiller, is often used in the treatment of pain that occurs after a surgery or a medical procedure. For many, fentanyl offers much-needed relief for pain that can be extremely distressing. This substance, which is more potent than morphine, works by raising levels of dopamine in the reward areas of the brain, bringing about feelings of relaxation and euphoria all while relieving pain. However, while this prescription painkiller has its many benefits, it can be extremely addictive because of its pleasing effects. Therefore, not only are those who are attracted to it for its effects at risk for developing an addiction, but so are those who are using it for legitimate medical purposes. For example, when taking fentanyl as prescribed, it can be easy for a tolerance to develop, which means that the individual must consume more of the substance at an increased rate in order achieve the effects he or she wants. When tolerance is occurring, addiction can quickly develop, leaving those who use fentanyl struggling to keep control within their lives. In many cases, it takes professional fentanyl addiction treatment to overcome this type of powerful addiction.


Statistics of Fentanyl Abuse

In 2013 and 2014, more than 13 million prescriptions for fentanyl were written, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). While this number is not representative of the amount of addictions throughout the country, it does show how easy it is to access fentanyl. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) adds that between 2007 and 2011, the abuse of fentanyl played a role in an increased amount of emergency room visits, increasing that number by more than 5,000. Regarding overdose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 2005 and 2007, more than 1,000 people died from fentanyl abuse and overdose.


What are the Causes of Fentanyl Abuse

The causes and risk factors that can add to one’s chances of developing a fentanyl addiction can include the following:

Genetic: Some of the vulnerability that one can have towards developing a fentanyl addiction can tie back to their family history. For instance, those with family members who have grappled with fentanyl abuse are more likely to do so as well. Additionally, specific personality types and temperaments can add to the desire to want to experiment with drugs such as these, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Risk Factors:

  • Having easy access to obtaining fentanyl
  • Suffering from a condition for which fentanyl was prescribed
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Prior experience with abusing other substances
  • Having a novelty-seeking personality type
  • Having an impulsive temperament
  • Being in an environment where drug and/or alcohol abuse is commonplace

Signs and Symptoms

Learn More About the Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

The signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse will vary from individual to individual, however might include some or all of the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for fentanyl
  • Forging prescriptions in order to obtain fentanyl
  • Declined performance in work or at school
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Social withdrawal
  • Spending increasing amounts of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the use of fentanyl
  • Slurred speech
  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite the onset of detriments as a direct result of that use
  • No longer taking care of daily responsibilities

Physical symptoms:

  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Attention difficulties
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Impaired memory
  • Cravings for fentanyl
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria, typically followed by apathy
  • Declined interest in things one was once interested in


Understanding the Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

Continued fentanyl abuse can cause several upsetting outcomes to develop within one’s life. These consequences can affect one’s overall functionality and impact the many areas of his or her life. Additionally, an individual’s physical health can be jeopardized if the abuse continues. Some of the many effects that can develop in the face of a continued fentanyl addiction can include the following:

  • Suffering from an oxygen deficiency in the body’s tissues (anoxia)
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • Impaired visual acuity
  • Slowed gastrointestinal activity
  • Legal interactions due to criminal activity taking place in order to obtain fentanyl (e.g. forging prescriptions)
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Disturbed relationships
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties

Withdrawal and Overdose

Learn More About the Effects of Fentanyl Withdrawal and Overdose

A fentanyl addiction can often occur alongside other mental health conditions. Some of the many disorders that one can experience while also grappling with fentanyl addiction can include the following:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Fentanyl Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal: Similar to the abuse of other opioids, when fentanyl use is suddenly ceased or lessened, withdrawal symptoms can begin. These symptoms can be very painful and can include the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Aching muscles
  • Dilated pupils
  • Intense cravings for more fentanyl
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

Effects of fentanyl overdose: Overdosing on fentanyl is a major risk that those who abuse this substance face. An overdose occurs when more fentanyl is ingested than the body can handle. A fentanyl overdose is extremely dangerous, and if any of the following symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Inability to think or talk in a normal manner
  • Inability to walk
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Severe dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Shallowed or labored breathing
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Cold, clammy skin

Almost lost my son to fentanyl. He needed help badly. North Tampa took in a broken person and nursed him back to health. I have my son back now and he has been sober for 7 months, a record for him.

– Harietta K
Marks of Quality Care
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Florida Agency for Health Care Administration
  • Florida Department of Children and Families
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval