Fentanyl Withdrawals

fentanyl-withdrawals

Anyone can relate to the aches and pains of the flu. All of the symptoms that accompany it are annoying at best, and dangerous at worst. Now, imagine those flu symptoms, plus an overwhelming craving for fentanyl. Maybe you don’t have to imagine, because it’s your life, or because you watch your loved one experience fentanyl withdrawals regularly. They’re painful, and they’re a huge part of the reason why fentanyl use is so hard to stop.

Three of every four overdose deaths in West Virginia are caused in part, by fentanyl. It’s evident that fentanyl use is a growing problem, and it’s a good thing to want to stop using it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Fentanyl is strong, and fentanyl withdrawal can be, too. That’s why detox programs like what Hope for Tomorrow offers are so helpful. 

We know seeking treatment can be intimidating, and that you may just be looking for answers and ways to survive fentanyl withdrawal. We’ll always encourage treatment, but we can provide all you need to know about fentanyl withdrawals, too.

Why Fentanyl Withdrawals Occur: The Reason for Reliance

Fentanyl withdrawal occurs once the body becomes so used to fentanyl in its system that it becomes dependent on it. Your body and brain don’t know how to function normally without it. You can experience fentanyl withdrawal with as little as a week of taking fentanyl. That’s part of why it’s so important not to take any opioids long-term, whether they’re prescribed or taken illicitly. 

The Flu-Like Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

People often say fentanyl withdrawal feels like a bad flu. Many of the symptoms overlap, such as:

  • Cold and/or hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Body aches and pains
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Fast heart rate
  • High blood pressure

The good news is, for as painful as withdrawal symptoms can be, they’re rarely life-threatening. The biggest physical risk comes from dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting.

Not Limited to the Physical: The Added Mental Withdrawal Symptoms

In addition to physical symptoms, fentanyl withdrawal often comes with the following mental symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Problems with memory and focusing
  • Intense cravings for fentanyl

Suicidality is also possible during the withdrawal process. This can come from the depression withdrawal can bring on, a desire to end the pain of withdrawal, or hopelessness in those fighting withdrawal who want to stop using fentanyl. No matter the reason, it’s vital to contact a medical professional immediately if you experience any thoughts of suicide.

symptoms-of-fentanyl-withdrawal

The Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline and How It Varies

Just like everyone with fentanyl use disorder is different, so is everyone’s fentanyl withdrawal timeline. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard formula to guide people through the process, but there are some commonalities in the overall withdrawal timeline..

The Stages of Fentanyl Withdrawal

There are no official stages of fentanyl withdrawal, but symptoms generally can start as early as eight hours after the last dose. The first 24 hours of symptoms tend to be mild. The flu-like symptoms typically come within a couple of days, and peak around three days in. Most of the time, after a week, the fentanyl will be out of your system and the withdrawal symptoms will ease up. Sometimes, though, the symptoms will last longer, even up to weeks after the last dose.

This is part of the reason why it’s so hard to stop using fentanyl: Withdrawal symptoms are painful, and taking more fentanyl puts a stop to them. The problem is, the more fentanyl someone takes, the worse the withdrawal symptoms will be when fentanyl isn’t in their system.

What Factors Affect the Timeline?

How long withdrawal symptoms last and how severe they are depends on multiple factors. How long someone has taken fentanyl, how much fentanyl they use, and how often they use it all influence this timeline. Whether they take any additional substances, including legal prescriptions, alongside fentanyl can also impact the withdrawal process. 

As with most things, the person’s body type and general health outside of substance use also impacts withdrawal times and severity. 

How Is Fentanyl Withdrawal Different From Other Opioids? Increased Risk of Overdose

Withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly painful and unpleasant. This can lead people to do whatever they can to make them stop, which often includes returning to fentanyl use. Returning  after a period of abstinence is even more dangerous than any other instance of fentanyl use, because your body may have a lower tolerance than it did before you quit. You may administer the same dose of fentanyl you did before trying to stop, and overdose. 

Fentanyl is the strongest opioid available. It is 100 times stronger than morphine, and even two milligrams – less than a tenth of the size of a penny – can cause an overdose due to its potency. This makes fentanyl withdrawal more dangerous by extension, both due to a higher severity of withdrawal symptoms and a higher chance of overdosing.

Quitting Fentanyl “Cold Turkey” vs. Weaning

The best way to avoid fentanyl withdrawal is by weaning off of it under a doctor’s watchful eye. Quitting “cold turkey” means stopping fentanyl use abruptly, and while wanting to quit using fentanyl is a good idea, that can make withdrawal symptoms intense. 

If you’re taking fentanyl per your doctor’s recommendation, work with them to wean – also known as taper – off of the medication. They will build a plan for you based on what’s best for your health and making withdrawal symptoms as manageable as possible. Just like the withdrawal timeline, the tapering timeline varies based on how much fentanyl you’ve taken, and for how long. The more fentanyl you’ve used, the longer it will take to taper off of it safely. It’s important to stay in touch with your doctor and follow their directions closely. If you’re tempted to take more fentanyl than your doctor instructed to cope with withdrawal, contact your doctor right away. 

If you have a fentanyl use disorder, you may feel inclined to stop your fentanyl use alone. While some people can do it, it’s difficult to manage withdrawal by yourself, and you may go back to fentanyl after a withdrawal period. The best thing you can do is seek a fentanyl detox program and fentanyl addiction treatment.

managing withdrawal effects
Serious men and women sitting in a circle during group therapy, talking.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Medications a Doctor May Use

The first step of treatment for a fentanyl use disorder is usually detox, where medical professionals will watch over you during the withdrawal process. They may also prescribe medications to help you manage withdrawals and curb fentanyl cravings so you can focus on other aspects of your recovery. The gold standard for fentanyl/opioid detox is Suboxone (buprenorphine), which is FDA-approved for detox.

It’s important to remember that using these medications to help withdrawal symptoms must be done with medical supervision.