Fentanyl is a very strong opioid. It is a schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has its uses in the medical field, but also have a significantly high risk of causing addiction.
Due to its strength, fentanyl is often laced with other substances to increase their effects. In fact, Fentanyl is the top cause of opioid overdose. Fentanyl is commonly used on patients that already have an opioid tolerance and need a stronger substance to feel the effects, which is why people will add fentanyl to the substances they’re selling on the street.
Because of how powerful Fentanyl is, and because its effects wear off in under an hour and a half, users will grow tolerant to it extremely fast. It also activates opioid receptors which induce strong feelings of euphoria, and even rewires how the brain interprets pain. This makes it high-risk for addiction.
In a lot of cases, most people are unaware they are taking fentanyl, as it can be used to enhance the effects of other drugs such as heroin. As a result, there have been overdoses from fentanyl than any other opioid out there.
Like other opioids, withdrawal occurs when the brain attempts to adjust to real life without the chemicals brought in by fentanyl, which the brain has developed a dependency towards. For physical effects of fentanyl withdrawal, these include and are not limited to body aches, muscle pain, nausea, diarrhea, restlessness, anxiety and intense cravings for more fentanyl or other drugs.
Psychologically, the brain has a difficult time responding to pleasure naturally, as it has been rewired to only accept artificial spikes of dopamine as proper pleasure. Those going through fentanyl withdrawal can easily become depressed, anxious or irritable as a result, and can last for weeks if not properly treated.
Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT) is an effective method of detoxing, similar to other opioid addictions. Methadone, which is a much weaker opioid, can be prescribed to help diminish the symptoms of withdrawal from fentanyl. The problem, however, is that fentanyl is such a strong opioid that in some cases, the patient may become addicted to these weaker opioids instead. The goal with ORT is to slowly reduce the amount of chemicals from opioids the brain receives until it is able to readjust to functioning without them.
Like other opioids, behavioral therapy is very effective in treating fentanyl addictions. Because opioids rewire the brain’s reward system, behavioral therapy counters those stigmas by finding new ways to trigger the reward receptors without abusing substances.