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Fentanyl Detox

Fentanyl Detox

Fentanyl is a strong painkiller, often given to those with severe health conditions to help alleviate their pain. While effective, its strength also makes it an addictive substance, which can be incredibly dangerous if left untreated.

Sustained use of the drug forces the body to become dependent on it, and individuals tend to experience common opiate withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Fentanyl. These are predominantly physical and include stomach problems, insomnia, and anorexia.

The risks associated with Fentanyl mean that detoxing is the best thing to do, but it can be very difficult when an individual tries to do it alone. It is therefore recommended to only attempt to do so with the help of medical professionals.

Medically assisted detox can provide an individual with all-around support. It can ensure that their health is monitored at all times, as well as provide a prescription of medicinal substitutes. These drugs can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and enhance other aspects of recovery.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller, commonly used to treat severe pain. Its strength means it is often used for those who have undergone surgery or are suffering from cancer. It is 100 times stronger than Morphine [1].

Like other opiates, it is possible to become addicted to Fentanyl. Those who use it recreationally – when they are not treating any pain – can become dependent on its strong effects, and those who have become addicted to other substances in the past are especially vulnerable.

When Fentanyl is used frequently, its powerful effect on the central nervous system can cause changes in the body’s chemistry. Over time, the body settles into this new arrangement, becoming dependent on the substance’s presence in order to function.

Due to its strength, the risk of overdose and death from Fentanyl is much higher than that of heroin. As a result, an individual struggling with a Fentanyl addiction may find that they want to wean themselves from the substance, and so decide to stop using it. This process is known as detox, but it can come with risks.

The process of Fentanyl detox

When an individual’s Fentanyl addiction is not maintained, their body struggles to cope with the sudden imbalance within its system. As a result, withdrawal symptoms quickly manifest.

What are the withdrawal symptoms?

Much like other opiates such as heroin and methadone, Fentanyl causes mainly physical withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Stomach problems, such as cramps and diarrhoea
  • Overproduction of bodily fluids, resulting in teary eyes, sweating, and a runny nose
  • Body discomfort, including aches and pains in the limbs and back
  • Insomnia, often resulting in restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increasingly strong cravings for Fentanyl
  • Fast breathing and rapid heart rate
  • Anorexia

It is also common for psychological effects to be experienced as well. These include anxiousness and feelings of depression, and the thoughts associated with these conditions are often caused by cravings.

When do symptoms start?

Following their most recent use of Fentanyl, an individual tends to experience withdrawal symptoms within 12-30 hours. The severity of these symptoms tends to peak within a couple of days and then decline once more after about a week.

Which symptoms an individual experiences and how long they experience them will depend on the circumstances of their addiction. Factors that have an influence include:

  • How long an individual has been addicted to Fentanyl
  • How much Fentanyl an individual usually takes
  • How frequently an individual uses Fentanyl
  • An individual’s physical health
  • An individual’s mental health

Detoxing without help

When attempted without support, detox usually fails. The physical and mental toll of withdrawal symptoms often pose too much for an individual to handle on their own, and so they struggle to resist the temptation to use again.

Detox can also be dangerous when attempted without assistance. While the process cannot kill directly in the way that alcohol detox can, the symptoms caused can indirectly place an individual in danger.

For example, anorexia caused might lead to health complications down the line, or cravings might provoke an individual to behave irrationally, potentially putting them in harm’s way.

Medically assisted detox

As a result of Fentanyl’s many withdrawal symptoms and the dangers they pose, getting professional help can vastly improve an individual’s chances when attempting to wean themselves from the substance.

The process of assisted detox involves an individual stopping their use of the substance with the support of medical professionals who monitor their mental and physical health as their body adjusts to a lack of the substance.

Why assistance is important

When it comes to detox, the huge benefit in medical assistance comes with the support it lends when withdrawal symptoms hit.

Not only will medical professionals be able to keep an eye on the withdrawal symptoms and monitor what effect they are having on the individual’s progress, but they will also be able to structure the process of detoxification around the circumstances of the individual to maximise its effectiveness.

For example, when analysing how to help an individual, they might consider:

  • The severity of an individual’s addiction
  • Whether an individual has any pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression
  • Whether an individual struggles with any other forms of substance abuse, such as alcoholism, at the same time
  • Whether the use of Fentanyl is recreational or for a genuine injury or pain

The process might also be made easier through the prescription of a medicinal substitute in order to assist the body’s transition away from Fentanyl.

Drugs such as Buprenorphine are known to suppress Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms [2], and a medical professional may choose to administer it in order to keep the body’s chemistry stable if an individual seems to be struggling.

With the relief of these drugs, an individual is in a much better position to tackle the foundations of their addiction. Without the discomfort of their withdrawal symptoms, they are free to engage with therapies and counselling to discuss and work through the emotions and thought processes linked with their addiction.

Following a successful move away from Fentanyl – as well as emotional and mental progress – the medicinal substitute will gradually be withdrawn. This will allow the body to slowly adjust to independence again without the fear of withdrawal symptoms caused by a sudden change.

[1] https://yourroom.health.nsw.gov.au/a-z-of-drugs/Pages/fentanyl.aspx

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17211652/

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