Quitting Fentanyl Safely
Fentanyl is a synthetic (i.e., manmade) opioid that is prescribed for severe pain after surgery or other medical procedures, and for people with chronic pain who have become tolerant to other opioids.1, 2 It is also misused recreationally for its euphoric effects.1
Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin.1, 12 Like all opioids, fentanyl is a powerful drug; however, fentanyl’s potency increases a person’s risk for addiction, overdose, and even death.1, 2
Quitting fentanyl or any opioid can be very difficult to do on your own, and many people who are opioid-dependent benefit from the support of professionals to safely quit misusing fentanyl or other opioids.
This article will help you understand the challenges related to quitting fentanyl and other opioids, whether quitting fentanyl “cold turkey” is safe, helpful tips to help you to quit fentanyl, and information about opioid addiction treatment programs.
Challenges When Quitting Fentanyl
Fentanyl, like other opioids, works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and other areas of the body.1, 3 It blocks sensations of pain between the body and brain, and increases dopamine levels in the brain’s reward center, producing an intense euphoria.1, 3
The pleasurable and/or euphoric effects of fentanyl and other opioids act as positive reinforcement for repeated use.3 Over time, the brain adapts to the constant presence of fentanyl, becoming less sensitive to its effects and requiring it to feel normal, known as tolerance.1, 3
Regular use of fentanyl and other opioids can also lead to physiological dependence when attempts to quit using or reduce use can result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.1, 3 Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety and irritability.4, 5
- Chills with goosebumps.1, 3, 4, 5
- Depressed mood.4
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.1, 3, 4, 5
- Difficulty sleeping.1, 3, 4, 5
- Dilated pupils.4, 5
- Excessive yawning.4, 5
- Greater response to pain.4
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.5
- Increased respiratory rate.5
- Higher body temperature.5
- Muscle spasms.5
- Pain in the bones and muscles.1, 3, 4, 5
- Runny nose.4, 5
- Strong cravings for opioids.1, 3
- Teary eyes.4, 5
- Trouble sitting still.4
- Unintentional leg movements (kicking).1
Acute withdrawal from fentanyl can occur quickly. Withdrawal symptoms can begin within a few hours of last use.1 The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can be affected by:5
- The amount of fentanyl and other opioids you use.
- How frequently you take fentanyl or other opioids.
- The way you take fentanyl (route of administration) and other opioids.
- Your age.
- Your physical and mental health.
- Whether you use other substances or medications in addition to opioids.
Is it Safe to Quit Fentanyl “Cold Turkey”?
When you stop using a substance all at once, that is referred to as quitting “cold turkey.” It can be extremely difficult to do this, particularly for regular fentanyl users or people who have been using opioids at high doses for long periods of time.
The severe withdrawal symptoms are incredibly uncomfortable and sometimes painful, and the strong cravings for opioids can contribute to a person relapsing or returning to opioid use.1 It is dangerous to return to opioid use after even a short period of abstinence because it reduces a person’s tolerance levels.13 Taking the same amount of fentanyl or other opioids that a person took prior to experiencing withdrawal symptoms may result in a life-threatening overdose.13
Given the difficulty with quitting opioids cold turkey, and the risk of overdose should a person return to opioid use, many people benefit from having professional support and medical management of withdrawal when they are trying to stop using.
Medically supervised fentanyl detox and addiction treatment can provide medical care and support to eliminate or ease withdrawal symptoms and prepare you for the recovery process. It may also help you avoid dangerous complications that can occur during the detox process, and ensure you receive care if complications do arise. It may also reduce the risk of relapse.5, 7
Tips for Quitting Fentanyl
The recovery process is different for everyone, and many addiction treatment centers individualize a person’s care, tailoring treatment for each person’s specific needs.8 The following are tips you may find helpful as you work to quit using fentanyl:
- Get professional help. It can be hard to quit using fentanyl or other opioids on your own, and relapse can be common.7, 8 Treatment facilities offer a range of services that typically offer detox, counseling, and medication to help you recover. This can also help you explore factors that may have contributed to substance misuse, such as co-occurring mental health disorders, which are common among people with addiction.8
- Limit your exposure to substances and triggers for substance use. It can be hard to resist using when you are around substances, and even seeing people or substances can trigger strong urges to use, which are difficult to resist.8
- Practice self-care. Ensuring that you are taking care of your basic needs, such as getting adequate sleep, proper nutrition, exercising, and managing stress is a good way to take care of yourself in a way you may not have when using fentanyl or other opioids.
- Attend self-help meetings. 12-Step and other mutual support group meetings can provide support and even increase the benefits of attending treatment. Participating in mutual help groups may also help you maintain sobriety once you finish treatment.8
- Be patient with yourself. Keep in mind that recovery is a lifelong process that doesn’t occur overnight. Some days will be harder than others and keeping a positive mindset can help you through the tough days, along with a group of supportive people.8
- Consider continuing care. Aftercare or continuing care is available after completing treatment, such as self-help or mutual support meetings, individual therapy, medications for opioid use disorder, and recovery housing. Continuing care and aftercare programs can help to prevent relapse as you continue to maintain recovery following formal treatment. Many treatment programs will offer aftercare planning in partnership with your treatment team.
Importance of Quitting Fentanyl
Since it is significantly more potent than other opioids, fentanyl is associated with addiction and a higher risk of fatal overdose.1, 2 It’s common for other drugs like heroin, other opioids, stimulants, MDMA, and counterfeit Xanax or other prescription pills to be combined with low-cost illicitly-produced fentanyl.1 People who sell drugs can make higher profits by selling a less expensive high.1 People who take these drugs may not be aware of the presence of fentanyl and are much more likely to experience an overdose that can be fatal.1
Quitting fentanyl, other opioids, and other substances may help you to not only avoid overdose, but also to improve your mental health, allow your brain chemistry to restabilize, and allow you to function better in your daily life.7
Fentanyl Rehab Centers and Addiction Treatment Programs
While addiction cannot be cured, it can be managed effectively and there is treatment available.8 If you have an addiction to fentanyl or other opioids, there are various forms of opioid addiction treatment that can help you recover. These include:
- Supervised detox. Staff can provide medication to eliminate or manage withdrawal symptoms, as well as monitor your progress and watch for potential complications so that they can address them right away and ensure your safety.5
- Inpatient treatment. While you reside at the facility for the duration of treatment, you receive group and individual therapy, medication, and other forms of support, depending on your individual needs.8 Staff is present around the clock to support and monitor you. Many inpatient treatment programs can also treat co-occurring mental health disorders that may occur alongside a substance use disorder, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.
- Outpatient treatment. While you continue living at home, you regularly attend treatment at the rehab facility. Outpatient treatment can range in intensity, from partial hospitalization to intensive outpatient to standard outpatient. However, all generally include group and individual therapy sessions, medication, mutual support groups, case management, and detox, and may also include treatment for co-occurring disorders.8
- Behavioral therapy. This includes various forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management (CM), and motivational interviewing (MI), which can help you stay motivated towards abstinence and treatment, learn to identify your triggers, develop coping skills to manage stress and prevent relapse, improve relationships, and change the way you think and act about substance use and sobriety.1, 3
- Medication. Methadone or buprenorphine can be used to completely eliminate or relieve withdrawal symptoms, which keeps you safe during detox, lessens urges to use, and may reduce the likelihood of relapse.1, 5 Methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone can be used throughout the recovery process to manage cravings, reduce the risk of relapse, and prevent illicit opioids from having an effect or resulting in overdose in the event of a relapse.1, 9 These medications are often combined with behavioral therapy for increased benefit.1, 9
How to Help a Person Struggling with Fentanyl Addiction
If your loved one has a fentanyl addiction, you may want to help them but not know what to do.14 Addiction can affect the entire family, leaving loved ones with feelings of fear, anger, frustration, and resentment.14 You may feel isolated or ashamed, and uncomfortable talking about addiction with others. Here are a few tips to help your loved one while also taking care of yourself:10, 14
- Practice self-care, ensuring that you get enough rest, are eating properly, and make time for regular exercise.
- Find a time to speak to your loved one when they aren’t under the influence and in a setting where you aren’t likely to be distracted.10
- Speak to them honestly, without being judgmental.10
- Listen to them and validate their feelings.10
- Offer your support, such as helping them find treatment centers, and asking if they want you to attend any appointments with them.10
- Consider attending family therapy, since family support can help people with an addiction stay in treatment longer and have better outcomes.8, 11
If you need additional support or have any questions about addiction treatment, contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) at . Our compassionate admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer any questions you have and discuss treatment options that meet your needs. They can also help you check insurance coverage. Call today to start on a new path today.