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Fentanyl Withdrawal | Causes, Timeline, Symptoms, & Detox

Published on November 16, 2020
young woman laying down experiencing Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid used to treat severe pain. It comes in multiple formulations, including: 

  • a fentanyl patch (brand name Duragesic)
  • a lozenge (brand name Actiq)
  • an injection (Sublimaze)

Side effects of fentanyl include drowsiness, anxiety, and constipation. 

Many people who take fentanyl develop a physical dependency. This means they require the drug to function normally. If they suddenly stop taking it, they’ll experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. 

While fentanyl withdrawal is difficult, knowing what to expect from the process can make it easier for you or your loved one.

What Causes Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms?

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms occur due to physical dependency. You’re more likely to become physically dependent on fentanyl if you take it as prescribed for more than a few weeks or if you abuse it. 

Fentanyl abuse occurs when you use the drug without following your doctor’s instructions.

 For drug abuse to occur, you might:

  • take it more frequently than prescribed
  • take it at higher doses than prescribed
  • take it for a longer period of time than prescribed
  • take it in a manner not prescribed, such as snorting or injecting it
  • mix it with alcohol or other drugs
  • take it without a prescription

Physical dependency is often a symptom of addiction. Also known as substance use disorder, addiction is a disease that makes you feel unable to control your fentanyl use despite negative consequences (such as relationship issues or financial losses). 

To recover from a fentanyl addiction, seek help at a substance abuse treatment center.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal process may vary from person to person depending on factors such as health, genetics, and time spent using the drug. 

However, in general, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms follow this timeline:

Early Stage Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms will usually start appearing within 12 to 30 hours after your last dose of fentanyl. 

These early symptoms may include:

  • intense cravings for fentanyl
  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • sweating
  • runny nose
  • watery eyes
  • pain in your muscles and/or joints

Late Stage Withdrawal Symptoms

Within a few days after your last dose, the early stage symptoms will often peak (reach their most severe point). 

You may also begin experiencing additional withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • stomach cramping
  • diarrhea
  • dilated (enlarged) pupils
  • cold flashes with goose bumps
  • increased heart rate

In most cases, withdrawal symptoms will fade within a few weeks. However, some symptoms, especially psychological symptoms like anxiety and cravings, may linger for months. 

Addressing Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Fentanyl and other opioid withdrawal symptoms can be a significant barrier to stopping drug use and preventing overdose deaths. However, treatment options are available to help you through this difficult phase.

Fentanyl Detox

To make the withdrawal process as quick, comfortable, and safe as possible, people who are withdrawing from fentanyl should seek professional help at a medical detox treatment center.

During detox, you or your loved will receive 24/7 care and supervision from a team of medical professionals. 

In most cases, they’ll gradually lower your dosage in a process known as tapering. This strategy can make withdrawal easier, as it doesn’t shock your body as much as quitting cold turkey does. 

The treatment team will also monitor any underlying health conditions and may prescribe medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. 

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Once you complete detoxification (which can take anywhere from three to ten days depending on your situation), you can enter a fentanyl addiction treatment program. 

Available on an inpatient or outpatient basis, these programs offer treatment options such as:

  • behavioral therapy to strengthen your mental health and teach you healthy coping skills that can reduce your risk of future drug abuse 
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in which health care providers use medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to decrease withdrawal symptoms and cravings for fentanyl 
  • peer support groups, in which you can share your challenges and triumphs with other people dealing with prescription opioid addiction and opioid withdrawal

To learn more about medical detox and our addiction treatment options, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Fentanyl DrugFacts
U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) - Duragesic (Fentanyl Transdermal System
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Fentanyl
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal
U.S. National Library of Medicine: StatsPearls - Opioid Withdrawal

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