Fentanyl Addiction & Abuse

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What Is Fentanyl Addiction?

Fentanyl is one of the most potent opioids available in both the legal and illegal markets. Regardless of how it is accessed and taken, it poses a significant risk to the health of individuals who come into contact with it, both for its high potential for producing physiological and psychological addiction, and its potential risk of overdose.

Addiction is a condition with both physical and mental sides, that refers to the compulsive need and act of continuously taking a substance despite knowledge of the negative consequences of doing so. Individuals who use fentanyl for medical reasons are at risk of developing a dangerous substance use disorder, while individuals who are exposed to it through street drugs may develop fentanyl dependence in tandem with an addiction to another substance.

Difference between Abuse and Addiction

Fentanyl abuse or misuse refers to any situation where an individual uses this prescription drug for non-medical reasons, or in greater or more frequent doses.

People who experience fentanyl as a substance cut into a different illicit opioid are also theoretically abusing the drug without necessarily being addicted to it. However, due to its extreme potency, individuals in both scenarios can rapidly develop addictions from just one or two instances of abuse.

Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction and Dependence

Red flags that fentanyl addiction has developed include:

  • Cravings
  • Compulsive thoughts about using
  • Withdrawal syndrome
  • Attempting and failing to stop using
  • Secrecy, lying, and diversion when others ask about use
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from loved ones

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic originally developed as a pain medication that can treat the worst instances of acute pain in already opioid-resistant medical patients. It is not frequently prescribed as its potency sits between 80 and 100 times that of morphine. That said, there are medical situations where it may be deemed necessary, such as in the management of pain from cancer for individuals who have developed a high tolerance for the effects of opioids.

In recent years, fentanyl has brought in a third wave of overdose cases to the US’s rising opioid epidemic – believed to be responsible for much of the rise in annual overdose deaths (which grew from 3,105 to 56,883 between 2013 and 2020).

Ten years ago, trafficking cartels took notice of fentanyl’s high potency and inexpensive production costs and began to cut other street drugs, such as heroin, with this powerful and cheap opioid. This has made already risky products far more dangerous.

Legal Status

As a prescription drug, the Drug Enforcement Administration lists fentanyl as a Schedule II substance. This means it is understood to have a high potential for abuse and addiction, and can only be accessed legally through highly regulated means and for short prescription terms.

Brand Names

Fentanyl is available as lozenges, patches, and dissolvable tablets. You may see it under the names:

  • Actiq
  • Fentora
  • Abstral
  • Onsolis
  • Duragesic

Street Names

Street manifestations of fentanyl, either on its own or in other products, go by many names:

  • Apache
  • China Girl
  • China White
  • Chinatown
  • Dance Fever

  • Goodfellas
  • Great Bear
  • Poison
  • Tango and Cash
  • He-Man

Characteristics of Fentanyl Medicaments

Fentanyl is not prescribed for round-the-clock pain management. It is prescribed to treat what is called “breakthrough pain,” or pain that appears despite taking scheduled doses of another narcotic analgesic.

Individuals who are not prescribed fentanyl should never risk experimenting with it. It can cause immediate serious harm or death if it is taken in someone else’s dose. If you see marked pharmaceutical packaging in your home for fentanyl medication of any kind, prescribed to an outside individual, treat it as an urgent health issue.

Side effects

Fentanyl side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach pain, gas, and heartburn
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Facial/upper body flushing
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Back and chest pain
  • Heartbeat arrhythmia
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hormonal changes
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Rash and hives

Dangers of Fentanyl Misuse

One instance of fentanyl misuse can result in a fatal overdose. If you are not opioid-resistant already, a tiny dose of this drug can result in life-threatening fentanyl addiction symptoms. In the longer term, fentanyl is very hard on the body, and can result in:

  • Tolerance and addiction
  • GI, cardiac, and liver tissue damage
  • Drug-induced psychosis
  • Hormonal and reproductive issues
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart failure
  • Chronic mood disorders
  • Immune system suppression

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How Fentanyl Affects Us

If you’re concerned about someone close to you who may have developed a fentanyl addiction, it is understandable to be deeply affected. The consequences and risks associated with opioid use tend to ripple out from the individual user, and greatly alter the lives, emotions, and security of the people close to them.

Family Matters

For better or worse, our families deeply affect us. When something is amiss, such as when a family member is living with fentanyl addiction, this puts extreme strain on relationship dynamics between this core group and affects everyone’s sense of trust, security, and safety.

At the same time, individuals with addictions often come from families with existing addictions, or with other stability challenges and fraught dynamics, producing a cycle that’s difficult to escape.


We feel uniquely helpless when watching a child or partner suffer – and these are the family relationships most likely produce codependent dynamics related to addiction.

However, financially supporting addiction (or supporting to alleviate the consequences of addiction), does nothing to help our loved ones in the long term. Any occasion where we act to reduce the negative impacts of substance abuse delays the realization that things have gotten out of control.

Helping Your Loved Ones

Instead of enabling, the best kind of care you can offer your loved one involves:

  • Setting boundaries, particularly related to what you will and won’t help with
  • Making clear rules about usage around your or in your home
  • Encouraging treatment
  • Learning about their addiction
  • Taking measures to care for your mental health as needed

Is Intervention Necessary?

Fentanyl alters how users think and perceive reality, and speaking to an individual who is addicted to fentanyl about your concerns without the intervention structure may not be successful. A professional interventionist can help you and your family plan and hold a structured conversation with a full toolkit of professional strategies to help people accept and commit to care.

Crime-related statistics

Law enforcement encounters with fentanyl have been dramatically rising since 2013. Of 85,000 drug seizures in the past 12 months, over 9,700 included deadly opioids including fentanyl. This represents a staggering supply: 9,649,551 pills containing fentanyl were seized in 2021 (from 290,304 in 2018).

Fentanyl Overdose and How to Help

Fentanyl in all its forms can easily produce an overdose. Individuals who take the wrong dose, or take fentanyl-laced opioids without realizing it may immediately begin to experience life-threatening symptoms. No matter what the opioid taken is, something is not right if you experience:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Lessened urge to breathe
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Fainting
  • Hypothermia
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Discoloration of fingertips or lips

If this happens to someone near to you, call 9-11 immediately. Try to access vital information related to the individual’s health, drug of abuse, dosage, and when it was taken to relay to paramedics. Work to support their breathing and draw them to consciousness while you wait for emergency services.

Administering Naloxone and Local Legislations

Naloxone can save lives if properly administered, and due to deliberate workarounds that have made this prescription easier to access, it may be available to you by standing order or third-party prescription, even if you are not the at-risk user.

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

The devastating withdrawal syndrome associated with quitting fentanyl use cold turkey makes getting sober feel like an impossible feat to many. Fentanyl addiction treatment is designed to make it possible, safe, and comfortable to quit for good. Detoxification from fentanyl, as well as medically-assisted detox, can help you or your loved one slowly ease off of a high-potency opioid like fentanyl over a longer period, keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay throughout the process and ensuring that they are safely monitored.

Psychological addiction treatment needs to be personalized to the individual, and quality treatment centers will offer a range of evidence-backed therapies, as well as holistic and alternative treatments, designed to help each client discover and recover from the root causes of addiction.

Find Help for Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl addiction is devastating and demands immediate, responsive care. At our treatment campus, we offer the above modalities and more, designing individual recovery programs together which each client that comes through our door, while additionally highlighting holistic health, family engagement, and dual diagnosis for co-occurring disorders as key options for clients. Reach out today to our 24-hour phone line for more information about how we can help you get the help you need, or to discuss intervention and treatment options for a loved one.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can fentanyl use lead to addiction?

Yes. The use of any psychotropic substance can lead to physical or psychological addiction, but as one of the most potent opioids on the market, fentanyl is unique in how rapidly it can produce physiological dependence and addiction.

Is Fentanyl contributing to the opioid crisis?

Fentanyl is thought to be responsible for the sharp increase in opioid-related overdose deaths since 2013 – sometimes described as the “third wave of the opioid crisis.” The introduction of fentanyl into illicit narcotics production has made these substances extremely inexpensive to make and export to the US, increasing supply and risk.

Can you overdose on fentanyl?

Unfortunately yes, and very easily. Fentanyl poses a severe risk of overdose, even in individuals who have been using it for a long time. 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, just a few grains more or less can make an enormous difference in the strength of the final product – uncertainty that many illicit opioid producers don’t have the ability or will to control.

How long does it stay in my system?

The exact answer to this depends on the dose and your physiology. Fentanyl will generally continue to show up in urine tests between 24 hours and three days after last use, while blood tests will detect it between five hours and 2 days after last use. Withdrawal symptoms tend to arise within 12 hours of last use.

Do you treat fentanyl addiction?

Yes, we do. We offer medically-assisted detox and long-term therapeutic care for individuals struggling to quit this potent opioid. Reach out to us today for full information on our options and to start discussing how we can best serve you or your loved one.

Do You Need Help?

You can get better with the right support. Don’t hesitate to contact us now so that we can discuss the next steps.