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How to Help a Fentanyl Addict

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Comforting a friendFentanyl is an opiate narcotic used to relieve severe pain, such as breakthrough cancer pain. It is extremely potent – 50-100 times more potent than morphine and 30-50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or cocaine and sold on the street, amplifying its already significant effects and potential dangers.

If you or someone you know is abusing fentanyl, it’s essential to find treatment right away, as abusing this drug (especially with other drugs) can be deadly.

Help for an Addict

Fentanyl addiction needs to be addressed as soon as possible. The effects of abuse are quite severe, causing symptoms ranging from respiratory depression and nausea to coma and even death.

The good news is that those struggling with a fentanyl addiction can find recovery through treatment.

Addiction recovery programs for fentanyl addiction can vary and are typically provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Both types of treatment often incorporate several steps, which can include (but are not limited to):

  • Safe medical detox from fentanyl.
  • Evaluation.
  • Therapy (individual and/or group).
  • Participation in 12-step recovery programs.
  • Aftercare planning (such as assignment to sober-living facilities).

Fentanyl addicts need more than a hospital

A 2017 study looked into the deaths rates for opioid addicts who only went into hospital care versus those who worked through an addiction treatment program. They found that treatment programs had significantly lower death rates than hospitals, meaning opioid addicts may benefit more from a formal treatment program. Addiction specialists can help recovering fentanyl addicts acknowledge the problem and its contributing factors as well as teach them skills needed to resist fatal relapse.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Opioid Abusers at Higher Death Risk When Addiction Specialists Not Part of Care. Medline Plus.

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

While fentanyl may not be as well known as more commonly prescribed pain medications, synthetic opiate drugs like it are being increasingly abused on a regular basis. In response to an alarming growth in the number of fentanyl-related deaths, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in 2015 regarding its dangers.

Fentanyl acts similarly to more commonly well-known drugs like heroin and morphine, both of which can rapidly lead to addiction. Like other opiates, it interacts with the body’s opiate receptors, which are the parts of the brain that help to regulate processes such as pleasure, pain and emotions and produces:

  • A state of euphoria.
  • Feelings of relaxation.
  • Reduced feelings of pain.

The positive feelings that the fentanyl produces can lead the user to turn to the drug again and again, building up a tolerance and developing a devastating addiction.

What are the Signs of Addiction?

The signs of fentanyl abuse are similar to that of other opiates in that they can range from mild to life-threatening. Someone who is abusing fentanyl may show the following signs:

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constricted pupils (pinpoint pupils).
  • Itchy skin.
  • Constipation.
  • Drowsiness and sedation.
  • Confusion.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Periodic loss of consciousness.
  • Mood changes.
  • Clammy skin/sweating (diaphoresis).
  • Slowed or labored breathing.
  • Constant, intense craving for fentanyl.

In addition to the physical signs, someone battling a fentanyl addiction may also show the following personal and lifestyle changes:

  • Compulsion to seek the drug, such as doctor shopping for prescriptions.
  • Impaired personal relationships.
  • Changes in physical appearance/hygiene.
  • Rapidly changing moods.
  • Financial problems from spending money on fentanyl.

Am I Addicted to Fentanyl?

You might be addicted if:

  • You are prioritizing fentanyl use above aspects of life, such as family, work and relationships with others.
  • You have become tolerant to the drug (you need to take larger and larger amounts to feel the same effects).
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you’re not using, which can include runny nose, sweating, irritability, gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, stomach cramps), and body aches.

If you’re experiencing any of the signs of addiction listed above, consider getting into rehabilitation right away. Addiction to fentanyl doesn’t have to steal your life away. It’s not too late to get treatment.

Addiction Treatment

Group therapy

Most people combating a fentanyl addiction will need help to stop using. Treatment for fentanyl abuse typically involves attendance at an inpatient residential treatment center. This type of treatment provides:

  • Safe, comfortable detox.
  • Immersive care.
  • An environment apart from the user’s everyday environment which is not conducive to recovery, e.g. places where fentanyl is easily available, or where there is no support for the recovering addict.
  • Group and individual therapy approaches.
  • Assistance with proper nutrition, and physical health essential to wellness.
  • Family educational programs, which helps those affected by the addicted family member, healing relationships and building bridges to improved family life.

Outpatient/non-residential treatment centers may also be an option, especially where there is a supportive home environment; however, outpatient treatment may not be appropriate for those with severe addictions or related medical complications, as it does not remove the individual from the environment in which he or she has been using.

The right type of treatment will depend on the specific needs of the addicted person, finding the treatment plan best suited to address these needs. Additionally, most treatment programs, residential and outpatient, provide integrated services for those individuals presenting with addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

How to Help Someone with Alcohol or Illicit Drug Addiction

Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

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Patrick Condron, M.Sc., M.A.C., is an addiction specialist and drug and alcohol counselor. He is Executive Director of Lazarus House, Inc., a transitional residential program for men and women who continue to work on their recovery towards independent living.
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