Managing Fentanyl and Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms: A Guide for Patients

Patient Care with Opioid Dependence

When taken in large quantities, opioids can be very harmful and have an extremely high rate of addiction.

The United States also produces and sells a significant amount of illegal fentanyl which is a major contributor to overdoses.

This drug is given to patients by doctors as a short-term pain management for things like a broken bone or dislocated shoulder.

It begins to work very quickly and is eliminated from the body at a fast rate. Because it is so potent, doctors can only give a small amount for a short length of time. This is what leads to seeking the drug illegally.

Due to the severe withdrawal symptoms, quitting is difficult.

Overview of Withdrawal Symptoms 

When you stop taking fentanyl or any other opioid, the withdrawal process begins quickly. The first signs of withdrawal can appear anywhere from 12 to 30 hours after your last dose.

Due to the opioid’s effects on dopamine and neurotransmitters, which are responsible for how the brain experiences pleasure, people going through withdrawal frequently experience symptoms that can resemble depression. This may last longer than many of the other withdrawal side effects.

It is important to seek help such as counseling and peer support groups to help with the effects on one’s mental health.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • a strong desire to use
  • chills or goosebumps
  • diarrhea
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • muscle cramps
  • bone pain
  • excessive yawning
  • restlessness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • sweating
  • weakness

Stages of Fentanyl Withdrawal 

The severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary. There are three phases to the process:

  1. Early: opioids typically cause withdrawal symptoms 12 hours after the last dose is taken
  2. Peak: the most severe withdrawal symptoms typically appear 1-2 days after the last dose 
  3. Long-Term: the majority of physical symptoms pass within 3-5 days. However, when people stop using fentanyl, they may experience ongoing emotional problems. 

Psychological Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal:

  • Anhedonia – the inability to experience pleasure
  • The pink cloud syndrome – feelings excessively happy and ignoring the reality of life
  • Negative feelings – guilt, anger, remorse, low self-esteem

These symptoms often lead to relapse. This is why it is so important to seek professional help, like that of Luxe Recovery, to help maintain lasting recovery from substance use.

Withdrawal Management and Treatment

Withdrawal symptoms can last several days to several weeks and can be quite severe. Medical supervision during detox is always recommended and will have the best success rates. To alleviate the withdrawal symptoms, medications are used.

How Long Does Fentanyl Withdrawal Last?

Withdrawal depends on several factors, including:

  • physical and mental health
  • genetic and biological factors
  • history of drug use
  • if medications are used

Symptoms tend to taper off after 7-10 days.

Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT)

To stop using, your doctor may suggest that you follow a medication-assisted treatment program that replaces the drug with a different type of opioid to address the physical cravings but without the euphoric effects. 

One of these medications will be used:

  1. methadone
  2. buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex)
  3. extended-release naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Medical supervision is required for MAT. Your dosage, frequency and duration of treatment will all be determined by your doctor.

Methadone or buprenorphine may be able to be tapered off gradually in the future so one does not have to take it long term. 

Lifestyle Changes 

  • Increase water intake 
  • Eat foods high in vitamins and nutrients
  • Exercise – even walking will help
  • Mindfulness and meditation 
  • Look for things to help you to relax – a bath or reading
  • Find things to do to distract your mind
  • Implement positive self-talk to help get through hard times

Opioid Withdrawal Deaths

Despite how dangerous and toxic fentanyl is, withdrawing from it is much safer than from alcohol. Death from fentanyl withdrawal is usually due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea.

If these symptoms are not treated, the body can become extremely dehydrated leading to dangerously high levels of sodium to accumulate in the blood – this is called hypernatremia and can lead to heart failure. 

These deaths can be prevented by seeking medical supervision in a detox facility and not attempting to do it alone.

Cold Turkey

Quitting cold turkey is never recommended. There is a high risk of relapse due to the severe physical symptoms and inability to fight the urge to use. Medically supervised detox, medications, counseling and support are easier and safer and result in more successful recoveries.  

Treatment Programs for Opioid Use Disorder

Never Do It Alone

The most important thing to remember about the withdrawal process is to not do it alone. Withdrawal is very uncomfortable and maintaining the willpower to not use is extremely difficult. 

There are many professionals out there to help make the process safe and comfortable. It will also lay the foundation for long-term recovery.

Luxe Recovery can assist with your detox and treatment needs. Please reach out today to discuss how we can help.

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