Footprints to Recovery

Fentanyl Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Lisa Tomsak, DO

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Fear of opioid withdrawal keeps some people stuck in the addiction cycle. Maybe you know of people with an addiction to fentanyl or other substances who’ve tried to detox on their own. It’s usually not a good experience. Quitting alcohol or drugs cold turkey without monitoring from medical professionals can be dangerous, painful, and lead to a quick relapse in an effort to stop uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The truth is the drug withdrawal process can be safe and much more tolerable in a medical detox program. Your treatment team will ease discomfort with research-backed medications, attend to medical emergencies, and help you feel comfortable and cared for.

What Is Fentanyl Withdrawal Like?

If you have a fentanyl addiction, withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and dangerous. That’s why it’s so important to detox in a medical setting. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are similar to other synthetic opioids, and may include:

  • Abdominal cramping and stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bone and muscle aches
  • Runny nose and other flu-like symptoms
  • Opioid cravings
  • Low body temperature
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Chills
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

Going through this process in a fentanyl detox center won’t eliminate all withdrawal symptoms, but it will make them much less painful and bothersome. Medical detox also ensures you’re safe throughout the withdrawal process.

Self-Assessment: Am I Addicted?

How Long Does Fentanyl Withdrawal Last?

Fentanyl detox and withdrawal is different for everyone. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms depend on:

  • How long you’ve been using opioids.
  • The amount of opioids you abuse regularly.
  • If you have co-occurring disorders (mental or physical).
  • If you’re abusing alcohol or other drugs.
  • Your physical make-up.

The body metabolizes opioids rapidly. This means fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may start just hours after your last use. Withdrawal from opioids is usually a phased process, with the most intense and dangerous period occurring in the 24 hours after quitting.

First Phase

Opioid withdrawal symptoms typically start within 12 hours after you last used fentanyl, heroin, or other opioids. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms result from the absence of dopamine. Because your brain has become dependent on opioids to produce this important chemical, the central nervous system goes into overdrive trying to rebalance neurotransmitters without the help of external substances. Opioid withdrawal symptoms build over 48 hours. They generally peak the second or third day of detox.

The first phase of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Intense opioid cravings
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps and bone pain
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating

Second Phase

Within 3 to 5 days, your brain begins to produce its own dopamine again. The body starts to slowly adjust to life without opioids. Withdrawal symptoms during this period may include:

  • Goosebumps
  • Sudden chills
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting

Third Phase

This phase may feel like the last stages of a bad case of the flu, with lingering aches and pains. The third phase of opioid withdrawal may continue for a couple of weeks. The body has partially recovered, but psychological symptoms are common since dopamine is tied to mood, motivations, and other mental health functions. Lingering fentanyl withdrawal symptoms at this point, may include:

  • General malaise
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Mild to moderate depression

It’s important to remember that fentanyl withdrawal and detox are temporary. Addiction medicine professionals can help you through this first step in recovery. Once you’re feeling better physically, you’ll be able to focus on the important treatment that will help you stay sober.

What Causes Fentanyl Withdrawal?

Withdrawal symptoms occur when you have a chemical dependency and stop taking drugs or alcohol. Because fentanyl is so strong, you can develop a physical dependence on it quickly. You build a tolerance to fentanyl’s effects. This means you need to take increasing amounts of opioids to feel high, and you also need to take drugs to prevent symptoms of withdrawal.

Fentanyl and other opioids act as endorphin imposters. They rob your body of the ability to produce feel-good chemicals on its own. Opioid and opiate addiction impacts the brain’s opioid receptors and reward system. Fentanyl attaches to opioid receptors and causes them to produce large amounts of dopamine and other chemicals. These are the chemicals responsible for feelings of pleasure. They provide the euphoria that gets many users hooked on the drug.

If you’ve been abusing fentanyl, your brain becomes dependent on it to produce even normal amounts of feel-good chemicals. When you quit fentanyl, the lack of normal levels of brain chemicals and the efforts to restore them brings on physical symptoms of withdrawal. 

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?

The effects of fentanyl that make you feel high generally last about 4 hours, but this depends on a variety of factors. Fentanyl stays in your system long after the high goes away. Drug tests for fentanyl that can detect fentanyl and its metabolites include:

What Is Fentanyl Detox Like?

The importance of detox in a medical setting cannot be stressed enough. Not only does it ensure you’re safe during a medical emergency, it helps prevent relapse. Many people who try to quit cold turkey, and detox from alcohol or drug abuse on their own end up relapsing because the withdrawal symptoms are unbearable. During medical detox, health care professionals will use the latest prescription medications and treatment approaches to soothe your withdrawal symptoms. They’ll keep you safe and make you as comfortable as possible. A nursing team will care for you around the clock to monitor your vital signs and comfort level.

What Happens After Fentanyl Detox?

Medical detox is the first step in fentanyl addiction treatment. To prevent relapse, you must address the reasons behind your substance use disorder and learn healthy coping skills.

Addictions develop as symptoms of deeper issues. These often include:

  • Trauma
  • Emotional pain
  • Relationship issues
  • Co-occurring mental illnesses
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor coping skills

Long-term recovery depends on addressing these underlying issues. Getting to the root causes of alcohol and drug use helps prevent relapse. When you begin healing from these difficulties, you feel less of a need to self-medicate them with substance abuse. Developing healthy coping skills is critical to facing triggers back in everyday life. Time in a drug rehab gives you space and distance to focus on these important parts of recovery.

Fentanyl addiction treatment may include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Relapse prevention training
  • Medication management for co-occurring disorders
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to ease opioid cravings
  • Exposure to 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • A continuing care plan

Does Insurance Cover Fentanyl Detox?

Most insurance companies are required to cover substance abuse treatment in the same way as other medical conditions. Drug and alcohol detox is often considered a medical necessity. Your insurance may cover all or a portion of medical detox and an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program.

The best way to determine your coverage for drug rehab is to call our admissions team. We’ll speak directly with your insurance representatives to understand your benefits and provide you an estimate of any out-of-pocket costs.

How Do I Get Help?

If you’re struggling, or if a loved one is showing fentanyl addiction signs, call us. Footprints to Recovery offers evidence-based addiction treatment that is engaging and effective. You’ll recover alongside peers experiencing similar struggles and get care from behavioral health staff who are experts in substance abuse and mental health treatment. We have several levels of care, including:

We know that entering an addiction treatment program is not an easy decision, but if you’re abusing opioids, it is the right decision. We can help. Call us for a free, confidential consultation.

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.

David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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