Fentanyl Abuse Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides fentanyl addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Fentanyl

Learn about fentanyl and substance abuse

Fentanyl is a prescription opioid that is used in acute settings to relieve pain when other, less potent, painkillers are insufficient. Doctors may prescribe fentanyl after surgery or in the case of an injury for short-term relief of high levels of pain. When used appropriately and under the guidance of the prescribing physician, fentanyl can be used safely and effectively during the healing process. However, like other opioids, the euphoric sensations that this drug can produce lends itself to being highly addictive. Furthermore, a new wave of illicit opioids that contain both heroin and a mixture of synthetic fentanyl derivatives have become more popular in recent years, causing a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals who abuse them.

All opioids carry the potential to be incredibly habit-forming, and whether one is abusing prescription fentanyl or one of its illegal synthetic counterparts, professional help will be needed to overcome the devastating effects of a substance use disorder. And while any type of drug abuse is dangerous, individuals who are abusing fentanyl derivatives are placed at increased danger because these drugs are illegal and unregulated, one cannot possibly be sure of the drug’s contents. This lack of information makes the risk of overdose all the more significant, and therefore it becomes all the more critical for individuals who are abusing these types drugs to find what could be life-saving care.


Fentanyl addiction statistics

According to a 2016 report from the Center for Disease Control, the United States is facing a drug overdose epidemic. The rate of drug overdose has spiked over 137% since 2000, and the rate of overdoses from opioids alone has increased by 200% during that time. These findings signal that we are in the midst of a public health crisis related to drug abuse in the United States, and that opioid use has spiraled to unprecedented rates. And while these numbers seem dire, they do demonstrate that if you or a loved one is struggling with a dependence on an opioid like fentanyl, you are far from being alone. As this epidemic becomes more publically acknowledged, a greater discussion about the need for quality treatment can ensue, and information on available care has also become more readily available.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for fentanyl addiction

Those outside the recovery community may wonder what leads an individual down the path of a fentanyl or fentanyl derivative addiction. And while there is no way to accurately predict each instance of chemical dependence, there are some critical factors that have been shown to make one more susceptible to substance abuse, a few of which are briefly described in the following:

Genetics: Having a close family member who has a history of struggling with substances of abuse puts one at a greater risk of developing a chemical dependence. Additionally, individuals who have shown a propensity for certain risky behaviors, impulsivity, aversion to boredom, and thrill-seeking may be more inclined to begin abusing substances as well.

Environmental: Being exposed to substance abuse in the home at an early age may serve to normalize addictive behaviors, and may lead an individual to be more inclined to seek out substances of abuse later in life.

Risk Factors:

  • Being raised in an environment in which substance use was present
  • Family history of substance abuse and/or addiction
  • Personal history of experiencing pain due to a medical condition or injury
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Possessing certain personality traits

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction

If you are wondering if you or a loved one may be struggling with the effects of an addiction to fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative, there are many physiological signs that could indicate the presence of a chemical dependence. While not exhaustive, the following list briefly outlines some of the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Social isolation
  • Continuing to abuse fentanyl and/or fentanyl derivatives despite problems caused by this type of substance abuse
  • Being unable to control the frequency and amount of one’s substance abuse
  • Using fentanyl and/or fentanyl derivatives in situations that are hazardous
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed in favor of substance abuse
  • Go to great lengths, and even deceptive measures, in order to acquire more of one’s substance of choice
  • Displaying unusual or erratic behavior that is uncharacteristic

Physical symptoms:

  • Swollen feet and hands
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heart
  • Slowed breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Fixation on finding more of the drug
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Trouble concentrating

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities


Effects of fentanyl addiction

Abusing fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives will cause a host of damages to all aspects of an individual’s life over time, some of which are described in the following:

  • Social isolation, damage to key relationships
  • Family problems
  • Loss of child custody
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Job loss
  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Legal trouble
  • Overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Fentanyl addiction and co-occurring disorders

Substance abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand, and some individuals seek out substances of abuse in order to attempt to quell symptoms of an untreated mental health condition. It has been noted that there are several mental health conditions that often accompany an addiction to fentanyl or a fentanyl derivative, including:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal & overdose

Effects of Fentanyl withdrawal: When a person abruptly halts his or her drug abuse, he or she will begin experiencing sickening and painful effects, known as withdrawal, soon after his or her last dose. These symptoms are a part of what makes achieving sobriety without support so difficult, and can include the following:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Fever
  • Sweats
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Aches and pains
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue

Effects of Fentanyl overdose: Withdrawal symptoms are difficult to endure, but the most severe risk for those individuals who are dependent on fentanyl is that of death by overdose. If you or someone else has been using these drugs and begins to experience the following symptoms, he or she may have overdosed, and emergency medical attention should be sought immediately:

  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Slow breathing
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue
  • Passing out
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Poor coordination

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
Marks of Quality Care
These accreditations are an official recognition of our dedication to providing treatment that exceeds the standards and best practices of quality care.
  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Department of Health Care Services

Licensed by the State Department of Health Care Services