What Is Fentanyl Addiction?

Fentanyl addiction is a brain disorder that occurs when a person continues to misuse Fentanyl even though doing so creates negative consequences in many areas of their life.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic Opioid that is 100 times stronger than Morphine, so its side effects and onset are incredibly powerful. Fentanyl first enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, where it affects the reward system by triggering a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates emotions and feelings of pleasure.

Fentanyl and other Opioids can make the person who took it feel euphoric, alleviating emotional and physical pain. However, the effects are temporary, causing a drop in dopamine. In response, the brain will then produce urges and cravings to make a person continue using to avoid the drop in dopamine levels, leading to repeated relapses and dependence.

Prescription Fentanyl Abuse

According to the most recent Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report, 2.4 million Fentanyl prescriptions were dispensed in 2021. Medications are prescribed to treat chronic pain and other symptoms of terminal and non-terminal diseases. Prescription products include Fentanyl transmucosal lozenges or lollipops, buccal tablets, transdermal patches, nasal sprays, and injectables.

It’s important to note that addiction can still develop even when someone has a prescription for Fentanyl. People may misuse it by taking more than prescribed and by taking it in a way that is not prescribed. Instead of swallowing it orally, they may crush, snort, or inject it. They may also mix Fentanyl with other prescription Opioids, alcohol, or illicit drugs.

Unintentional Fentanyl Use

One of the scariest factors of Fentanyl addiction is that many people do not intend to take the drug or know that they are taking it. Unintentional Fentanyl use is on the rise, as Fentanyl is increasingly mixed with other drugs, like Cocaine, Heroin, and Methamphetamine, due to its strong effects and low cost of production. This is incredibly dangerous, as co-occurring drug use leads to a higher risk of overdose and death.

Diagnosing A Fentanyl Addiction

Doctors and mental health professionals diagnose Fentanyl addiction using the eleven criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to help determine the severity and necessary level of care for treatment. These criteria are:

  • Taking more of the drug and for more extended periods than intended.
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit, despite a desire to do so.
  • Devoting time to finding, using, or recovering from the use of Fentanyl.
  • Having intense cravings or overwhelming urges to use Fentanyl.
  • Continuing to use Fentanyl even though it prevents the fulfillment of personal and professional responsibilities.
  • Continuing to use Fentanyl despite adverse physical or psychological side effects.
  • Continuing to use Fentanyl even though doing so causes relationship problems.
  • Giving up activities that were once enjoyed to spend more time using Fentanyl.
  • Continuing to use Fentanyl despite danger to oneself or others.
  • Building tolerance and needing more of the drug to feel the same effects.
  • Experiencing Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms.

A person must exhibit two or three of the above criteria in the past 12 months for a mild-severity substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis. Moderate severity is when someone meets three to five criteria, and severe Fentanyl addiction is when someone meets six or more criteria.

Signs Of A Fentanyl Addiction

When someone is actively using Fentanyl, they may exhibit:

  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Lapses in consciousness
  • Drowsiness
  • Flu-like withdrawal symptoms
  • Constant itching and scratching
  • Lack of coordination
  • Noticeable euphoria

Continuing to use Fentanyl may lead to addiction, which affects everyone differently. However, there are common physical and behavioral signs to look for that signal an addiction, including:

To avoid or lessen adverse effects, it is important to seek treatment for Fentanyl addiction and start the journey toward healing and recovery.

Risk Factors For Fentanyl Addiction

It is important to note that having risk factors does not guarantee a person will develop a SUD. However, they can increase the potential for addiction.

Risk factors for Fentanyl addiction may include:

Long-Term Drug Use

The earlier in a person’s life that they start misusing Fentanyl, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.

Peer Influences

Someone who spends time with other people who use Fentanyl is at a greater risk of using it themselves. They may want to impress their peers or be afraid of ostracization from the group if they do not partake in drug use.

Past Medical Issues

Someone with a mental health or physical disorder or exposure to trauma may try to cope with symptoms by misusing alcohol or drugs, including Fentanyl.

Home Environment

People who experience trauma or abuse in the home may start using drugs as a coping mechanism. Similarly, growing up with caretakers with SUDs or who encourage drug use can create an environment where a Fentanyl addiction can develop.

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Dangers Of Fentanyl Addiction

Someone with a Fentanyl addiction is at risk for adverse physical and mental effects, including overdose and death.

Physical Effects

Fentanyl causes many physical short and long-term side effects. Fentanyl slows the respiratory system, causing apnea and other breathing problems while sleeping. It may also cause hypoxia, where not enough oxygen reaches the brain.

Fentanyl and other Opioids also weaken the immune system, making it challenging for the body to protect itself from pathogens. Chronic constipation can also occur, as Fentanyl slows the motility of the digestive system and puts someone at risk for bowel obstruction.

The ingestion method of Fentanyl can also cause varying physical effects. Injecting Fentanyl can cause collapsed veins, bacterial infections, and clogged veins due to additives. Snorting the drug can lead to damage within the nasal passage.

Mental Health Effects

People may begin using Fentanyl to cope with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. However, long-term misuse can ultimately worsen these conditions.


Recent reports on drug overdoses in the US reveal that 70,601 overdoses in 2021 were primarily due to illicit Fentanyl. Fentanyl overdose occurs when the amount of Fentanyl in the body reaches toxic levels and results in life-threatening symptoms, most often suppression of respiratory function.

Get Help For Fentanyl Addiction

There are few positive outcomes for someone with a Fentanyl addiction, as it can negatively impact many areas of a person’s life. However, with help, recovery is possible.

To learn more about Fentanyl addiction treatment options, contact a treatment provider today, risk-free.