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Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

Effects of fentanyl abuse. Fentanyl Effects On Body. Effects Of Fentanyl On The Brain. Fentanyl Effect On Heart Rate. Fentanyl Effect On Blood Pressure. Fentanyl Effects On Skin. Fentanyl Abuse Treatment.

What Is Fentanyl?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed in the form of fentanyl transdermal patches or lozenges and can be diverted for abuse. Fentanyl is addictive because of its potency. Most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose, harm, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made and street fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its effect similar to heroin. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a “cutting agent” or combination product (speedball drug)—with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects.

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is typically administered intravenously (IV), intramuscularly (IM), transdermally (TD) as skin patches, intranasally (IN) in the form of a volatile nasal spray, and intrathecally (IT) [1]. It is also available as a buccal soluble thin film, which can dissolve in the mouth, similar to the sublingual tablets. However, in contrast to other synthetic opioids, it is less common to find forms of synthetic drugs such as oral tablets or powders. What does fentanyl taste like? Because of this uncertainty, many people who abuse opioids now do “test doses” in hopes that they will be able to tell if the drug is laced with fentanyl.

effects of fentanyl abuse
Fentanyl abuse is often characterized by euphoria, drowsiness, and lethargy.
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Fentanyl Abuse Symptoms

Fentanyl abuse signs and symptoms may be similar to abuse and addiction symptoms to other opioid-related drugs. However, if a person has a prescription for fentanyl and they become addicted, they may frequently “lose” their prescription as a way to get more drugs. Doctor shopping may also be an issue with prescription fentanyl addiction. People who are addicted to prescription drugs may even steal family and friends’ prescriptions to get high. There are physical, emotional, and behavioral signs and symptoms of addiction that people need to consider.

  • Drowsiness, fatigue, or dozing off at inappropriate times
  • Slurred speech and incoordination
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Sweating
  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Retention of urine
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation, nausea, and vomiting
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth

Effects of Fentanyl Abuse 

Long-term fentanyl abuse can cause effects on the entire body. From the brain, and other organs, to extensive tissue damage, including limb loss, the body as a whole is at risk when a person engages in long-term fentanyl abuse.

Long-term fentanyl use depresses the respiratory system. Respiratory depression over a long period of time can result in less oxygen being distributed throughout the body, which is referred to as hypoxia. This can cause overall, irreversible damage to tissue in the body and result in brain damage, and damage to the cardiovascular system, liver, digestive, and respiratory systems.

Effects of Fentanyl on the Brain

Fentanyl functions in the brain the same way as many other opioid drugs such as heroin. It binds to opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS). These opioid receptors manage and regulate one’s experience with pain. They’re also known to have an impact on one’s emotions.

effects of fentanyl abuse
The most common form of fentanyl hallucination is auditory, usually hearing voices that do not exist.

Once the fentanyl molecules attach to the opioid receptors, they flood the brain’s reward centers with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that is naturally produced by the body. It’s crucial to autonomic function. It’s also integral to the regulation of various behaviors. For instance, it’s responsible for getting people motivated to do certain tasks. It’s what your brain produces as a means of rewarding yourself. However, with fentanyl abuse, the brain is getting rewarded through artificial means.

When dopamine rushes into the brain, it saturates the opioid receptors. This causes a sense of extreme euphoria and relaxation. It’s a feeling that the brain craves. Dopamine saturation can also have lasting effects on the mind. It can cause a cascade of other actions to happen. In fact, too much dopamine can lead to sedation, nausea, confusion, respiratory arrest, respiratory depression, and more.

The influx of dopamine signals to the brain that it needs to stop producing it. As a result, the brain will inherently begin to make less and less of this neurochemical to balance out the neurochemical levels. Unfortunately, within time, the brain will adapt. It will continue to produce dopamine at low levels even when there’s no artificial stimulation.

Mental Health Effects Of Fentanyl

Fentanyl affects chemicals in the brain and can cause significant impairment to the mental health of those who abuse it. Whether fentanyl is linked to developing mental health issues or exacerbating existing issues, the following effects have been linked to long-term use:

  • Increasing levels of depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Lower ability to feel pleasure
  • Inability to regulate emotion

In addition to these effects on mental health, fentanyl use has a unique effect on memory and cognition that has not been seen in other opioid abuse and addiction patients.

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Fentanyl Effects on Body

Fentanyl use may also increase the likelihood of a person engaging in risky behaviors over time. These behaviors may result in physical harm from fights, sexual trauma, or diseases associated with exposure to bodily fluids. In addition to the overall effects of fentanyl abuse on the body, there are some unwanted effects attributed to the method used to ingest fentanyl, like injecting, snorting, and smoking.

Physical Effects Of Injecting Fentanyl 

  • Significant weight loss
  • Malnourishment
  • Heart failure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • HIV exposure (which can eventually lead to AIDS)
  • Collapsed or damaged veins
  • Seizures
  • Liver cancer or cirrhosis
  • Skin abscesses
  • Stroke

Physical Effects Of Snorting Fentanyl 

  • Increased thickened nasal drainage
  • Severe nasal congestion
  • Chronic bloody nose
  • Problems swallowing

Physical Effects Of Smoking Fentanyl 

Although a less common method of abuse, smoking fentanyl does have additional effects associated with long-term use. This drug is not intended to be smoked, and the ingredients in the fentanyl are likely to cause many unwanted side effects, including:

  • Lung damage
  • Problems breathing
  • Organ damage
  • Oral problems (damage to teeth and gums, infections)
  • System-wide toxicity (from chemicals and additives in fentanyl)

Fentanyl Effect on Heart Rate

Bradycardia is a name for what occurs when a person has a slow heartbeat, which is usually defined as having less than sixty beats a minute. When a person experiences bradycardia, their heart can’t pump enough blood during exercise or normal activity [2]. Some of the symptoms of bradycardia include:

  • Dizziness
  • Pervasive lack of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting

Fentanyl can cause bradycardia. Fentanyl and opioids in general act as depressants that slow down the body’s natural systems, including the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. When someone abuses fentanyl, it can lead to a condition called long Q-T syndrome, where the electrical conduction of the heart is slowed and the heart’s natural rhythm is disrupted. This can even happen with short-term fentanyl use. Moreover, long-term use of fentanyl causes the change in the natural rhythm of the heart can become permanent, contributing to a lack of proper oxygen delivery and heart damage.

effects of fentanyl abuse
Quitting cold turkey is also not recommended. The sudden absence of any opioids may be damaging to your body.

Fentanyl Effect on Blood Pressure

Hypotension is a condition that causes the blood pressure (BP) to drop lower than it should be. One effect we tend to overlook about fentanyl is its effect on blood pressure. Opioids such as morphine, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone can trigger a histamine release, resulting in a significant drop in systemic vascular resistance and blood pressure. The effect can be treated with certain antagonists but can be dangerous without the proper medical care.

Although the opioids we mentioned above can cause a histamine release, fentanyl cannot. When fentanyl is used during surgery, it can lead to minimal changes to cardiovascular function. Intravenous fentanyl can cause a modest change in blood pressure and heart rate. However, it’s important to mention that using fentanyl with depressants, like benzodiazepines, can lead to significant cardiovascular changes, including decreased cardiac output and stroke volume, as well as profound decreases in someone’s blood pressure.

Fentanyl administration in analgesic doses can lead to hypotension, as you’d expect from other opioids. Hypotension from fentanyl includes orthostatic hypotension and syncope but is said to be well-tolerated, even in those with coexisting cardiac disease. Bradycardia has been reported by some following chronic use at an analgesic dose.

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Fentanyl Effects on Skin 

Can touching fentanyl lead to an accidental overdose? News stories reporting an incidence of someone becoming ill after simply touching fentanyl can create unnecessary worry or fear in many people. Fentanyl can be absorbed into the body via inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion, or skin contact. Massachusetts recently banned courtroom exhibits containing fentanyl in most cases based on concerns that they might waft out of their packaging and start killing bystanders.

But toxicologists and physicians who actually work with overdose victims and directly with fentanyl say these worries are misguided. It would be difficult to get even mildly high—let alone overdose—by touching street fentanyl or being near people who use it. If first responders avoid or delay treating overdose victims because they fear such exposure, more deaths may result.

Short Term Effects of Fentanyl Abuse 

A Fentanyl high is very similar to heroin, providing:

  • Reduced feelings of pain
  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased blood pressure
  •  Overdose

Those seeking the effects above will often abuse fentanyl by taking it without a prescription, using high doses, or mixing it with other drugs – all of these situations can turn fatal.

effects of fentanyl abuse
Fentanyl affects everyone differently.

Long Term Effects of Fentanyl Abuse 

Some long-term psychosocial effects of Fentanyl abuse may be showing signs of poor judgment in both work and personal situations.

Additionally, with sustained fentanyl abuse, you can:

  • Increase your risk for anoxic injury (damage due to significantly decreased oxygen in the body tissues) and multiple organ system damages
  • Significantly increase your risk of overdose and death
  • Do harm to your personal life and relationships
  • Initiate or worsen pre-existing mental health conditions, including depression and/or labile (frequently changing) moods

Fentanyl Abuse Side Effects 

One of the most common side effects of fentanyl abuse is the onset of addiction (to be clinically accurate, addiction, per the DSM-5, would be called an opioid use disorder). When the body continues to receive fentanyl, it naturally makes adjustments. One adjustment is to build tolerance, which then requires the person to take more fentanyl in order to achieve the desired high.

The side effects associated with fentanyl can occur, with greater severity, in people who abuse this drug. For this reason, it is helpful to consider some of the most common side effects, which include but are not limited to:

  • Swelling in the calves, ankles, feet, and hands
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Convulsions
  • Blurred vision
  • Black stools
  • Labored breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • The feeling of a tight chest
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Decrease in urine flow
  • Cough
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever or chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Pounding in ears
  • Pale skin
  • Back pain or side pain
  • Nervousness
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands, lips, or feet
  • Ulcers, sores, or white spots in the mouth
  • Sneezing, sore throat, or sunken eyes

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Fentanyl Abuse Treatment

First and foremost, if you think that a loved one is abusing fentanyl, you should first research the drug and addiction associated with it so that you can better understand what your loved one needs. Next, you must plan an intervention to provide your loved ones with options to battle the effects of fentanyl abuse in a safe and supportive environment. During this intervention, make sure that you offer compassion and support instead of judgment. Lastly, offer your support throughout the entire treatment process.

In addition, prolonged drug use can have severe physical and psychological effects on you, so it is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible. Inpatient drug rehab offers intensive care that can help you get through the early stages of withdrawal promptly. 

Medically-Assisted Detox

Medical detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.


Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Solution Focused Therapy – is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

Please, do not try to detox on your own. The detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up provide proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to medically assist your recovery through our opioid addiction treatment program. So, reclaim your life, and call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

effects of fentanyl abuse
Fentanyl withdrawal can be very difficult. Do not try to quit on your own, especially if you have been taking Fentanyl for a long time. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms may cause you to relapse.

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[1] CDC –
[2] NIDA –
[3] Fentanyl Addiction Treatment – We Level Up NJ

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