This time will be different, you tell yourself. You’ll throw out all the needles. You’ll cut off all your dealers. You’re determined to make sobriety stick, and you feel confident you can kiss fentanyl goodbye for good with a bit of planning and a lot of luck.
But how long will that goodbye last?
As your addiction deepened, your brain and body became accustomed to the drug. Your cells believe they need it. To convince them otherwise, you’ll need to move through withdrawal. Treatment can make the process easier, but it will take time.
What Does It Feel Like?
If you have a longstanding fentanyl habit, you’ve probably experienced some type of withdrawal already. If you’ve ever felt jittery or sick between doses, that’s withdrawal.
But when you decide to get sober for good, the symptoms tend to be severe, and they can last longer than you might expect.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says most fentanyl users feel acute withdrawal a few hours after the last dose. It’s characterized by:
- Cramping, painful muscles
The symptoms are sometimes described as “flu-like,” but people who have been through the process dispute this description. They say that withdrawal comes with sensations they would never associate with the flu, including:
- Vivid dreams. They describe scenes of arguments or murder, and they need time to acclimate to reality when morning comes.
- Skin sensitivity. Even something as small as a watchband can cause excruciating pain.
- Repeated yawning. This symptom isn’t associated with fatigue. Instead, people describe it as a sort of nervous tic.
- Vertigo. They feel like the room is spinning and that they might fall at any moment.
Most symptoms fade within a week or so, but one remains: cravings. As soon as you feel ill, your body may call out for a hit of fentanyl to ease your pain.
If you give in to this craving, you’ll need to start the process all over again when it’s time to get sober.
But if you don’t get help for withdrawal, the cravings may be too big for you to resist.
Treatment Is Available
Withdrawal symptoms start with brain and gut chemistry. Each fentanyl dose has changed your body, and you need help to set it right again. Medications can do the work, but when it comes to fentanyl, you may need a lot of them.
Fentanyl is, to put it plainly, a very strong drug. It’s one of the strongest in the opioid class. Many of the medications doctors have developed to help people with opioid addiction were made with weaker drugs in mind. They may not always help you.
Your doctor may try:
- Buprenorphine. Studies with rats say this prescription medication can eliminate cravings and help brain cells heal. But people aren’t rats, and many people who are addicted to fentanyl don’t find relief with buprenorphine.
- Methadone. This older, stronger drug can curb your cravings and ease your sobriety. But some people still don’t find relief from this medication. Even at the highest doses available, they still feel sick.
- Tapering. It might sound strange, but your doctor may choose to keep you on fentanyl for a while as you heal. Each day, you’ll take a smaller dose, and your body will adjust to that change in a measured way. It could help you get sober without sickness.
What Else Could Happen?
At one point, doctors believed that opioid withdrawal was a natural, benign process that wouldn’t harm anyone. They also believed that few people experienced complications during withdrawal that would require medical care. We now know both things aren’t true.
People can (and sometimes do) die due to opioid withdrawal. The nausea and diarrhea you experience can push all the fluid out of your body. Without that necessary liquid, your kidneys and other vital organs can’t do their work. You can move into organ failure, and that is life-threatening.
You’ll also need help with the complications that stem from fentanyl abuse, including:
- Blood-borne diseases. If you shared needles or engaged in unsafe sex, you might have HIV, hepatitis, or another infectious disease that can harm your health.
- Abscesses. Needles can push bacteria beneath your skin, where it grows and spreads. You’ll need antibiotic treatment to keep the swelling and pain down.
- Liver failure. Your drugs could be tainted with substances that kill this crucial organ. You may have no symptoms, but without treatment, this could be life-threatening.
- Nasal difficulties. If you sniffed your fentanyl or you mixed it with cocaine for a bump, you could damage the delicate tissues inside your nose. You may have bleeding, pain, or both.
Some detox centers have medical professionals on staff to guide you through the treatments for your health problems caused by fentanyl. But others don’t, and they will expect you to get care in a hospital and keep them informed of what happened and what you should do next.
Consider Detox Today
You may believe that your addiction is personal, and that no one needs to know what happened and what you’re doing to treat it. You may also resist getting care because you’re embarrassed and you want to keep it quiet.
Remember this: Detox centers are staffed with professionals who won’t judge you for drug use. They exist only to help people like you get better and conquer addiction. You should accept their help, as you are dealing with a life-threatening problem you just can’t solve alone.