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Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl Addiction

Drug overdose death involving synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, rose 55.6 % between 2020 and 2021. It appears that fentanyl is the primary driver of the increase in overall drug-related deaths in the United States


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approved for treating severe pain after surgery and advanced cancer cases. It is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is prescribed in shots, tablets, transdermal patches, or lozenges. Fentanyl is also known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze when prescribed. Unfortunately, it can be diverted for misuse and abuse.

Illicit fentanyl is disguised as other prescription drugs and is difficult to detect without a lab test. It is sold through illegal drug markets as pills, eye, nasal drops, and powder forms for its heroin-like effect. In addition, it is often mixed with heroin and cocaine as a combination drug – with or without the drug abuser's knowledge- to increase its euphoric effects.

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How Does Fentanyl Effect Your Brain?

Like other opioids, fentanyl binds the brain areas that control pain and emotions. Fentanyl inhibits the brain's normal functions; therefore, continued use makes your brain less sensitive to pain and makes it very hard to receive pleasure as it should. Hence, an increased amount of the drug gives the effects you are used to, but the brain keeps wanting more and more. This causes feelings of euphoria and relaxation and relieves pain too.


After some time, you won't control the urge to seek and use fentanyl, which will take over your life. Fentanyl affects people differently depending on your size, weight, overall state of health, the amount you have taken, whether you take it on its own or as a combination with other drugs, etc.


Fentanyl effects include;


  • Extreme happiness

  • Drowsiness

  • Weakness

  • Constricted pupils

  • Decreased heart rate

  • Slowed respiration

  • Nausea

  • Confusion

  • Constipation

  • Sedation

  • Problems breathing

  • Unconsciousness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Sweating 

  • Flushing

  • Tight feeling in the throat

  • Stiff or rigid muscles


Adverse effects associated with fentanyl transdermal patches include;


  • Discoloration

  • Rash

  • Itching

  • Swelling at the site of the application


Medically Reviewed:


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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

Continued use of fentanyl can cause severe medical conditions and societal consequences such as;


  • Respiratory problems; Opioids can suppress breathing, which is often attributed to depression of the central nervous system, affects the immune system's functioning, and increases the release of histamine, causing respiratory disorders such as pulmonary edema, etc.

  • Fatal overdose and possible death; Fentanyl is a central nervous system (CNS) opioid that stimulates the brain by inhibiting pain and pleasure neurons. It gives you the feeling of happiness and makes you want to repeat the intake when the high drops; you find yourself repeating the process and eventually overdose on the drug. This can be lethal and cause death if medical intervention is not sought immediately.

  • Behavioral changes; Fentanyl affects your behavior directly, and mostly it's the people around you who will recognize the tell tales of your addiction since you will probably suffer from denial too. You may realize that your loved one is showing some of these behavioral changes;


  • Drop in attendance or performance in school or work

  • Changes in sleep patterns or constantly losing appetite.

  • Frequently getting into trouble with friends or the law (through fights, accidents, etc.)

  • Unexplainable change in personality or attitude.

  • Sudden change in mood, irritability, and angry outbursts.

  • Periods of paranoia or fearfulness.

Mental Health Problems; You may suffer from depression, anxiety, and paranoia. Due to the neurochemicals reinforced in your brain within a short period, the crash from the high makes you irritable and anxious and triggers stress. Repeat performance can cause long-lasting mental problems, including; depression, personality disorders, anxiety, etc.


Financial and Social Issues; Continued use of fentanyl becomes an addiction that leads to impulsive reasoning, making decision-making not always objective. You might get into debt to support your drug abuse, sell personal items to buy fentanyl, or engage in dangerous behavior like transactional sex to support your addiction. This affects you and your friends and family members, especially when you get substance abuse-related legal problems.

Failed Relationships; When you abuse fentanyl, you must change your friends since you will no longer feel comfortable with the same people. The new group of friends is most likely other users. In addition, the constant mood swings will make your loved ones avoid you, for example, when you are grumpy, irritable, and violent.

Immediate Interventions 

If you have a Fentanyl abuse disorder, you must treat the substance use disorder and the associated mental health problems. Treatment for mental health problems and fentanyl addiction may include medication, rehabilitation, support groups, and talk therapy.


Treatment for fentanyl is similar to all other opioid use disorders but depends on the severity of the addiction. Your treatment may include; inpatient and outpatient detox and medication-assisted treatment for managing cravings and preventing relapse.


To treat Fentanyl use disorder, your doctor may prescribe buprenorphine and methadone. These drugs affect the same brain receptors that fentanyl impacts, but their side effects are more manageable. Besides, naltrexone, a medicine that stops fentanyl from affecting your body, is another substitution drug a doctor can prescribe.


For behavioral treatment, your therapy options may include the following;


  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you in changing behavior andmanageg triggers and anxiety.

  • Motivational interviewing counsels you based on your unique needs and conflicting feelings regarding your desire to change to beat the addiction.


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The Bottom Line

Fentanyl does more harm than good. Stop using fentanyl. Fentanyl and other opioids have a high psychological and physical dependency, abuse, and overdose, posing many health risks. Every day hundreds of people are rushed to the emergency room for adverse reactions to the misuse or use of synthetic opioids.


It has worse effects when used with other substances such as alcohol, cocaine, or heroin. This can lead to an immediate cardiovascular arrest and man. Seek professional help when you realize that you or your loved one is abusing fentanyl and avoid a looming disaster.

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Fentanyl addiction
How does fentanyl effect your brain?
Long-term effects of fentanyl abuse
Immediate interventions
The bottom line
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