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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 18, 2023

Table of Contents

Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, has gained significant attention due to its devastating effects on individuals and communities. Understanding the impact of fentanyl use is crucial in raising awareness and promoting prevention and treatment efforts.

This guide highlights the following issues:

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  • What are the most common side effects of fentanyl?
  • What are the short-term effects of fentanyl?
  • What are the long-term effects of fentanyl?
  • What are the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal?
  • Are the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal life-threatening?
  • How can you manage fentanyl use symptoms safely?

The Effects of Fentanyl Use

For those wondering, “What are the side effects of fentanyl” or “What are the effects of fentanyl”, side effects can be potentially life-threatening, especially in certain circumstances. The risks of fatal fentanyl reactions are heightened when:

  • Initially starting fentanyl treatment
  • After a dosage increase
  • In older individuals
  • For those with pre-existing lung conditions

Since the effects of fentanyl can vary from person to person, it is vital to be vigilant for any side effects while taking fentanyl. If you experience fentanyl side effects or notice anything unusual that makes you feel unwell, consult your healthcare provider promptly.

The side effects of fentanyl closely resemble those of other opioids. Physical effects of fentanyl may include:

  • Drowsiness, confusion, and dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and cramps
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Skin rash 
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Incoherent or slurred speech
  • Problems with balance

Short-Term Effects of Fentanyl

When individuals use fentanyl, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they may experience immediate and profound effects of fentanyl on the body. Some common short-term physical effects of fentanyl include:

  • Intense euphoria: Fentanyl produces a powerful and rapid onset of euphoria, leading to intense feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
  • Sedation: Fentanyl symptoms may include extreme drowsiness or sedation, which can impair the ability to function normally.
  • Respiratory depression: One of the most dangerous effects of fentanyl is its impact on breathing. It can cause slowed or shallow breathing, leading to a decreased oxygen supply to the body and potentially respiratory failure.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Fentanyl use may result in nausea and vomiting, causing discomfort and potential dehydration.
  • Confusion and disorientation: Fentanyl can induce confusion, disorientation, and impaired cognitive function, making it challenging for individuals to think clearly or make sound judgments.
A man stands looking out at a sunrise to represent the effects of fentanyl.

Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl

Continued use of fentanyl can have severe long-term consequences on physical and mental well-being. Some of the long-term long term side effects of fentanyl

effects include:

  • Tolerance and dependence: Prolonged use of fentanyl can lead to the development of tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects. This can quickly escalate to dependence, where individuals experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or reduce their use.
  • Addiction: Fentanyl is highly addictive, both physically and psychologically. The powerful euphoria it produces can lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior, resulting in a cycle of addiction that can be challenging to break without professional help.
  • Organ damage: Fentanyl abuse can cause significant damage to various organs, especially the liver, kidneys, and heart. The decreased oxygen supply resulting from respiratory depression can also lead to damage in multiple systems of the body.
  • Mental health disorders: Fentanyl use is associated with an increased risk of developing mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. The impact on brain chemistry can disrupt the natural balance of neurotransmitters, leading to persistent psychological symptoms.

Fentanyl Health Risks

Continued use of fentanyl can have severe long-term consequences on physical and mental well-being. In addition to the previously mentioned effects, here are some more significant long-term effects of fentanyl use:

  • Overdose: Fentanyl is notorious for its high potency, which increases the risk of overdose. Even a small amount can have life-threatening consequences, as it can overwhelm the body’s respiratory system and lead to respiratory arrest.
  • Contamination and illicit production: Illicitly manufactured fentanyl often finds its way into the illicit drug supply, including counterfeit prescription pills and illicitly produced opioids. This greatly increases the risk of unintentional overdose and exposure to unknown substances. Drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin are also frequently laced with fentanyl.
  • Increased fatality rates: The use of fentanyl has contributed to a significant rise in drug overdose deaths globally. Its potency and the risk of accidental exposure make it an extremely dangerous substance.
  • Respiratory complications: Prolonged fentanyl use can lead to chronic respiratory problems. The drug’s depressant effects on the CNS can contribute to respiratory infections, chronic coughing, and difficulty breathing. Individuals may experience a decline in lung function and an increased risk of developing respiratory conditions such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Fentanyl use can have detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system. It can provoke high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. The drug’s impact on the heart’s function and blood vessels can compromise overall cardiovascular health and increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Fentanyl abuse can disrupt normal hormonal functioning within the body. Prolonged use can lead to imbalances in hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol. These imbalances can result in sexual dysfunction, fertility issues, mood disturbances, and disruptions in the body’s stress response system.
  • Cognitive impairment: Fentanyl use can negatively impact cognitive function and mental abilities. Long-term use may lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, decreased attention span, and impaired decision-making skills. These cognitive impairments can significantly affect an individual’s daily functioning, work performance, and overall quality of life.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Sustained fentanyl use can disrupt normal gastrointestinal function. Individuals may experience chronic digestive problems like constipation, bloating, stomach pain, and decreased appetite. These GI can lead to discomfort, malnutrition, and overall poor health.
  • Weakening of the immune system: Fentanyl use can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Chronic use can compromise immune response, increasing the risk of respiratory infections, bacterial infections, and other opportunistic diseases.
  • Social and psychological consequences: Long-term fentanyl use can have devastating effects on an individual’s social and psychological well-being. It can strain relationships, lead to social isolation, and contribute to financial problems. The constant preoccupation with obtaining and using fentanyl can take a toll on mental health, resulting in increased anxiety, depression, and a heightened risk of suicidal thoughts.
A man stands looking out a window to represent the question, "what are the effects of Fentanyl?".

Fentanyl Effects Statistics

  • According to National Safety Council data, opioids contribute significantly to preventable drug overdose deaths, comprising approximately 77% of all cases, with a staggering total of 75,785 deaths recorded in 2020. Opioids encompass both prescription medications and illicit substances. The category of “synthetic opioids other than methadone” has witnessed the most substantial growth in preventable overdose cases. This category includes fentanyl, as well as fentanyl analogs and tramadol. Specifically, fentanyl-related opioids accounted for over 67,000 preventable deaths in 2021, marking a concerning 26% increase from the total of 53,480 deaths reported in 2020.

  • The presence of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, is on the rise in the illicit drug supply within the United States, and its connection to overdose deaths is becoming more prevalent. Xylazine poses a significant threat to life and becomes particularly hazardous when combined with opioids, such as fentanyl. A study conducted in 10 cities across the United States revealed that xylazine’s involvement in drug overdose deaths was less than 1% in 2015 but increased to nearly 7% in 2020. Additionally, when samples from eight syringe service programs in Maryland were tested between 2021 and 2022, xylazine was detected in approximately 80% of drug samples containing opioids. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, xylazine was identified in 31% of heroin and/or fentanyl overdose deaths in 2019. These statistics highlight the growing presence and impact of xylazine in the context of drug-related fatalities.

  • In California alone, the devastating impact of fentanyl is evident, with approximately 4,000 individuals losing their lives to fentanyl overdoses in 2020, as reported by the California Department of Justice.
  • The California Department of Public Health reports a significant increase in emergency department visits for non-fatal opioid overdoses among Californians aged 10 to 19, more than tripling from 2018 (379 visits) to 2020 (1,222 visits). Disturbingly, fentanyl-related deaths for individuals aged 10 to 19 in California surged from 36 in 2018 to 261 in 2020. These alarming statistics emphasize the urgent need for awareness, prevention, and intervention measures to address the rising impact of fentanyl on younger populations.
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Get Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

Renaissance Recovery Center near Huntington Beach, CA is proud to provide specialized outpatient treatment programs focused on addressing fentanyl addiction. We understand the unique challenges individuals face when battling this powerful substance, and our comprehensive approach aims to support their recovery journey.

Through our programs, such as PHP (partial hospitalization program) and IOP (intensive outpatient program), we offer the necessary support and structure tailored to the specific needs of those struggling with fentanyl addiction. Our integrated dual diagnosis treatment approach also addresses co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety or depression, ensuring a holistic recovery process.

At Renaissance, we believe in individualized care, drawing from a range of evidence-based interventions to provide effective addiction treatment. Our approach includes MAT (medication-assisted treatment) to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, as well as group counseling, individual counseling, and psychotherapy (CBT or DBT) to address underlying issues and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Additionally, family therapy and experiential adventure therapy are incorporated to foster healing and growth. We also offer holistic therapies to promote overall well-being.

Upon completing the treatment program, individuals have the opportunity to transition to a less intensive form of care or explore the option of sober living in Southern California. We ensure that each person leaves our facility equipped with a comprehensive aftercare plan that includes coping techniques and relapse prevention strategies. At Renaissance, we are dedicated to supporting your ongoing recovery from fentanyl addiction, providing affordable luxury fentanyl rehab services that prioritize your well-being.

To take the crucial first step towards reclaiming your life, reach out to our admissions team at 866.330.9449. We are here to guide you on your path to lasting recovery.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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