Fentanyl is a potent opioid narcotic that is used to treat severe chronic pain. It is often abused because of the intense feeling of pleasure that recreational users experience when they ingest or inject the drug. Fentanyl addiction treatment may be necessary even if a recreational user wants to stop using it after a relatively short period of abuse. Fentanyl detox—or medical treatment that makes it easier to deal with the physical effects of discontinuing fentanyl—is the first step of a comprehensive fentanyl rehab program that promotes a healthy, drug-free life.
Why Is Fentanyl So Addictive?
Injectable and oral forms of fentanyl are legally available, as are transdermal patches. While people usually inject fentanyl, some users also open transdermal patches and oral fentanyl products to obtain and ingest fentanyl gel or solution. Doctors reserve fentanyl for patients whose pain cannot be controlled with less potent medications, and it is highly regulated. However, abusers are able to obtain all forms of fentanyl from illegal street drug dealers.
The chemical and biological mechanism by which fentanyl relieves intense pain is also the mechanism that leads addicts to abuse this drug. The medical and recreational effects of fentanyl, as well as its potential for causing withdrawal symptoms that require fentanyl addiction treatment, stem from its acting as an agent for the release of endorphins. Endorphins provide a soothing feeling of pleasure when the body is under stress. Since the body cannot produce sufficient endorphins to soothe severe pain on its own, fentanyl is used to trigger a fast release of high quantities of endorphins that relieve pain. When there is no pain to be relieved, as in the case of recreational use of fentanyl by addicts, an intense feeling of pleasure results as soon as fentanyl travels through the bloodstream to the brain. This is what addicts refer to when they speak of “getting high,” and such an intense experience of pleasure and happiness is technically known as euphoria.
The term “endorphin” comes from the words “endogenous morphine.” It refers to the morphine-like pain-relieving and euphoria-inducing properties of natural endorphins.
Fentanyl releases endorphins even more quickly and more intensely than other potent opiate and opioid analgesics such as hydrocodone or even heroin. It is therefore more addictive and more likely to cause severe discomfort when withdrawn when compared to other opioids. When the body becomes accustomed to the increased levels of endorphins that are released by fentanyl, it cannot function without fentanyl or another agent that releases the same level of endorphins. The brain sends mixed signals to the body, as it requires high levels of endorphins to send proper messages, but when fentanyl is abruptly withdrawn, these levels of endorphins are no longer present. This process causes recreational users of fentanyl to develop physical addiction. Physical addiction requires fentanyl addiction treatment, as even an addict with the willpower to stop without treatment may suffer discomfort as a result of the sudden reduction in endorphin levels that results when they abruptly stop using fentanyl.
Fentanyl detox, or detoxification, treats the immediate need for drugs that results when a recreational user who has developed physical addiction suddenly stops using fentanyl. The physically addictive nature of fentanyl makes medical fentanyl detox practically a necessity for successful fentanyl addiction treatment. Since the drug is so potent, its sudden withdrawal can cause severely uncomfortable physical effects that occur as a result from a sudden drop in endorphin levels. Medical detoxification helps to reduce the severity of these effects.
“The physically addictive nature of fentanyl makes medical fentanyl detox practically a necessity for successful fentanyl addiction treatment. “
This initial phase of fentanyl addiction treatment can be administered in a residential recovery center that combines comfortable facilities and an attractive natural setting with the latest medical equipment and techniques. Experienced addiction treatment specialists administer this first phase of fentanyl addiction treatment in residential treatment centers. Even if hospital facilities are required for fentanyl detox because of other health issues, measures are taken to make sure you are physically comfortable so that you can successfully complete the medical phase of the treatment and begin working on overcoming the root causes of fentanyl addiction.
Medications that block the effects of opiates may be prescribed on an outpatient basis once the detoxification and subsequent intensive counseling are complete. These medications prevent a recovering person from receiving any benefit from fentanyl should they attempt to relapse by obtaining and taking any of the drug.
Intensive inpatient detoxification usually lasts from 3 to 5 days. It is the first step in an overall fentanyl addiction treatment program and is often followed by intensive counseling and behavioral modification therapy. The intensive therapy phase of inpatient fentanyl addiction treatment usually lasts for at least 3 weeks after the medical phase has been successfully completed.
Benefits of Ongoing Treatment
Once a patient has completed detox, they are ready to begin the process of emotional and psychological healing and reconditioning that will hopefully put them on the road to long-term recovery. The pleasant atmosphere of a residential rehabilitation center helps the patient focus on recovery while they are advised by addiction counselors and other professionals with extensive experience in fentanyl addiction treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is focused on helping a recovering person replace negative thought patterns that are related to fentanyl abuse with healthier thoughts. Instead of thinking that they must escape from a pressing issue or problem by using fentanyl and enjoying the feeling of euphoria that it generates, they are taught to realize that it is possible to tackle problems and challenges head-on by using inner strength and coping mechanisms that result in successful solutions. A person comes to realize that resorting to fentanyl will only make a problem worse.
Patients who are ready to face their addictions find that the pleasant surroundings and caring atmosphere of residential addiction treatment centers can be a great help during the initial phases of recovery. These centers retain experienced medical personnel who use the most up-to-date medications to treat patients who are spared the full impact of the physical effects of abrupt withdrawal of fentanyl. Once a patient is no longer physically dependent on any mind-altering substance, the focus of the inpatient fentanyl rehab program then shifts to psychological and emotional rehabilitation that helps to train the patient to find healthy alternatives to replace the psychological need for the euphoria that fentanyl induces.
Here, too, the environment and surroundings of a residential recovery center help the patient relax and concentrate on achieving a true sense of well-being through healthy thoughts and healthy activities. The need for endorphins is a normal and healthy need, and the goal of fentanyl addiction treatment is to replace the unhealthy and exaggerated release of endorphins that results in a “high” with activities such as sports and exercise that produce the feeling of vitality that stems from proper levels of endorphins.
Outpatient treatment builds on the holistic approach to fentanyl rehab that was provided at the residential center. Patients can expand the chances for success during the outpatient phase of fentanyl rehab by obtaining any necessary or helpful auxiliary counseling, such as family therapy or career guidance, while still living at home.
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Behavioral modification is therapy that is designed to substitute healthy activities for drug use. Often, a patient turns to drugs such as fentanyl that lead to the release of endorphins because of a lack of stimulating activities that produce and maintain healthy levels of endorphins. Physical activity is often recommended by experts in fentanyl addiction treatment, and residential rehabilitation centers may include gyms and sports training facilities to help patients develop healthy exercise and recreation programs.
Therapies during inpatient fentanyl rehab may also include relaxation techniques such as yoga, as well as art and music therapy. The overall goal is to help patients find healthy means of enjoyment that improve their reality and sense of well-being, rather than serving as a potentially dangerous means of escaping difficult feelings or circumstances.
A patient’s road to recovery does not end at the time of release from an intensive fentanyl rehab center. The center only teaches the most important life skills needed to give the patient a proper start on the path to a completely drug-free life.
Inpatient treatment centers are affiliated with or can recommend a network of outpatient addiction counselors who are familiar with the approach that the center uses during the intensive inpatient phase of fentanyl addiction treatment. Patients are strongly encouraged to continue behavioral and cognitive therapy on an outpatient basis with one of these counselors. They may also be encouraged to seek career counseling, if dissatisfaction with their current career is a factor that led them to abuse fentanyl. Family therapy may also be recommended, and just as group therapy may be a part of some residential rehabilitation programs, it is often recommended as a part of the outpatient phase of fentanyl rehab.
Peer Support Groups
Individual outpatient therapy sessions may be recommended for some patients, but addiction specialists agree that interaction with others who are successfully traveling the road to recovery can be very helpful. Therefore, regardless of whether a patient receives individual or group outpatient therapy, they are encouraged to participate in peer support groups. Peer support groups remind the recovering addict that he or she is never alone, and that others who are traveling the same road to recovery want to make sure they succeed in reaching their goals by helping others who share those goals.
Peer support programs often follow the 12-step method, which involves belief in a higher power. Secular and alternative spiritual versions of the 12-step method are now available as well, and groups that are based on various self-help methods are available in many localities. The staff at a residential rehab center is able to provide information on finding a self-help group, as well as guidance on how to get the most out of what such groups have to offer.
Fentanyl is a potent and highly addictive drug, but fentanyl addiction can be successfully treated. When a patient is ready to stop using fentanyl, detox followed by ongoing counseling in an inpatient or outpatient setting provides a comprehensive framework for successful treatment that gives the patient the support necessary to restore and maintain a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle. The rehabilitation process gives recovering addicts the tools they need to achieve victory whenever they are faced with the challenges of life.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Research on the Use and Misuse of Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What is fentanyl?