Can Fentanyl Be Abused?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Classified as Schedule II controlled substance, fentanyl is prescribed for the management of severe pain. The substance is also manufactured and trafficked illegally.



Like all substances in this schedule, fentanyl has some medical utility, but it also has a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Fentanyl has a mechanism of action like that of other opioids. The substance binds to opioid receptors that occur naturally in the areas of the brain responsible for regulating pain and emotions.

The sustained use of fentanyl causes your system to adapt to a continuous presence of the synthetic opioid. This causes tolerance to build, so that the effects of fentanyl are diminished. At the same time, you will become much less sensitive to the effects of fentanyl, making it challenging for you to feel pleasure from activities other than drug use.

As tolerance builds, you may take more fentanyl or more frequent doses of fentanyl. This abusive pattern of consumption is likely to trigger physical dependence. If you become dependent on fentanyl, you will require the opioid to function normally. If you moderate or discontinue use, you will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance and withdrawal are both diagnostic criteria for fentanyl addiction (opioid use disorder).




Many factors influence how fentanyl will affect you, including:

  • Health status
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Amount of fentanyl used
  • Use of other addictive substances
  • Tolerance to opioids

The most reported effects of fentanyl use are as follows:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sedation
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness

Chronic fentanyl use will almost always lead to addiction in the form of opioid use disorder. Fentanyl addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition that is incurable but treatable.

You may be diagnosed with fentanyl addiction if you experience at least two of the symptoms delineated in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition). these are the symptoms of fentanyl addiction:

  • Using more fentanyl than intended or using it for longer than planned.
  • Spending lots of time obtaining and using fentanyl, as well as recovering from its effects.
  • Experiencing cravings for fentanyl so strong that it’s difficult to focus on anything else.
  • Failing to meet personal and professional commitments due to fentanyl use.
  • Using fentanyl even though it is causing problems in your closest relationships.
  • Continuing to use fentanyl even though it is causing or inflaming a health condition (either physical or mental).
  • Spending less time doing things you once enjoyed because of fentanyl use.
  • Using fentanyl in potentially dangerous situations.
  • Making repeated failed attempts to moderate or discontinue use of fentanyl.
  • Developing tolerance to fentanyl.
  • Withdrawal symptoms presenting in the absence of fentanyl.

Those who use fentanyl as prescribed, may still develop tolerance. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms indicative of physical dependence. If you have been prescribed fentanyl for pain relief, the last two criteria are not counted when diagnosing opioid use disorder (fentanyl addiction).

Opioid use disorder is diagnosed according to the number of criteria that present as mild (2 or 3), moderate (4 or 5), or severe (6 or more).



If fentanyl is abused, this heightens the risk of overdose – more on this below.

The other primary risk of abusing fentanyl is an addiction that can be all-consuming and potentially life-threatening. This risk remains even when the medication is used for pain relief. The risk of addiction is similar to that of other opioids, but at much smaller doses due to the potency of fentanyl.

If fentanyl is combined with other CNS depressants like alcohol, heroin, or morphine, the risk of death increases.



It is not safe to use any amount of illicit fentanyl. Using fentanyl in any form can trigger the following short-term effects:

  • Analgesia (pain relief)
  • Euphoria
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased appetite
  • Rash
  • Reduced blood pressure levels
  • Overdose

Overdose is the most dangerous short-term effect of fentanyl. A fatal dose of fentanyl is just a few grains – 3 milligrams.



The sustained use of fentanyl could increase the risk of:

  • Chronic, severe constipation
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Fractures in seniors
  • Breathing problems while sleeping
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Immune system suppression
  • Reproductive and hormonal issues in men and women
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Other mood disorders
  • Addiction (opioid use disorder)



If you suspect someone has taken an overdose of fentanyl, call 911 right away.

Fentanyl overdose causes breathing to slow drastically, possibly to the point of stopping completely. If this happens, insufficient oxygen reaches the brain, possibly causing hypoxia. This condition can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, and death.

Opioid overdose can be reversed by the medication naloxone. When administered by emergency responders or family members, this medication quickly counters the effects of opioids in the system by binding to natural opioid receptors. The potency of fentanyl means multiple doses of naloxone might be required.

While naloxone can reverse the effects of fentanyl overdose, close medical monitoring is recommended for at least two hours after the last naloxone dose to mitigate any further problems with breathing.



Common fentanyl overdose symptoms include:

  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in pupil size
  • Limp body
  • Blue lips or fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Slowed breathing
  • Stopped breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

If you notice the following triad of symptoms, it is strongly indicative of fentanyl overdose:

  • Pinprick pupils
  • Decreased consciousness
  • Respiratory depression



If you initiate your recovery from fentanyl addiction at Gratitude Lodge, you can take advantage of a supervised medical detox at one of the following locations:

  • San Diego
  • Long Beach
  • Newport Beach

Medications can streamline the intensity of the fentanyl withdrawal process, and 24/7 clinical care is available to minimize the likelihood of complications.

After a week or so, you will be ready to transition into one of the following treatment programs:

  • 30-day inpatient program for fentanyl addiction
  • Intensive outpatient program for fentanyl addiction

If you have an addiction to fentanyl with a co-occurring mental health disorder, address both conditions simultaneously with our dual diagnosis treatment programs.

Like all opioid use disorders, fentanyl addiction responds favorably to MAT (medication-assisted treatment) beyond detox. MAT is most effective in combination with behavioral interventions. You can access these evidence-based therapies at Gratitude Lodge:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
  • Counseling (group and individual sessions)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy

When you are ready to reclaim your life from fentanyl addiction, reach out to Gratitude Lodge by calling 888-861-1658.