Fentanyl Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and How to Cope

If you’ve experienced withdrawing off any drug, you will know how agonizing the experience can be. Minutes seem to feel like hours and hours feel like days. It is easy to convince yourself that the misery will never end. Fentanyl withdrawal is especially brutal due to its potency and pharmacological properties. Unfortunately, breaking the cycle of fentanyl abuse involves withdrawal. This blog will detail the symptoms of detox, how long it takes, and resources for finding treatment. 


Fentanyl Withdrawal: What is Happening?


Withdrawal is the physiological and psychological response to the cessation of use when the body has become dependent on a specific substance. Fentanyl use causes dependency quickly and when ingested, is stored in the body's fat cells leading to a longer detox than most opioids. As users reduce or stop their use, withdrawal symptoms come on quickly and intensely. While uncomfortable, withdrawal signals the body's transition back towards homeostasis and health. 


Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal


Everyone’s experience detoxing off fentanyl will be different depending on the amounts used and duration of time using. However, common fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are: 


Flu-Like Symptoms: Fever, chills, runny nose, cold sweats, and general discomfort are normal signs of fentanyl withdrawal and usually some of the first symptoms to come on after stopping use. 


Gastrointestinal Distress: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps are typical during fentanyl withdrawal. These symptoms can be problematic as they can lead to dehydration and organ fatigue.


Bone, Muscle & Joint: The term “kicking” comes from these symptoms. Deep pain and restlessness in the bones, muscles, and joints is often associated with fentanyl withdrawal. During this period everything aches and restless leg syndrome is common. 


Tachycardia: Elevated heart rate in response to withdrawal is normal, although uncomfortable. 


Mental Health Symptoms: While the physical symptoms are difficult, the psychological symptoms are what often lead to relapse. Intense anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness pervade the mind during fentanyl withdrawal. These feelings can cause an individual to second guess their reasoning for stopping and in search of relief, relapse.  


Sleep Disturbances: During fentanyl withdrawal, sleep is tough to come by. Between the physical effects and the psychological despair, the brain has a hard time shutting off. Insomnia and nightmares are customary. 


Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline


Like the withdrawal symptoms, the time it takes for someone to detox off fentanyl can vary from person to person. In general, the following timeline can be expected: 


Early Withdrawal (6-12 hours): On average, the initial symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal emerge within 6 to 12 hours of last use. For heavy users, withdrawal signs can appear as soon as 1 to 2 hours after last use. 


Peak Withdrawal (1-3 days): Withdrawal symptoms occur on a bell curve. The first and second days are the ramp up period, with prime detox effects occurring by the third day. 


Acute Withdrawal (7-10 days): After the third day of symptoms, withdrawal continues to be uncomfortable through the 7th day and into the 10th. Sleep disturbances and physical discomfort continue during this time. 


Subacute Withdrawal (2-3 week): Withdrawal symptoms begin to lessen day by day. Sleep returns and the physical signs are not as pronounced. The body is returning to homeostasis. 


Protracted Withdrawal (weeks to months): It is estimated that 90% of recovering opioid users will experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). 

During heavy opioid use, the brain adapts to the flood of neurotransmitters that the drug produces. After the discontinuation of use, the brain begins to slowly heal itself and has a lower threshold to stress. This healing process results in PAWS symptoms. 


Coping with Fentanyl Withdrawal


Attempting to deal with fentanyl withdrawal on your own is both dangerous and lowers the chances of long-term success. When facing the prospect of fentanyl detox, here are recommended ways of coping:


Seek Professional Treatment: Detoxing off fentanyl without the aid of medical supervision can be lethal. Detox facilities and treatment programs can provide medicinal assistance to lessen the physical withdrawal symptoms and prevent medical complications. Treatment programs will help treat the underlying causes of addiction.


Therapy: Individualized behavioral modification therapy can get to the root of the psychological aspects of addiction. 


Support Systems: Involvement in 12-step programs and/or community based groups can help tremendously with the psychological aspects of fentanyl withdrawal. Leaning on friends and family for emotional support during this time will increase the chances of recovery. 


Nutrition/Exercise: As tough as it may be, getting regular exercise, staying hydrated, eating healthy and attempting to sleep will speed up the withdrawal process and lessen the severity of the symptoms. 


Avoid Triggers: In order to steer clear from relapse, it is suggested that users stay away from stressful situations and/or people that may trigger the desire to use.

Fentanyl withdrawal is not to be underestimated. In order to increase the chances of long term recovery, professional addiction treatment is recommended. Call Sunflower Recovery today to learn how we can help you find long lasting health and sobriety. 

What to Expect When Dealing With Fentanyl Withdrawal