Long-Term Effects Of Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction

As one of the most potent opioids, fentanyl has significant short-term and long-term effects. These effects are similar to those connected to other opioids, however, there appears to be some increased danger associated with method and length of fentanyl use, especially when abused over a long period of time.

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful opioids available as a substance of abuse. Originally used in surgeries, under the supervision of anesthesiologists, fentanyl has been known to have notable effect on the respiratory system.

Fentanyl is now available as a prescription used in pain management, but with specific guidelines for prescribing medical professionals. It is available as a transdermal patch, lozenges, dissolvable tablets and film, as well as oral and nasal spray.

The availability of fentanyl through illegal channels has been expanding. Prescription fentanyl has been sold illegally, presumably to people struggling with opioid addiction, and clandestine laboratories have been synthesizing illegal fentanyl for sale. Fentanyl has been known to cause overdose in small doses on its own, but research is becoming available showing that mixing fentanyl with other illicit substances can cause even more detrimental side effects.

The longer a person abuses fentanyl, the possibility of overdose continues to increase. Developing a tolerance to fentanyl will increase the amount needed to get the same effect. The increase in fentanyl use can increase the physical and psychological long-term effects.

The need for more fentanyl may also increase the likelihood that a person may turn to different modes of use. A person may begin injecting, snorting, or smoking fentanyl, and those methods have long-term side effects unique to them.

Long-Term Physical Effects Of Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction

Long-term fentanyl abuse can cause effects on the entire body. From the brain, and other organs, to extensive tissue damage, including limb loss, the body as a whole is at risk when a person engages in long-term fentanyl abuse.

Long-term fentanyl use depresses the respiratory system. Respiratory depression over a long period of time can result in less oxygen being distributed throughout the body, which is referred to as hypoxia. This can cause overall, irreversible damage to tissue in the body and result in brain damage, damage to the cardiovascular system, liver, digestive, and respiratory systems.

Fentanyl use may also increase the likelihood of a person engaging in risky behaviors over time. These behaviors may result in physical harm from fights, sexual trauma, or diseases associated with exposure to bodily fluids.

In addition to overall physical effects of fentanyl abuse, there are some unwanted effects attributed to the method used to ingest fentanyl, like injecting, snorting, and smoking.

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Long-Term Physical Effects Of Injecting Fentanyl

Injecting fentanyl increases the intensity of the drug and the quickness of onset, which is the appeal. However, it comes with an increased likelihood of additional long-term effects, such as:

  • HIV exposure (which can eventually lead to AIDS)
  • collapsed or damaged veins
  • liver cancer or cirrhosis
  • skin abscesses
  • significant weight loss
  • malnourishment
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • heart failure
  • sexual dysfunction
  • brain damage
  • coma

Over time, the damage to the veins may become so severely damaged that the person abusing fentanyl may consider injecting fentanyl intramuscularly (into the muscle). This can lead to severe infections, including:

  • tetanus – indicated by problems swallowing, neck muscle stiffness, muscle rigidity, and lockjaw
  • gas gangrene – tissue death is an effect of this potentially fatal infection
  • necrotizing fasciitis – a severe tissue damaging infection that can result in limb loss
  • wound botulism – this potentially fatal infection is caused by the puncture of a needle and can result in paralysis

Long-Term Physical Effects Of Snorting Fentanyl

Snorting fentanyl is another method commonly used to abuse fentanyl. There are negative effects linked to this mode of ingestions, including:

  • severe nasal congestion
  • increased thickened nasal drainage
  • chronic bloody nose
  • problems swallowing
  • perforations in septum and/or palate
  • ulcers in mouth
  • facial swelling (presumably due to infections in the nasal membranes)

Long-Term Physical Effects Of Smoking Fentanyl

Although a less common method of abuse, smoking fentanyl does have additional side effects associated with long-term use. Fentanyl is not intended to be smoked, and the ingredients in the fentanyl are likely to cause many unwanted side effects, including:

  • lung damage
  • problems breathing
  • oral problems (damage to teeth and gums, infections)
  • organ damage
  • system wide toxicity (from additives and chemicals in fentanyl)

Long-Term Mental Health Effects Of Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction

Fentanyl affects chemicals in the brain and can cause significant impairment to the mental health of those who abuse it. Whether fentanyl is linked to developing mental health issues or exacerbating existing issues, the following effects have been linked to long-term use:

  • increasing levels of depression
  • increased anxiety
  • lower ability to feel pleasure
  • inability to regulate emotion
  • higher risk of suicide
  • psychosis
  • impaired behavioral regulation
  • poor decision-making

In addition to these effects on mental health, fentanyl use has a unique effect on memory and cognition that has not been seen in other opioid abuse and addiction patients.

Memory And Cognitive Issues Associated With Long-Term Fentanyl Use

Recent studies are emerging that are showing damage to areas of the brain affecting memory and cognitive impairments in people who are abusing fentanyl. As of early 2018, researchers have seen scans of patients abusing fentanyl that show lesioning and brain damage. These patients are experiencing memory and cognitive issues that are similar to amnesia.

Further research should be explored, but for now, it appears that fentanyl is linked to significant memory impairment. Researchers are investigating a possible connection between these cognitive issues and abusing fentanyl with illicit stimulants.

Other Long-Term Effects Of Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction

Long-term fentanyl abuse and addiction can result in a number of unwelcome negative effects for the person struggling with an opioid use disorder (OUD). Over time, seeking fentanyl can become all consuming, and many aspects of life become neglected, with severe consequences. Some of the areas affected might be:

  • job loss
  • financial problems
  • homelessness
  • social isolation
  • broken relationships
  • legal issues
  • incarcerations
  • unwanted pregnancies
  • inability to care for children

Fentanyl Overdose

Some symptoms that can alert someone to a fentanyl overdose include:

  • confusion
  • difficulty swallowing
  • dizziness or fainting
  • fingers or lips turning blue
  • respiratory arrest
  • cardiac arrest

It is important to get help as soon as someone starts showing signs of a fentanyl overdose. Aside from being fatal at low doses, overdosing on fentanyl can result in many of the aforementioned effects to occur rapidly, such as hypoxia and system wide toxicity. Seeking medical attention can help.

Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction Treatment Options

Long-term fentanyl abuse increases the likelihood a person will overdose. Overdosing from fentanyl abuse can often result in death, however, surviving a fentanyl overdose does not mean that a person is clear from side effects. The way to stop the effects of fentanyl abuse is to quit taking fentanyl.

Treatment is available that includes a detox program and rehabilitation program services to explore addiction, recovery and sobriety in a supportive environment.

If you are struggling with a fentanyl abuse or addiction issue, reach out to us today, we can explore treatment options with your unique needs in mind.

Annals of Internal Medicine - An Unusual Amnestic Syndrome Associated With Combined Fentanyl and Cocaine Use

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