Fentanyl Withdrawal: Symptoms and Timeline

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is usually prescribed to treat acute pain, especially following surgery. Its drug effects are similar to morphine, however fentanyl is 50–100 times more potent.1 Extended and/or heavy fentanyl use can result in the development of significant opioid dependence, at which point a person may experience difficult, and sometimes severely unpleasant, withdrawal symptoms after suddenly stopping or reducing their use.2

In this article, we will explore the fentanyl withdrawal timeline, identify symptoms of withdrawal, and discuss how to more comfortably detox from fentanyl with the help of medical withdrawal management.

How Long Does Fentanyl Withdrawal Last?

Though the fentanyl detox timeline can vary from one person to the next people may expect to experience some withdrawal symptoms within 12 hours after the last use.3

As with other short-acting opioids, withdrawal usually peaks in severity within a few days, and begins to resolve over the course of a week thereafter. Some people might experience less acute symptoms of withdrawal for several weeks afterwards.3, 4

Several factors can influence how long withdrawal lasts. These include:5

  • Average daily dose or amount of drug used.
  • Length and frequency of use.
  • Any concurrent use of other drugs or prescription medications.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Though withdrawal from fentanyl and other opioids can be extremely unpleasant, the syndrome is seldom life-threatening.However, in rare cases, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, caused by diarrhea and vomiting, may require the use of intravenous fluids or other medical interventions.5

Medical Detox from Fentanyl

Medical detox and withdrawal management can help ease and reduce a person’s unpleasant and often painful opioid withdrawal symptoms from substances such as fentanyl.2, 7 As an important first stage of treatment, medical detox can help to:7

  • End the physiological dependence that developed over time to opioids.
  • Reduce and ease the pain and discomfort of withdrawal.
  • Decrease relapse risk.
  • Identify and address other medical issues.
  • Facilitate the transition to continued medical treatment for opioid use disorder.

Withdrawal management can take place in inpatient, residential, and day or other outpatient program settings.7 According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, inpatient detox programs may have a higher completion rate than outpatient programs. But evidence also shows that the rates of relapse associated with both inpatient and outpatient withdrawal management programs are roughly the same.2

Treatment professionals may help to determine the appropriate setting and level of care based on an assessment of several individual factors, such as:5

  • Any remaining acute intoxication and the potential for significant withdrawal.
  • Co-existing health issues that may need treatment attention.
  • Co-occurring mental health issues.
  • An individual’s readiness to change.
  • The potential for relapse or continued, problematic use.
  • The home/living situation and recovery environment outside of treatment.

Medications to Ease Fentanyl Withdrawal

During medical detox, physicians may prescribe medication to ease some of the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with fentanyl and other opioids. Currently, there are 3 medications approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opioid withdrawal management:

  • Methadone, a long-acting opioid agonist medication used to manage opioid withdrawal. Methadone is highly regulated and can only be administered at an opioid treatment program certified by the Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration.5
  • Buprenorphine, another commonly used treatment drug used to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms. As a partial opioid agonist, buprenorphine has an upper limit to its opioid effects, which adds to its safety profile and limits overdose potential in instances of misuse. Buprenorphine may be relatively more accessible to some people, as it does not have to be administered at a designated treatment program and can be prescribed by waivered physician.5
  • Lofexidine hydrochloride (Lucemyra), the first and only non-opioid medication approved by the FDA for withdrawal management. It reduces certain types of nervous system activity believed to control some opioid withdrawal symptoms.8

Though not specifically approved for use in withdrawal management, an additional medication that may be used during detox is clonidine. With a similar mechanism of action to lofexidine, clonidine can help ease symptoms like sweating, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, and anxiety.4

Treatment for Fentanyl Abuse

Medical detox can be considerably beneficial in managing opioid withdrawal at the start of treatment for fentanyl addiction—but detox cannot substitute comprehensive treatment. As the first stage of treatment, detox marks the beginning of one’s recovery journey. Without continued treatment after detox, a person may be at higher risk of relapse.2,7

Effective treatment for fentanyl withdrawal can be initiated at facilities like Oxford Treatment Center. Following detox, as part of the center’s long-term continuum of care, physicians typically recommend maintenance medication and counseling, in addition to self-help and peer support groups.

Continued treatment in an appropriate level of care can help a person renew their mental and physical well-being.7 Oxford is a leading treatment facility that provides all levels of care for addiction to fentanyl and other substances. If you need help determining the safest and most ideal level of care for you or your loved one, contact us at . We are here to guide you every step of the way.

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