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What Are Some Warning Signs of Fentanyl Use?

Warning Signs of Fentanyl Use

If your loved one is using fentanyl, you want to know about it. Fentanyl is a valuable prescription pain medication. At the same time, it and its analogues are one of the most dangerous recreational opioids available. That danger comes from the fact that fentanyl is up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine and individuals can easily overdose. It’s also because fentanyl is often used instead of lighter drugs like heroin or oxycodone, and many people aren’t even aware they are taking it. At the same time, fentanyl is present in about 70% of all opioid overdose deaths in the United States. About 67,300 of 75,700 opioid overdose related deaths in 2021 involved fentanyl.

This all adds up to mean that it’s incredibly important to understand when your loved one is using fentanyl.

Opioid abuse or recreational opioid use is always dangerous. There’s no consistent and safe way to use opioids recreationally. However, the stronger the opioid, the more dangerous it becomes, and fentanyl is one of the strongest on the market. The following signs will give you a heads up that your loved one may be using fentanyl.

Constant Stress and Paranoia

People who abuse drugs do so at the expense of their normal emotional state and emotional balance. That often means that they are stressed, annoyed, irritable, angry, or just “off” when not using. The more frequently someone uses, the worse this will get. For example, someone who has a fentanyl habit will likely go back and forth between being chill and happy or even lethargic and sleepy and straight up irritable and sick.

This happens as the brain adjusts to different levels of serotonin, dopamine, and opioid in the brain. Fentanyl floods the brain with all three, creating a completely different chemical environment and slowing natural production of all three. Then, when not using, the individual will be imbalanced and won’t have enough of the neurotransmitters and hormones that balance mood, create happiness, or provide motivation.

Visible Changes in Behavior

The more people use drugs, the more their behavior will change. In the short term, that means sedation, lethargy, sleepiness, and lack of response. Fentanyl creates long-term changes as well and these will get worse depending on how much your loved one is using.

  • Changes to self-care or grooming (normally deterioration of these habits)
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Sleepiness or lethargy as a normal behavior
  • Constant cold and flu symptoms (typically a sign of mild withdrawal and very common in people who are still working or living a normal life around drug use)
  • Constantly hiding arms or wearing long sleeves no matter the weather

As people become more “addicted” , they are also likely to start showing signs of behavioral disorders such as manipulative behavior, mood swings, irritability, and lying. People who are addicted will start to prioritize getting more fentanyl over anything else, which means they will lie, steal, and cheat their way to get it or to get time to use it. That can translate into borrowing large sums, into constantly having reasons for money being gone, into things going missing, or into them constantly having reasons to stay home alone or go out alone.

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Constant Cold and Flu Symptoms

Most people who use fentanyl as a longer term thing will suffer near-constant cold and flu symptoms. That’s because withdrawal starts almost as soon as they stop being high – and that can mean cold symptoms that run on for months at a time. This is easy to hide for individuals who have hay fever and is often hidden under the guise of allergies.

But, if your loved one has ongoing cold and flu symptoms, puffy eyes, and even a cough but won’t go to the doctor or say they went without you it may be a sign of ongoing fentanyl or other opioid abuse.

sick woman with colds and flu

Drug Paraphernalia

People who heavily use fentanyl are very likely to have paraphernalia around. However, that also depends on how they are taking the drug. For example, you can easily get fentanyl in powder or pill form. On the other hand, it may be smoked and injected just like other opioid drugs. In any case, you can look for paraphernalia and physical signs of drug use. That includes:

  • Pill containers
  • Baggies
  • Spoons or bottlecaps with residue or blacked bottoms
  • Syringes and needles
  • Cotton balls
  • Tie-off materials such as shoelaces, belts, or hoses,
  • Bandages or band aids
  • Folded and burnt aluminum foil
  • Glass pipes
  • Smoking supplies for someone who doesn’t smoke

None of these signs are individually a hardcore sign that someone is using fentanyl. However, it likely means that they are using an opioid drug. Often, it’s the combination of paraphernalia with other symptoms that makes it certain. However, if you find substance samples, you can often have them tested for free to let you know for sure.

Visible Signs of Fentanyl Use

People who use fentanyl are going to be visibly high – providing they use it in your presence. Of course, you might also look for unexplained absences, periods where your loved one is unavailable with no explanation, or frequent disappearances. It’s very common for people to try not to use in their home – often because they are ashamed of substance abuse or they are afraid people they live with will try to stop them. However, physical signs of fentanyl use will also vary depending on the individual. In most cases, you can look for signs like:

  • Constricted or very small pupils
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Flushing
  • Slurred/slowed speech
  • Complaints of being thirsty
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy or reduced movement

It can actually be difficult to tell if someone is high on an opioid like fentanyl or suffering from a cold or flu. It can also be difficult to tell fentanyl intoxication from alcohol intoxication except for the constriction of the pupils. It’s impossible to tell the signs of fentanyl intoxication from significant cannabis intoxication, except cannabis doesn’t’ effect breathing as much. So, you might be able to tell that “something” is up, but it won’t be easy to see exactly what. That can be difficult, but it often means looking at all of the symptoms together and having a discussion with your loved one.

Eventually, if you suspect your loved one is abusing a dangerous drug like fentanyl, it’s important to sit down and have a discussion with them. Many people will be unwilling to admit to or to talk about abusing fentanyl. However, getting help will always start with an open conversation, where you talk about drug use, safety, and caring about their well-being. It’s important not to bring judgement or concern for anything but their well-being. However, opening that conversation will always be the first step to getting them help.

Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous opioid drug. Getting off it often requires medical detox to ensure that withdrawal is safe. It may also mean using a prescription medication to prevent relapse, as quitting and relapse can increase the danger of overdose. Therefore, it’s important to look for professional support, medical intervention, and behavioral therapy to ensure that your loved one has the tools to stay clean and sober after quitting. Good luck talking to your loved one and moving into treatment.

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Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken in place of medical advice. Before making any decisions regarding your health, please consult your doctor. The staff at Stairway Resource Center develops a custom treatment plan for each of our patients. Specific medical advice will be provided to our patients by our professional providers while in our care.