What Causes Fentanyl Addiction?

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What Causes Fentanyl Addiction?

Fentanyl's interaction with the brain is the main cause of fentanyl addiction. As an opioid, Fentanyl interacts with the brain's feel-good receptors, triggering dopamine production at abnormally high levels. This induces a pleasant euphoria in the patient, and makes it hard for them to stop taking the medication.

The patient may also develop a tolerance to fentanyl and will need more to experience its effects. They begin by taking just a bit more at a time, but soon rely on the fentanyl to feel normal - or may experience harsh side effects if they stop taking the medication. This is a sure sign that dependence has occurred.

Taking fentanyl for a short period of time as a prescription medication is usually deemed as safe, so long as the patient does not have a medical history of addiction. Determining the level of safety is hard since it varies from one patient to another.

How Does Fentanyl Addiction Happen?

Fentanyl addiction occurs when a patient takes the drug in higher dosages and for longer than recommended. Many patients begin taking Fentanyl as a prescription medication because it works to block chronic pain and makes them feel better.

While fentanyl is often medically prescribed by doctors, it is highly addictive. Many patients will begin taking more and more of the opioid to fight off pain, and eventually become addicted. Because it is an opioid, fentanyl addiction can easily occur if medical professionals are not careful with the dosages they prescribe.

Individuals can also gain access to fentanyl illegally. Many purchase it on the streets and use it without prescriptions. The pleasurable high it creates makes it the drug of choice for many substance abusers.

Often, people will unknowingly ingest other drugs that have been laced with fentanyl by the dealer. This leaves them craving both drugs at the same time and makes addiction hard to fight.


How Fentanyl Addiction Works


To understand how Fentanyl addiction works, we need to explore its effect the brain. Firstly, Fentanyl is an opioid just like morphine and heroin. While it is possible to receive this substance from a medical professional for legitimate reasons, it works in the same way as other addictive drugs.

As an opioid, fentanyl binds to opioid receptors that are found throughout the body and especially in the brain. These specific receptors are responsible for the experience and regulation of pain and emotion.

When fentanyl is consumed, it binds to these receptors, flooding the reward centers of the brain with abnormally high levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a natural brain chemical which rewards certain actions with feelings of pleasure, and thus motivates us to repeat them. Fentanyl, however, floods the body with excessive amounts of this neurotransmitter. The euphoria and relaxation it causes are what make it so addictive.

This is a recipe for disaster. When one takes a prescribed dose of fentanyl, it slows respiration. If taken in high enough doses, it can arrest breathing entirely. Understandably, overdosing on fentanyl can cause death.

The longer the patient takes fentanyl, the more likely his body is to develop a tolerance to it. He will require ever-increasing dosages of the substance in order to experience the same high. The brain's reward system has now been damaged.


Who is More at Risk for a Fentanyl Addiction?


Anyone who takes Fentanyl in any form is likely to become addicted to this substance. Everyone must be careful when using this medication - even if prescribed by medical professionals. However, there are factors which can increase an individual's risk of addiction.


Certain demographics are more likely to fall prey to an addiction. Youth between the ages of 18 to 25 are at a higher risk of opioid addiction, including Caucasians. Living in a rural environment or experiencing pain from a serious injury/ medical condition can increase addiction risks. Additionally, individuals of a low-income background are more liable to abuse substances as a way of fighting anxiety and depression and finding "happiness".

Genetics and family history:

If an individual has a family history of substance abuse, they are more prone to addiction too. Both a negative environment and natural genetic makeup cause this phenomenon. Understandably, spending time around drugs and alcohol greatly increases the likelihood of developing a substance addiction.

Social influence

Peer pressure plays a large role in addiction liability as well. Social influence can cause individuals to start using drugs in the first place, and continuously feed their negative habit over time until it develops into a serious addiction.

Mental health conditions:

Studies have found that individuals suffering from an untreated mental illness - such as depression or bipolar disorder - are more likely to abuse opioids and other substances. Such individuals must seek professional help for their condition to proactively help prevent addiction.

Current or past substance abuse:

Patients who have suffered from a substance abuse in the past may also struggle with fentanyl addiction. Such individuals should disclose their complete medical history to their medical provider ahead of time, and medical providers should avoid prescribing fentanyl to those with past addiction issues.


Consequences of a Fentanyl Addiction


A fentanyl addiction comes with a number of consequences. This substance can land an individual in a deep rut that is nearly impossible to get out of. As the addiction progresses, the victim will retreat into isolation and shun all things that used to bring them joy. Other serious consequences would include:

Loss of Family and Friends

Family and friends will slowly be pushed away, or will choose to distance themselves as they can no longer bear the ogre the addict has become. This pushes the addict further into isolation, which merely allows the addiction to go on for longer.

Relationship Struggles

Relationship problems are a natural outgrowth of fentanyl addiction. As addiction takes over, the individual may struggle to hold onto those they love dearly. Their laser-like focus on obtaining money to purchase drugs, and getting their next fix, breeds distrust and issues in any relationship they may have.


Isolation is common in addicts. They worry that others will find out about their problem, so they hide away to avoid getting caught. They often have no interest in socializing or being around others. Their lives begin to rotate around their drug use.

Trouble at Work

Addiction may get so severe that the victim will act out while on the drug, or may not be able to pass a drug test and consequently lose their jobs. Fentanyl addicts often struggle to find and keep suitable jobs.

Lack of Interest

Those with a Fentanyl addiction may lose interest in things that they used to enjoy. They lose all desire to engage in once-favorite hobbies and pastimes; their time and energies are now devoted to drugs.

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