Fentanyl Withdrawal Timelines (& Tips)

Once dependent on fentanyl, users can start feeling withdrawal symptoms as soon as 12 hours after last taking the drug, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

While detox timelines will vary according to various personal factors, fentanyl withdrawal generally takes about a week. Most often, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) will be used for fentanyl detox, which means the withdrawal timeline will be extended significantly, but symptoms will be controlled.

The Deadliest Drug

In December 2018, CNN called fentanyl the “deadliest drug in America.” Fentanyl is between 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

It is legal and made for use in patients who can’t find relief from other types of opioids due to tolerance. It works by binding with chemical messengers in the brain that govern feelings of pain.

Dependence occurs when you experience symptoms of withdrawal if you do not take a substance after a given period. Dependence on fentanyl and other opioids forms very quickly after consistent use.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is part of the opioid family, but it is much stronger than other opioids like heroin. It works by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain, which can relieve moderate-to-severe chronic pain. This is helpful to patients who have become tolerant to other opioids and have no choice.

Prescription fentanyl is sold as a lozenge, lollipop, injection, nasal spray, and oral spray. The medication causes a feeling of relaxation that eases pain and works quickly. As such, it is commonly used for pain associated with surgery. Its effects last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes.

Patients with an extremely high tolerance can also use a fentanyl patch if they require consistent doses to manage their pain. This allows access to the medication for 48 to 72 hours at a time.

Unlawful versions of fentanyl are fabricated in labs and known by names such as dance fever, murder 8, goodfellas, China white, China girl, and Tango & Cash. These varieties are usually far stronger than legal forms of fentanyl. It is not possible to know how strong these batches are since there is so much variation in manufacturing practices and no regulations. Fentanyl sold illegally is often sold as a tablet, in paper that is meant to be placed in the mouth, as a spray, or as a powder.



Who Uses Fentanyl?

Though it mostly appears in the news for its illicit use, it is legal to use fentanyl under proper medical supervision, as stated in Medical News Today. CNN reports that in 2011, fentanyl was linked to 4 percent of overdose fatalities. In 2016, fentanyl was linked to 29 percent of documented overdose deaths.

As reported by NIDA, between 1999 and 2017, more males died from drug overdoses than women. This pattern held true for all age groups. In addition, the number of deaths caused by prescription medication, including opioids such as fentanyl, also rose among both men and women.

In December 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an overview that can help us understand the extent of fentanyl’s influence in the United States today:

  • Opioid deaths account for two out of three overdose fatalities.
  • Of the 47,000 people who died of an opioid overdose, 36 percent died while taking prescription opioids.
  • Overdose deaths have risen for women, men, and adults of every race and ethnicity.

Common Signs of Misuse

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation explains there are two ways to misuse fentanyl:

  • Buying a street form of the drug from a drug dealer
  • Diverting legitimate prescriptions of fentanyl, such as using another person’s prescription.

People who misuse fentanyl may resort to using their supply differently than intended to intensify their high.

Some people do what they can to obtain fentanyl that is left in prescription patches. Often, some portion of the drug remains in patches after they are thrown out. Some people may decide to put these under their tongue to get high, inject their contents, or smoke them. This is a serious misuse of the substance.

Additional common signs of fentanyl misuse or addiction are:

  • Uncontrollable urges to seek out fentanyl
  • Continued use of the drug despite its detrimental effects on personal affairs, job, school, or relationships


As reported by NIDA, many drug dealers mix fentanyl into drugs like MDMA or heroin without letting users know beforehand. Buying street drugs could expose you to fentanyl.

Buying fentanyl on its own is incredibly risky because you do not know if it contains your usual dose or a much stronger form of the substance. Overdose is highly likely.

Fentanyl is heavily involved in the opioid crisis today. Taking fentanyl illicitly puts you at risk of overdose and death. Dependency is a major risk for all users of fentanyl.
Like any other medication, fentanyl is associated with side effects such as:

  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Respiratory issues
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Sweating

Using the fentanyl patch could result in other side effects, such as redness on parts of the skin where the patch is used, rashes, swelling, or itchiness.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Quitting fentanyl may sound impossible when looking at the devastating picture of the opioid crisis today. With appropriate help, it is possible to quit using opioids of all kinds. The first step in seeking help is often talking to your doctor about your fentanyl use.

It may sound tempting to quit using fentanyl cold turkey, but this is not recommended because it can lead to excruciating symptoms of withdrawal. The following are fentanyl withdrawal symptoms:

  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Goosebumps and chills

You can also lose your tolerance to fentanyl quickly after stopping use, and this sets you up for a possible overdose if you give in to cravings and take your usual previous dose.
Once you stop taking fentanyl, you can expect withdrawal symptoms to set in about 12 hours after your last dose. How long withdrawal lasts depends on the severity of your use. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation says that Days 1 to 3 are known to be the most difficult. Withdrawal symptoms may be felt for at least one week.It is important to have the support of medical professionals as you stop taking fentanyl because withdrawal can be fatal, as stated in a 2016 report from the Society for the Study of Addiction.
Fatalities often occur during withdrawal when diarrhea and vomiting are not properly treated.

Mannequin sitting on toilet paper roll

People then become dehydrated and put themselves at risk of a rise in sodium levels in the blood that could cause the heart to stop working.

Weaning Off Fentanyl

Gauging how you will react is also difficult, as withdrawal is uncomfortable and unpredictable. A case study published by the European Journal of General Practice looks at the effect of withdrawal symptoms on an older patient.

Doctors attempted to wean the patient off fentanyl using the manufacturer’s recommendations. When that did not work, doctors created a more customized tapering plan that prevented symptoms of withdrawal.

MedlinePlus says fentanyl users who want to stop taking it can use the same types of treatments that have proven effective for all opioid users.



MAT with buprenorphine or methadone works well. Both of these medications are known to greatly reduce opioid cravings. They need to be administered continuously and can only be used after an assessment from a physician.




Detox Facilities provide supportive care as fentanyl is processed from your body.





Medication management may involve naltrexone, a medication that reduces cravings, thereby decreasing the possibility of a relapse.



Self-help groups such as 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous, can provide vital support. Groups like SMART Recovery are also great sources of companionship and support and provide non-religious alternatives.


Therapy is crucial to one’s success in recovery. According to NIDA, behavioral therapy provides clients with the skills necessary to stay sober and manage chronic pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing can also help people get to the bottom of what triggers their drug misuse.

All of these treatment methods are available in both inpatient and outpatient settings.