Oxycodone Addiction: Effects, Withdrawal, & Treatment

Prescription opioid abuse, like the abuse of oxycodone, is a serious problem in the U.S. Abusing drugs like oxycodone can cause many health risks, including overdose and addiction.

The National Center for Health Statistics reports that overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017. They have since declined to 14,139 in 2019.1

This page will help you understand what you need to know about oxycodone, including how it’s abused, the health risks of abuse, and the potential for overdose, withdrawal, and addiction.

What is Oxycodone?

opioid drugsOxycodone, also known as OxyContin, Percodan (when combined with aspirin), or Percocet or Roxicet (when combined with acetaminophen), is a semi-synthetic narcotic drug used to treat moderate to severe pain.2

It’s classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and dependence and a currently accepted medical use.3

As with other opioids, it works on your body and brain by binding to and activating opioid receptors in your brain, which results in blunting the body’s perception of pain. Opioids also release abnormally high amounts of dopamine and increase dopamine activity, your body’s natural feel-good chemical that also regulates how we reinforce rewards and pleasurable behaviors.4

This surge in dopamine effectively reinforces drug taking behavior.4

How is Oxycodone Abused?

Oxycontin abuse occurs when someone takes more of the drug than they should, takes drugs that are not prescribed to them, or uses it in other unintended ways. While people often take Oxycontin by swallowing the pill, people may abuse oxycodone by crushing the pill and snorting or smoking it.5

Oxycodone is water-soluble, so people sometimes also dissolve it in water and inject it into their veins. 5

What are the Side Effects of Taking Oxycodone?

Even when taken as prescribed, people who use OxyContin can experience side effects. Common Oxycontin side effects include:6

  • Constipation.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Stomach pain and nausea.
  • Drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Sweating.
  • Headaches.

Other Health Risks of Oxycodone

Oxycodone can cause more serious long-term side effects. Although less common, these can include:7

  • Dry mouth, which can potentially contribute to dental problems.
  • Extreme constipation and digestive problems, as opioids reduce the ability of the gastrointestinal tract to function properly.
  • Irritation of the nasal passages, if prescription opioids are snorted.
  • Scarring of the veins and increased risk of infection or contraction of blood-borne diseases like HIV or hepatitis, if prescription opioids are injected.
  • Hormone interference, such as erectile dysfunction for men and menstrual irregularities for women.

Short-term risks include increased risk of overdose, dependence, and addiction.

Oxycodone Overdose

An opioid overdose is a medical emergency. People can overdose while taking oxycodone as prescribed or by abusing it. You can accidentally take too much, for example, if you aren’t receiving adequate pain relief and you decide to increase your dose, or you can intentionally overdose by purposely taking too much.8

Signs of overdose include:8

  • Extreme drowsiness or confusion.
  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Vomiting.
  • Slow, irregular or weak pulse.
  • Slowed, shallow, difficulty or stopped breathing.
  • Blueish color under nails or of fingertips.
  • Coma.

If you think someone has overdosed on an opioid, you should not leave them alone. Call 911 or the national toll-free Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

While waiting for emergency services personnel, administer naloxone (Narcan) if you have access to it. In some states, naloxone is available as an autoinjector or nasal spray.4, 8

Does Oxycodone Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms when stopping or significantly reducing your dose of an opioid are a sign of opioid dependence, which means that your body has adapted to the presence of the drug, and you need to take it to feel normal and to function.4

OyxContin withdrawal symptoms tend to begin within 6-12 hours after your last dose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that these symptoms can include:4

  • Pain in your muscles and bones.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Feeling cold and developing goosebumps.
  • Anxiety and irritability.
  • Leg twitching.
  • Severe cravings, meaning strong urges to use OxyContin.

What are the Signs of Oxycodone Addiction?

Signs that a person is abusing oxycodone include:12, 13

  • Asking for more frequent prescription refills.
  • Stealing someone else’s medication.
  • Reporting stolen medication.
  • Saying they have more pain even though their condition doesn’t seem to be worsening.
  • Decreased activity and interest in relationships.
  • Making mistakes at work or school because of their drug use.
  • Overdosing.
  • Irritability and mood swings.
  • Poor decision-making.
  • Decreased motivation.

Oxycodone addiction falls under the category of opioid use disorder (OUD), as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The criteria for OUD include:14

  • Using more of the drug than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut down or stop using despite a desire to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of the drug.
  • Cravings.
  • Being unable to fulfill your obligations at work, home, or school because of drug use.
  • Continuing to misuse the drug despite relationship and social problems that are caused by drug use.
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed because of drug use.
  • Using the drug in dangerous situations, e.g., driving or operating machinery
  • Continuing to use the drug even though you have developed a physical or psychological problem that is probably due to your drug abuse.
  • Tolerance, or needing to increase the amount taken to experience the same high.
  • Withdrawal when you try to stop using.

A person may be diagnosed with an opioid use disorder if they exhibit two or more of these criteria in a 12-month period.

How Do you Treat Oxycodone Addiction?

People who are addicted to oxycodone or other opioids usually benefit from a combination of behavioral therapy and medication, a clinically proven treatment approach known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).15

Before you start treatment, you need to withdraw from the drug and become medically stable. This is why most people start the rehab process with oxycodone detox, which is designed to help keep you safe and comfortable throughout withdrawal as the drug is cleared from your body.12, 16

However, detox does not address the underlying issues that led to addiction. After you have completed detox, it’s recommended to transition to a formal addiction treatment .12, 16

Medications used in MAT to treat OUD include:15

  • Buprenorphine.
  • Methadone.
  • Naltrexone

Buprenorphine and methadone both can be introduced during detox and are effective in managing withdrawal symptoms and suppressing drug cravings. Naltrexone can only be started after detox and is effective in preventing relapse to opioid misuse.17

Behavioral therapies, which may be used for individual counseling or in group therapy sessions, or both, include:18

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This helps you identify and change negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that may contribute to addiction.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). This helps increase your motivation to make positive changes and stop using drugs.
  • Community reinforcement approach (CRA). This is designed to help you develop better coping skills and stay motivated in treatment.
  • Contingency management (CM). This is a positive reinforcement approach that involves providing incentives for healthy changes, such as receiving vouchers for a negative drug test.

If you’re ready to stop misusing OyxContin and overcome oxycodone addiction, Sunrise House Treatment Center, American Addiction Centers’ opioid rehab facility in New Jersey, is here to help. We offer evidence-based, individualized care and treatment to help you start the path to recovery. Please call us to learn more about a customized treatment plan that is best for your needs by calling 928-900-2019.

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