Oxycodone Addiction Signs, Abuse and Side Effects

oxycodone addiction signs

Managing pain is a difficult task for physicians and patients alike. When someone is experiencing acute or chronic pain, the goal is to reduce it safely and swiftly. For many years, the go-to medications for pain were potent prescription opioids. Among them, oxycodone continues to be one of the most popular. Almost everyone has heard the name of the medication, even if they don’t understand what it is or what it does.

When used precisely according to a doctor’s prescription, oxycodone is a powerful painkiller that has an appropriate use. When a person begins to use the drug in ways other than intended, or uses it for the recreational effects, they may begin to show the signs of addiction. Anyone can struggle with addiction to opioids, and an understanding of how the drug works is crucial to helping yourself or another person begin recovery from oxycodone addiction.

What Is Oxycodone?

As an opioid, oxycodone is part of a group of drugs that derive from the opium poppy. Other drugs that share the opioid classification include morphine and heroin. Oxycodone is what’s known as a semi-synthetic opioid, which means it is partially human-made. Manufacturers create it through the modification of an organic chemical called thebaine, also known as paramorphine.

Oxycodone can be a stand-alone formulation, but drug makers also combine it with other compounds to create medications. Brand names for oxycodone include:

  • Roxicodone®
  • Xtampza ER
  • Oxaydo®
  • OxyContin®

It’s common to see oxycodone combined with acetaminophen to create:

  • RoxicetTM
  • Xartemis® XR
  • Percocet®

Other drugs containing oxycodone combine it with aspirin or ibuprofen. Doctors prescribe oxycodone to relieve severe pain in people who need pain relief 24/7, and who can’t take other medications safely. It often comes in extended-release tablets or capsules to provide long-lasting pain relief for people who are used to the effects of opioid medications.

how oxycodone works

How Oxycodone Works

Like any drug, opioids take action in the brain to produce effects throughout the body. Our brains have receptors that are specifically designed to attract both natural and external opioids. When external opioids enter the brain, they seek out these receptors and bind to them, creating all sorts of physical and mental effects. The most immediate of these is a reduction in pain, closely followed by sedation and euphoria.

Primarily, opioids trigger a release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is part of the brain’s reward system. When you hear a favorite song, spend time with a loved one or enjoy a tasty treat, your brain releases a little bit of dopamine, which boosts your mood and reinforces the idea that whatever you just experienced is worth doing more of. This reward system generally reinforces behaviors you need to survive or behaviors that aren’t harmful when enjoyed in moderation. Drugs like oxycodone change that.

Oxycodone delivers a surge of dopamine that far outweighs what your brain produces on its own in response to normal stimuli. Eventually, this effect makes your brain produce less dopamine naturally, while making you feel like you can’t function normally without taking the drug regularly. The brain gets used you spoon-feeding it massive doses of reward chemicals, and stops manufacturing its own. At this point, abuse and addiction become serious concerns.

Oxycodone Abuse in the United States

The potential for abuse of oxycodone is immense, and it has been problematic for a long time. The drug first became available in 1916. It only took a year before its first use as a drug, although it took until 1939 for oxycodone to make it to the United States market. Oxycodone didn’t start to make waves for several years, but when it did become clear that abuse and addiction were problems, the World Health Organization stepped up, introducing the concept of opioid dependence in 1964.

1990 saw the seeds of today’s opioid crisis planted when the use of these powerful painkillers extended from treating cancer patients to treating those with non-cancer pain. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations claimed, “There is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control.”

We now know this statement, backed by the for-profit makers of OxyContin®, was patently false. Today, 35% of all opioid overdose deaths are due to prescription painkillers. Oxycodone, especially in the form of OxyContin, is one of the top three drugs most commonly involved in overdose deaths.

Total prescription opioid deaths have more than quadrupled since 1999, even though Americans have not been reporting more pain. There have been multiple initiatives meant to curb the prescription of opioids like OxyContin® and Percocet® so patients can’t get enough of the drug to abuse it. CVS is now limiting most of its new opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply, and Cigna announced it would begin directing patients to equivalents with abuse-deterrent properties instead of covering most OxyContin® prescriptions.

addiciton signs for oxycodone

Oxycodone Addiction Signs — What to Be Aware Of

Identifying OxyContin addiction, Percocet addiction or another type of opioid addiction is not always easy. If a person is obtaining painkillers illegally, there’s no question they’re misusing and abusing them ⁠— but most people start by getting the prescription from their doctor. How can you tell when legitimate medical use slides into abuse and addiction? These physical signs point to misuse of opioids:

  • Drowsiness or nodding off
  • Extreme sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Itchiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Suppressed breathing
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating

If you’re concerned about a loved one, it may not be easy to identify physical signs. People instinctively try to hide their drug abuse, even if they don’t realize they’re doing so. They may avoid taking the drug for long enough to appear normal during social interactions, making it difficult to spot the signs.

However, addiction has a strong emotional and behavioral element you can use to identify oxycodone addiction. As the drug abuse progresses, the opioids will actually “re-wire” the brain to completely upend a person’s priorities in ways that become more obvious over time. Look out for these more subtle signs of addiction.

  • Loss of interest: After prolonged use of drugs, normal activities don’t have the same luster and don’t make people as happy. Someone with an opioid dependency may drop their favorite hobby unexpectedly, or seem to have a flat affect typical of depression.
  • Social withdrawal: Individuals addicted to opioids may lose interest in people, as well as activities. They may stop texting you, fail to return calls and come up with a parade of excuses not to hang out.
  • Shifting friend groups: Drug abuse often has a social element, if only because people have to seek new sources of the drug. An addicted individual may start running in new, strange social circles based on opioid abuse.
  • Secretiveness: Drug addiction is not sustainable, and most people know that deep down. They may appear closed off and unwilling to discuss anything that has even a chance of relating to opioids.
  • Diminished sense of responsibility: As oxycodone addiction becomes more severe, affected individuals begin to drop responsibilities one by one. It often starts with missing work or school more often, and soon extends to skipping basics like personal hygiene and nutrition.
  • Increased drug cravings: An addicted person will find themselves thinking about opioids all the time, seemingly becoming blind to more important issues such as what’s going on with family and friends.
  • Risky behavior: When a person becomes addicted to a substance, they will go to extraordinary lengths to get more of it. An individual may go doctor shopping to try and get more prescriptions, or turn to illicit channels to get more opioids.

When you identify any of these traits emerging, it’s time for you or your loved one to take a hard look at oxycodone use and seek appropriate treatment.

side effects of oxycodone abuse

Side Effects of Using Oxycodone, OxyContin® and Percocet®

In addition to the strong potential for addiction, oxycodone side effects can permanently damage the body. Opioids like oxycodone, OxyContin and Percocet have a negative influence on almost every bodily system.

  • Gastrointestinal: About 40 to 45% of patients taking opioids experience chronic constipation and nausea. In some cases, opioids have been known to cause internal bleeding and bowel obstruction.
  • Respiratory: Opioid use depresses the respiratory system, and links with sleep apnea and other conditions characterized by disordered breathing.
  • Cardiovascular: Opioids increase the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and heart failure by 77%.
  • Central nervous system: Medical researchers are still investigating the effects of opioids on the nervous system. Their neurotoxicity can lead to symptoms like heightened sensitivity to pain and depression levels 38% higher than in those who don’t take opioids.
  • Musculoskeletal: Opioids can increase the risk of fractures. This factor is most dangerous for elderly patients, but can cause severe problems for anyone down the line.
  • Endocrine: Taking opioids severely impacts the production of every hormone, which can lead to infertility and fatigue.

Essentially, long-term use of oxycodone wears down the body in multiple ways. People who have abused opioids for months or years often report feeling generally run down and sick, even if they cannot identify any specific symptoms.

Withdrawal is also a symptom to expect from long-term oxycodone abuse. Withdrawal is the body’s response to having a drug of addiction removed, and its unpleasant effects are often enough to drive an addicted individual back to using the substance. Withdrawal symptoms often mimic a bad flu. Upon stopping opioid use cold-turkey, you can expect:

  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Aches and pains
  • Dehydration
  • Itching
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Rapid heartbeat

In severe cases, these symptoms may be life-threatening. It’s critical to stop oxycodone abuse under medical supervision.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oxycodone

These are the top three most common questions people have about oxycodone and the medications it is part of.

Q: How long does oxycodone stay in your system?
A: It depends on how long you have been taking it and how much you take. Typically, a urine test will be able to detect oxycodone use for up to four days after last consuming the drug.

Q: What’s the difference between OxyContin and Percocet?
A: OxyContin contains a long-acting form of oxycodone, and patients only take it twice a day. Percocet is oxycodone combined with acetaminophen, and you can take it up to three or four times daily.

Q: Can you take oxycodone while pregnant?
A: The short answer is no. The FDA categorizes oxycodone as a category C drug, indicating it may cause harm to an unborn child, even causing the baby to be born with an addiction. Doctors don’t usually prescribe oxycodone to pregnant women.

Steps to Take When Battling Oxycodone Addiction

It can be nerve-wracking to consider you might be addicted to a prescription painkiller like oxycodone. There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding what to do next. It’s critical to remain calm when considering your options. Addiction often develops when people use drugs as a response to stress, so if you start panicking, it may increase your craving for the drug.

If you can, enlist the help of a friend or family member you trust for support. Sharing your decision to seek appropriate treatment can help you by creating crucial accountability.

Help is out there for people who are serious about ending their addiction to opioids. The most effective form of treatment, used successfully since the 1970s, is methadone maintenance treatment. It’s a form of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, in which participants receive daily doses of methadone that keep oxycodone withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Methadone works by binding to the same receptors as oxycodone, but when a therapeutic dose is used as directed, it won’t produce the same euphoric high. Instead, it eliminates the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that occur in the absence of opioids allowing patients to focus on other elements of long-term recovery.

Buprenorphine, aka Suboxone®, is also a good option for oxycodone addiction treatment.

Methadone clinics are becoming more common in many areas of the U.S. in response to the opioid crisis. Your first step should be to research clinics in your area and choose a program that’s right for you.

counseling for oxycodone

Begin the Journey With BAART

Addiction is a deeply personal struggle, and gathering the courage to seek the help you need is no easy feat. BAART Programs respects your commitment to recovering from addiction, and we match it with our commitment to compassionate, effective treatment. In addition to our buprenorphine and methadone treatment programs, we offer the substance use counseling that is so critical to a successful recovery from Percocet addiction or addiction to another opioid.

With MAT keeping withdrawal symptoms to a minimum and individual counseling to teach you coping skills, we give you the tools to carve your path to recovery. You’ll find BAART Programs and our affiliates all across the United States, and there may be a clinic near you. If you’re ready to reclaim your life from oxycodone, BAART is here to help.

We invite you to learn more about our services and the next steps in recovery by calling 844-341-4040 or using our online contact form to get in touch with our caring and expert representatives.


Medically Reviewed By:

BAART Clinical Team

BAART Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at BAART Programs is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. BAART is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing opioid addiction treatment services to the San Francisco Bay Area and greater United States since 1977.