Oxycodone is among the most commonly prescribed opioid pain relievers but it is associated with a very serious risk for the development of dependence and addiction, even when it is used as directed. Oxycodone addiction can be very challenging to overcome and it is associated with unique challenges that are best addressed by professional rehab facilities that are equipped to manage all aspects of recovery.

It is imperative that anyone who is prescribed oxycodone takes it as directed, in the lowest effective dose and as infrequently as possible. Oxycodone use is associated with rapid development of tolerance and dependence and studies have shown that with every day of use, the risks for dependence and addiction increase.

How is Oxycodone Abused?

The majority of people who fill oxycodone prescriptions do not set out to misuse or abuse their prescription, but because oxycodone is so powerfully addictive, even people who take it exactly as prescribed may find that they quickly develop tolerance and dependence that may lead to oxycodone abuse and addiction.

Misusing oxycodone occurs when someone takes it more frequently or in larger doses than prescribed. Abuse, on the other hand, includes administering oxycodone in a way other than prescribed in order to experience the euphoria that is associated with larger doses or through dangerous routes of administration.

Smoking oxycodone, snorting oxycodone and injecting oxycodone are common routes of administration that are considered abuse. Taking oxycodone in any way other than as directed is incredibly dangerous and may be lethal.

Drug Tolerance vs. Addiction

There are some important terms that can help people understand the risks and consequences associated with oxycodone use:

  • Oxycodone tolerance: Tolerance to a drug occurs when someone has taken enough of the drug that their body becomes tolerant of its presence. This manifests as a need for higher doses of a drug in order to achieve the same result as was first experienced.
  • Oxycodone dependence: Dependence often develops with tolerance. As the body adapts to the presence of a drug, it also becomes dependent on the drug’s presence in order to maintain “normal” function. Dependence becomes apparent when someone reduces or stops taking oxycodone and experiences withdrawal symptoms. Dependence can be incredibly uncomfortable but is manageable.
  • Oxycodone addiction: Addiction is an extension of dependence. However, where dependence is manageable (if profoundly uncomfortable), addiction is characterized by compulsive and uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior in spite of obvious negative social and health consequences. Opioids, including oxycodone, are among the most addictive drugs known to man.

Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse

Symptoms are subjective experiences that cannot be measured by an observer, while signs can be objectively measurable by an observer. For example, nausea is a symptom and vomiting is a sign.

People who develop an oxycodone addiction will often experience subjective symptoms that include:

  • Cravings for oxycodone
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using the drug
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Lack of motivation

Physical Signs

While symptoms are only apparent to the person who is using oxycodone, signs of oxycodone abuse and addiction can be observed by friends and loved ones. Physical signs of oxycodone abuse may include:

  • Reduced personal hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Reduced motor coordination
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Excessive sweating

Behavioral Signs

Behavioral or psychological signs that someone is abusing oxycodone may include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Preoccupation with oxycodone or other opioids
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Skipping work or school
  • Failure to meet responsibilities
  • Financial troubles
  • Legal troubles

Side Effects of Oxycodone Abuse

While signs and symptoms are direct consequences of oxycodone abuse, side effects are unintended, secondary effects that are commonly experienced when someone uses oxycodone.

Short Term Side Effects

Short-term side effects associated with oxycodone abuse may include:

  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Sweating
  • Physical weakness
  • Lack of interest or motivation

Long Term Effects

Long-term effects of oxycodone abuse are more variable than short term effects, but may include:

  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Death

Side Effects of Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance use is the use of two or more drugs concurrently or simultaneously. Oxycodone and other opioids are particularly dangerous to use with other drugs or alcohol. The majority of opioid-related deaths involve the co-use of alcohol or other drugs.

Oxycodone and alcohol make a very dangerous combination. Alcohol and opioids are both central nervous system (CNS) depressants that, when consumed in the same time frame, have a synergistic effect. This means that the combination of alcohol and oxycodone leads to a level of intoxication that is more profound than would be expected based on the consequences of drinking or using oxycodone in the absence of other drugs. For example, someone who can safely consume 20mg of oxycodone may find that when they also drink alcohol, they become far more intoxicated than they would expect based on the consequences of drinking or taking oxycodone alone.

Combining CNS stimulants like cocaine and oxycodone is also very dangerous and increases the risk of an overdose. Cocaine may cause someone to feel like they are able to consume oxycodone in greater amounts than they can actually manage, with results potentially including overdose and even death. Alcohol is commonly co-used with cocaine and oxycodone, which further increases the risk that an overdose will result.

Oxycodone should never be taken with any other drugs or alcohol without the explicit approval of your medical care provider. Even over-the-counter medications may negatively interact with oxycodone. Be sure your doctor is aware of any other over-the-counter, prescription or illicit drugs that you may use while you have an oxycodone prescription.

Causes of Oxycodone Addiction

All addiction is the consequence of maladaptations in the brain’s dopamine-regulated “reward system.” Drugs of abuse, including oxycodone, cause cells in the brain to release large stores of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which signals to the brain that a positive (rewarding) event just occurred. The faster a drug causes dopamine to be released, the more addictive it tends to be.

Regular oxycodone use causes the brain to misinterpret the drug as having a positive effect on physical and mental health. The consequence is that, in the absence of oxycodone, the body will respond as if something that is important for sustained survival is absent and will drive someone to seek out more oxycodone.

Addiction is always prefaced by dependence; if you have an oxycodone prescription and find that you require (or even desire) a higher dose than you were prescribed, it is imperative that you consult with your doctor immediately. If you choose to increase your dose without professional consultation, you are putting yourself at high risk for dependence to transform into addiction.

What are the Symptoms of Withdrawal from Oxycodone?

Withdrawal occurs when someone who has become physically or psychologically addicted to a drug reduces or completely stops taking the drug. In the case of oxycodone, withdrawal symptoms often set in within eight to 12 hours of the last dose and may be incredibly debilitating.

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Depression
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Trembling
  • Altered sleeping patterns
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Seizures

Anyone who has developed a moderate to severe dependence on oxycodone or another opioid should never quit taking the drug cold turkey. Make sure to get a consultation with a quality addiction specialist who is equipped to help you develop a tapering strategy and long term recovery plan in order to minimize the risks associated with quitting opioids.

Oxycodone Abuse Facts & Statistics

Opioid addiction is among the most prevalent drug addictions in America, and oxycodone addiction makes up a substantial portion of these addictions. Data shows that women are at higher risk for developing an oxycodone dependence or addiction than men, which may reflect a higher rate of women receiving oxycodone prescriptions than men. However, oxycodone-related deaths are more common in men.

Oxycodone Overdose

An oxycodone overdose is a true medical emergency that may quickly lead to death without rapid intervention by medical professionals. If you are concerned that you or someone else may be experiencing an oxycodone overdose, call 911 immediately.

Oxycodone overdose symptoms often include:

  • Somnelescence (extreme drowsiness/sleepiness)
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Difficulty swallowing

Signs of an oxycodone overdose frequently include:

  • Respiratory depression (shallow, irregular breathing)
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Muscle flaccidity
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

How to Help Someone Addicted to Oxycodone

Oxycodone addiction is very real; it is not a consequence of a lack of willpower, desire or moral fortitude. Most people will not be able to directly help a loved one who has developed an addiction to oxycodone, but they can indirectly help their loved one by being supportive of a desire to regain sobriety.

If you are concerned that a loved one is addicted to oxycodone, the best thing you can do is encourage them to seek a consultation with a quality rehab facility that has experience with helping people overcome opioid addiction. After the consultation, encourage them to pursue any and all rehab that the addiction specialist recommends.

Oxycodone Addiction Treatment Options

  • Detox: Oxycodone detox typically takes several days. Ideally, the detox period will be done under the supervision of medical professionals who can intervene in the case of complications and, when appropriate, provide pharmacological agents that can minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, it is not recommended that you detox from oxycodone at home due to the potential dangers associated with opioid withdrawal.
  • Residential: Many people who participate in a medically supervised detox period will transition into a residential rehab program. These programs may offer the best chance to achieve long term sobriety as they minimize access to triggers and temptations while providing constant access to addiction specialists who can address all concerns and questions as they arise.
  • Outpatient: Outpatient rehab may be an appropriate starting point for motivated people with mild dependence/addiction and who have substantial support networks already in place. However, oxycodone addiction is associated with very real chemical and structural changes in the brain; most people will find that they have the most success in quitting oxycodone use after a residential rehab program that transitions into an outpatient setting.
  • Dual Diagnosis: Many people who are challenged with drug addiction may have an underlying mental health disorder that has not been diagnosed. Oxycodone use leads to a sense of relaxed pleasure that can allow someone to ignore symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. A dual diagnosis provides a path to help you manage both an addiction and a mental health concern that has hindered your ability to recover from addiction.

Oxycodone use disorders can be challenging to face without professional help. If you or someone you love is struggling to quit oxycodone or another opioid, help is available. Contact Orlando Recovery Center today to learn how we can help you get your life back on track.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.