OxyContin Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline & Detox
Last Updated: September 22, 2023
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OxyContin is a long-acting opioid. Like all opioids, if you take it chronically and suddenly stop, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, it is important to be aware of what to expect when quitting OxyContin. If you or a loved one take OxyContin, discuss stopping the drug with your doctor before quitting.
What Is OxyContin Withdrawal?
OxyContin is a slow-acting, extended-release form of the opioid oxycodone. This powerful drug is a pain reliever but carries a high risk of abuse, dependence and addiction.
When you take an opioid like OxyContin over the long term, your brain becomes used to the drug’s presence, and brain chemicals called neurotransmitters adapt accordingly. If you suddenly stop taking the drug, your brain chemicals struggle to adapt, leading to uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Due to these risks, you should never attempt to quit OxyContin on your own. Instead, you should seek professional care through a medical detox program that provides 24/7 support and helps treat OxyContin withdrawal symptoms.
What Causes OxyContin Withdrawal?
People with OxyContin dependence or addiction often go through powerful physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when they quit the drug. This happens because of how the drug works in the brain. OxyContin causes physical changes in neurons — the primary cells in the brain — mostly through their actions on opioid receptors and the chemical dopamine.
OxyContin causes excessive dopamine release and can also lock into the dopamine receptors within the brain. Over time, this will trick a person’s brain into thinking it doesn’t need to produce as much dopamine. As a result, people who stop taking OxyContin will have less dopamine in their brains than they should.
Changes in the brain system cause some of the worst opioid withdrawal symptoms called the locus coeruleus. Brain cells in the locus coeruleus produce the chemical noradrenaline and send it to other parts of the brain, stimulating wakefulness, breathing, blood pressure and alertness. When OxyContin sticks to opioid receptors in the locus coeruleus, it causes an overall decrease in noradrenaline activity. This results in drowsiness, slower respiration and lower blood pressure.
When OxyContin is no longer present in the brain to suppress the locus coeruleus, the neurons release too much noradrenaline because their activity is enhanced. This causes jitters, anxiety, muscle cramps and diarrhea.
OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
OxyContin withdrawal effects are similar to those of other opioid pain medications. They can be more severe depending on how the drug was used (snorted or injected, for example) and how large the typical dose was.
Early OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
Because OxyContin is a long-acting opioid, withdrawal symptoms generally do not appear until more than 24 hours after the last dose. The physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms tend to remain consistent throughout the withdrawal process. Although symptoms can wax and wane through withdrawal, there is no evidence that the symptoms change depending on where you are in the process. However, symptoms can differ depending on the person.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Runny nose and eyes
- Enlarged pupils
- Trouble sleeping
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
Peak OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
OxyContin withdrawal symptoms start after a day off the drug and continue for up to 10 days. There is no clear peak time frame for withdrawal symptoms from the drug. However, individual experiences may differ.
Late OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
OxyContin withdrawal symptoms are expected to continue for up to 10 days after the last dose of the medication.
Long-Term OxyContin Withdrawal Effects
Prolonged withdrawal symptoms are possible off OxyContin. Sometimes called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). These symptoms may last for several weeks or months after withdrawal is complete and may include:
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Problems focusing on tasks
OxyContin Withdrawal Timeline
OxyContin withdrawal effects can be quite uncomfortable, but the symptoms’ actual duration isn’t long. Typically, the worst symptoms come and go within the first week or two.
Factors Affecting the Withdrawal Timeline
Several factors can affect the length of OxyContin withdrawal, including:
- How much OxyContin a person was normally taking
- How the person was taking OxyContin
- Whether OxyContin use was tapered off
- The overall physical and mental health of the individual
- Other medications or drugs a person is or was taking
- Days one to two: OxyContin withdrawal generally starts after the first 24 hours off the drug.
- Days 3–10: Once withdrawal symptoms fully set in, they generally last around 10 days.
Although the worst symptoms typically pass within 10 days, protracted withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, mood changes and problems concentrating can persist for weeks or months.
Complications of OxyContin Withdrawal
Although OxyContin withdrawal is unpleasant and very uncomfortable, it is rarely dangerous. However, complications can make withdrawal risky, especially if you are trying to manage it on your own without medical help.
Dehydration is one possible complication. OxyContin withdrawal can cause nausea/vomiting and diarrhea, leading to fluid loss. If you cannot hold down fluids to rehydrate, you are at risk of dehydration, which can be dangerous.
OxyContin Withdrawal Treatment
While OxyContin withdrawal is hard to manage on your own, success is possible with help. Withdrawal treatment generally includes medically-assisted detox, which may include medication-assisted treatment when appropriate. Following medical detox, rehab can help keep you off OxyContin for good, teaching you the skills for an OxyContin-free life.
OxyContin Detox at a Treatment Center
The term “detox” generally refers to the process of becoming drug-free. Medical detox treatment centers are available, but some people choose to detox from OxyContin on their own at home.
When an individual undergoes medical detox at a treatment facility, medical support and withdrawal symptom treatment are usually involved. This is not the case when someone detoxes at home, meaning there is little relief for uncomfortable or dangerous symptoms that arise.
Medically detoxing at a professional treatment center is the best way to detox from OxyContin. Treatment facilities have specific procedures to help individuals detox from OxyContin, including medical detox. In medical detox, patients have around-the-clock support from trained medical professionals and can receive immediate treatment for life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. This makes medically detoxing at a treatment center the safest option for OxyContin withdrawal and detox.
People in poor health or consuming high doses of OxyContin should consider going to a treatment center for medical detox.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is when medications are used for OxyContin withdrawal. MAT can be used when a health care professional determines that it may be helpful in the medical detox program. Two of the most common medications for MAT are methadone and buprenorphine. However, other medications may occasionally be used as well.
OxyContin Detox at Home
Although the best way to detox from OxyContin will differ from person to person, considering the differences between medical detox and detoxing at home is important. Medical detox at a professional facility is safer than OxyContin detox at home. This is because medical professionals can provide around-the-clock care throughout the detox process. While detox centers may not have the comforts of home, they have mechanisms to keep people safe.
Not everyone can have a family member or friend take care of them 24/7 while they attempt to detox at home. At a medical detox facility, a medical professional will always be there. Further, patients at professional treatment centers have access to MAT medications such as buprenorphine. These opioid-mimicking drugs can be a critical part of the recovery process for some people.
When an individual is away at a medical detox center, they are also removed from certain triggers that might lead to relapse. Detoxing at a professional facility is safer and tends to be more effective. Studies have shown this is particularly true when comparing medication-assisted treatment to detox without drug assistance.
If you decide to detox from OxyContin at home, withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage. However, there are things you can do to help cope with withdrawal, such as:
- Taper the dose of OxyContin: Individuals can avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms by tapering down the OxyContin dose normally consumed. Tapering is when an individual takes progressively smaller doses of OxyContin over a long period, ranging from weeks to months. Do not attempt to taper before discussing an individualized tapering schedule with your doctor.
- Exercise: Exercise can be very therapeutic and reduces stress and anxiety.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation: Learning to accept the present moment through mindfulness techniques or meditation can help you cope with cravings and urges during withdrawal.
These strategies can help with at-home OxyContin detox withdrawal symptoms, but they may not be enough. Sometimes, professional detox may be needed.
After detox, the next step in the recovery process typically involves OxyContin rehab treatment. Medical professionals can help determine the best treatment option for a patient based on their situation. Available options include:
- Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
- Outpatient care
Inpatient treatment involves living at the rehab facility, which removes people from stressors and potential triggers so they can focus on their therapeutic goals without outside distractions. After inpatient treatment, a person may step down to a PHP, IOP or outpatient program depending on the level of care they need.
Outpatient rehab allows patients to live at home and travel to a treatment facility for scheduled medical visits and counseling. Outpatient rehab helps individuals work toward recovery while maintaining aspects of their normal daily life, like attending work or school. Individuals with good mental and physical health and who do not require close monitoring are good candidates for outpatient rehab. For these people, outpatient treatment may be a suitable option after detox.
If you or someone you love is struggling with OxyContin addiction, Orlando Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us today to learn about personalized treatment programs to help you begin a healthier, drug-free future.
Common Questions About OxyContin Withdrawal
Can I quit OxyContin cold turkey?
You should avoid quitting OxyContin cold turkey. Withdrawal symptoms when quitting OxyContin “cold turkey” can be particularly severe and may put you at risk of abandoning your attempt to quit the drug. In turn, this can lead to relapse and overdose, which can be deadly.
Can you die from OxyContin withdrawal?
OxyContin withdrawal is rarely dangerous and is uncomfortable but not considered deadly. However, complications can occur, which may be deadly. For example, dehydration from the withdrawal symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea can be dangerous or deadly if left untreated.
How long do OxyContin withdrawal symptoms last?
How long it takes to detox from OxyContin will depend on many factors. Some of these factors include:
- How long was the person on OxyContin?
- How much OxyContin were they consuming, and how often?
- What method (snorting, smoking or injecting) was the person using to consume OxyContin?
- Was the person on any other medications that might interact with OxyContin?
- Are they still on other medications?
What does OxyContin withdrawal feel like?
OxyContin withdrawal can differ from person to person. Although the symptoms are generally consistent and include muscle aches, runny eyes and nose and mood changes, every person has their own unique withdrawal experience.
The severity of withdrawal can differ, depending on someone’s dose of OxyContin, how long they’ve taken the drug, if they abuse any other medications and their other health conditions.
Does slowly reducing the dosage of OxyContin ease withdrawal?
Slowly reducing — or tapering — the OxyContin dose can help ease withdrawal symptoms. When you slowly reduce the dose, you allow your body a chance to adjust to progressively smaller amounts of the medication before finally stopping it. In contrast, when you quit cold turkey, your body can struggle to adjust to the sudden change.
What medications are used to treat OxyContin withdrawal?
A few medications can be used during medical detox to help wean the body off OxyContin. OxyContin detox medications interact with the opioid receptors that OxyContin normally binds to. This interaction produces effects similar to OxyContin, which reduces withdrawal effects. The two gold-standard MAT medication options for treating OxyContin withdrawal are methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone).
Drugs.com. “OxyContin: Package Insert.” October 1, 2021. Accessed June 24, 2023.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. “National Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder.” December 18, 2019. Accessed June 24, 2023.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Protracted Withdrawal.” July 2010. Accessed June 24, 2023.