Percocet is a prescription pain medication with two active ingredients: oxycodone and acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter pain reliever, while oxycodone is a powerfully addictive opioid. Percocet is classified as a Schedule II substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, meaning it has a high risk for abuse, dependence and addiction.
Percocet dependence and addiction can occur even in people who have a legitimate prescription that they follow carefully. In many cases, debilitating opioid addictions start with a valid prescription, and even a few days of Percocet use can lead to the development of drug dependence. Dependence causes a physical need for the drug, leading to withdrawal symptoms when the dose is reduced or stopped. Percocet withdrawal after short-term use is common.
In order to understand Percocet withdrawal, it’s helpful to first understand how dependence and addiction occur. When someone takes Percocet, the opioid component causes neurons to release large amounts of dopamine. This process increases activity in the brain’s “reward system.” When dopamine levels are naturally increased, it means that something with a positive health effect occurred. For example, if someone is thirsty and drinks water, their brain will release dopamine. This links a behavior (drinking water) to a healthy outcome (no longer being thirsty).
Our brains are not able to distinguish between a normal, healthy increase in dopamine and an artificial, unhealthy increase. As a result, the huge dopamine increase that Percocet causes will be misinterpreted by the brain as something that has an enormously positive effect on health. The brain will incorrectly link Percocet use to what it believes is a very healthy outcome. These changes in the brain can lead to addiction, which causes a person to compulsively seek and use drugs despite negative consequences.
Over time, a person can also begin to rely on Percocet to maintain “normal” brain health. This is called dependence. Withdrawal occurs when someone who has become physically dependent on Percocet reduces or eliminates the dose. As Percocet levels drop, the brain will react as if a life-threatening situation is occurring, and profoundly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms will set in. A key withdrawal symptom is drug cravings, and a person with Percocet dependence will crave the drug if it is not present.
Opioid withdrawal can be fatal for certain people. However, withdrawal from Percocet or other opioids is not usually life-threatening unless dehydration is involved. Death can occur when a person becomes extremely dehydrated from severe nausea and vomiting.
If you are experiencing Percocet withdrawal, it is important to seek help from your doctor or a substance use treatment facility. The risk of fatal outcomes can vary from person to person and event to event. It may be hard to predict when a particular withdrawal event might become fatal.
Percocet withdrawal symptoms can often be classified as “early” and “late” withdrawal. Early withdrawal sets in within hours after the last dose and continues for two to three days. This phase will transition into late withdrawal, which continues for several more days.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is characterized by persistent withdrawal symptoms that can last for months. PAWS is common, especially among people with serious dependence.
Percocet withdrawal includes both physical and psychological symptoms that can be very uncomfortable and even debilitating. Some people call the detox and withdrawal period the “Percocet hangover.”
Physical symptoms of Percocet withdrawal begin during the early phase of withdrawal. These symptoms include:
Late withdrawal also has physical symptoms, including:
Psychological withdrawal symptoms are not as easy to categorize as early and late symptoms. Psychological symptoms of Percocet withdrawal often include:
PAWS, also known as protracted withdrawal, describes withdrawal symptoms that persist beyond the expected time frame. PAWS that lasts for several months after quitting is very common among people who are recovering from Percocet dependence and addiction.
It is important to understand that PAWS does not mean that recovery has failed. For many people, PAWS is a normal but frustrating component of long-term recovery. Withdrawal symptoms may fluctuate in severity over the weeks or months after quitting, but they will gradually disappear.
The most effective way to estimate how long a drug will stay in the system is to determine the drug’s half-life. A half-life is the amount of time required for half of the drug in the system to be metabolized.
For example, if someone takes 10 mg of a drug that has a half-life of one hour, their body will metabolize 5 mg in the first hour and another 2.5 mg in the second hour. A general rule of thumb is to multiply the half-life by five to determine the amount of time required for a drug to be completely metabolized.
Oxycodone has a half-life of 3.2 hours for immediate-release formulations and 4.5 hours for extended-release formulations. This means immediate-release Percocet will be out of the system in approximately 16 hours, while extended-release forms will take about 22.5 hours.
Percocet withdrawal symptoms continue even after all of the drug has been metabolized. This is due to the physical dependence that develops with regular use. Withdrawal symptoms are caused by changes in neurons and are not dependent on whether the drug is present, which is why withdrawal can last for weeks after quitting.
Although each individual will have a slightly different withdrawal experience, a general Percocet withdrawal timeline may look something like this:
While going through withdrawal, there are several factors that influence the duration and severity of Percocet withdrawal symptoms. These include:
Detoxing off Percocet can be a very uncomfortable process that may take several days. The detox period refers to the process of eliminating all Percocet from the body. Early withdrawal symptoms that continue after the detox period are often considered to be a part of the detox process.
People who are experiencing detox and early Percocet withdrawal symptoms are often at high risk for relapse. Because of this, many people have the most success overcoming detox and withdrawal when it is done in a supervised, supportive environment.
Medical detox is a professionally managed process that includes 24/7 supervision by medical professionals who can provide medications to ease withdrawal symptom severity. Many quality rehab facilities offer medical detox in addition to other rehab services.
A controlled taper, which is done by gradually lowering the dose of Percocet, is the safest and most effective way to begin recovery from Percocet addiction. If a person wants to quit using Percocet, they should work with their doctor or a rehab specialist to design a tapering schedule that gradually reduces the dose they take. This will give their brain a chance to gradually readapt to functioning without Percocet. Controlled tapers can increase the odds of a successful recovery.
Outpatient detox programs can be successful for motivated people with mild to moderate Percocet dependence. However, it is important for people to have an evaluation with an addiction specialist to determine whether they are an ideal candidate for an outpatient program.
People must be honest with themselves about whether they are truly prepared to resist triggers and temptations. Percocet withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, and relapse in the first days of recovery is common. If a person is concerned that they might relapse, an inpatient detox program will be the safest and most effective way to achieve initial success in recovery.
Percocet detox at home may be possible for people with mild dependence. However, it is important to understand that Percocet dependence is the result of substantial changes in brain chemistry that lead to potentially overwhelming withdrawal symptoms. As a result, home detoxing is often very challenging.
If a person chooses to detox at home, it is recommended that they seek a professional evaluation before quitting. An expert who understands Percocet detox and withdrawal can describe what a person will experience throughout the process and, if appropriate, may suggest seeking professional treatment.
People who are detoxing at home should drink plenty of water and have a sports drink on hand to prevent electrolyte imbalance. People must make sure to eat a healthy diet, even if they don’t feel like eating. It is often helpful to enlist a trusted friend to check on a person in detox, run errands and remind them of why quitting is important.
There are some risks that occur with abrupt discontinuation. Although quitting Percocet “cold turkey” is generally not life-threatening, the risk of relapse is high. Tapering the dose gradually is the most effective way to achieve early success in recovery.
When you are evaluating Percocet detox centers, make sure to verify that the staff has experience helping people overcome Percocet use disorders. The staff should include medical care providers, therapists and addiction specialists who can address any questions or concerns you may have.
In addition, look for a rehab facility that is equipped to make a dual diagnosis. Many substance use disorders are related to an undiagnosed mental health disorder, and dual diagnosis is a way to identify both disorders and develop a rational treatment plan that accounts for each. People who suffer from unmanaged depression, anxiety or PTSD are more likely to recover from a substance use disorder if they are also treated for their mental health disorder.
Percocet can be a challenging drug to quit taking, especially without professional help. At Orlando Recovery Center, our experts have experience in helping people recover from opioid use disorders, and we can help you manage the physical and psychological aspects of detox and withdrawal. Contact us today to learn more about comprehensive rehab programs that can work well for your situation.
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.