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Symptoms and Signs of Oxycodone Use, Misuse, and Addiction

Oxycodone is a powerful prescription opioid that has been widely prescribed in the United States to help people manage pain.1 However, while it has legitimate medical use, oxycodone is frequently diverted for nonmedical use and widely misused. 1,2 According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2020 around 3.3% of the U.S. population over the age of 12 had misused some type of painkiller in the past year—while more than 1.1% of people had specifically misused oxycodone.2

In this article, you will learn about what oxycodone is, some potential signs and symptoms of oxycodone misuse, and how to get help for yourself or a loved one dealing with oxycodone addiction.


Find Out If Your Insurance Plan Covers Oxycodone Addiction Rehab

American Addiction Centers (AAC) can improve treatment outcomes for those in recovery from oxycodone abuse and SUD. To find out if your insurance covers treatment at an AAC facility, click here or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential.


Oxycodone Use and Abuse

Oxycodone is a prescription opioid painkiller.3 Opioids like oxycodone act upon the opioid receptors in the brain and body to address moderate to severe pain.1,3 Oxycodone can be taken as a generic medication but also as several branded formulations such as OxyContin and, in combination with acetaminophen or aspirin, as Percocet or Percodan.1

Oxycodone is available in both immediate and extended-release tablets, capsules, and oral solutions.1 Typically, people swallow oxycodone. In some cases of misuse, people crush tablets or open the capsules to snort the contents or dissolve it into liquid before injecting it.3

People use oxycodone to manage pain, but the drug can also cause feelings of euphoria or a “high” that can potentially lead to repeated nonmedical misuse of oxycodone.3 Tolerance may also build with repeated use of opioid drugs like oxycodone, which itself can lead to escalating patterns of use.3 Tolerance means that a person’s body adapts the presence of the drug, with the result being they need increasing amounts of oxycodone to feel the desired or pleasurable effects.3

Roughly a quarter of people who are prescribed oxycodone or other opioids for pain management are estimated to misuse these medications.4 Misuse of medications like oxycodone can increase the risk of addiction as well as life-threatening overdose symptoms.3,5 Although it may be tough to tease out the oxycodone-specific figures, it is important to understand that around 16,000 people died from any type of prescription opioid overdose in 2020.5

While many people take oxycodone and other opioids as prescribed, widespread diversion and misuse of these medications have made oxycodone addiction and other prescription opioid addictions more prevalent. While the government has taken steps to curb opioid prescriptions, many people continue to struggle with substance use disorders related to prescription opioids—a condition diagnosed as an opioid use disorder (OUD).4

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are drugs, both licit and illicit, that are derived from or share chemical similarities with certain naturally occurring opiate alkaloids found in the opium poppy plant.3 Some opioids are manufactured using these opiate precursors, while others are fully synthetic, meaning they are developed entirely in a lab.4 Opioids include prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine, as well as street drugs like heroin and illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.6 In their various forms, opioids may be administered as tablets, capsules, skin patches, oral liquids, suppositories, and lollipops.6

When a person takes opioids, they will usually experience relief from pain. Depending on the amount used, people may also experience some relaxation, drowsiness, and euphoria, as well as some adverse side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and slowed breathing.6

As noted earlier, a person who keeps taking opioids can develop tolerance to the drug and need more of it to keep experiencing its desired effect.3 With consistent use, a person may become physically dependent upon oxycodone or other opioids and need the substance to feel or function normally.3 Once a person develops significant opioid dependence, they may not be able to stop taking them without experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms.3


Other Adverse Effects

Prescription opioids such as oxycodone are associated with certain harmful health effects, including:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Slowed breathing.

Misuse of drugs like oxycodone can increase the risk of these and other adverse effects. As misuse persists, more chronic issues may arise including:4,8

  • Cumulatively high risk of overdose.
  • Hypoxic brain injury as a result of respiratory arrest.
  • Chronic constipation.
  • Menstrual irregularities in women.
  • Sexual dysfunction in men.

Potential Signs of Oxycodone Addiction

As oxycodone misuse becomes increasingly problematic, certain characteristic signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes may emerge in the individual that could indicate that an opioid use disorder has developed. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists outlines the criteria used to make such a diagnosis. Some potential signs of oxycodone addiction include:

  • Taking more oxycodone than was originally intended.
  • Cravings to use oxycodone.
  • Attempts to stop using, or cut back on using, are unsuccessful.
  • Using a good deal of time and resources to get oxycodone, use it, and recover from using the drug.
  • Not being able to complete expected duties at work, school, or home.
  • Continuing to use oxycodone despite the consequences of its use.
  • Giving up interests or hobbies that were once enjoyed due to oxycodone use.
  • Using oxycodone in high-risk situations, such as driving or swimming.
  • Continuing to use oxycodone, even knowing that it worsens a medical or psychological problem.
  • Developing a tolerance to oxycodone and taking more of it to get the same effects as before.
  • Showing signs of withdrawal when oxycodone is withheld, including nausea, diarrhea, sweating, or body aches.

To be diagnosed with an opioid use disorder—or in this case, an oxycodone addiction—a person needs to demonstrate at least two of these criteria within a 12-month period:8


What to Do If Someone Is Showing Signs of Oxycodone Abuse

If you recognize these warning signs of oxycodone addiction in a loved one, you may be scared and wonder what your next steps should be. If you see many or all of these symptoms and signs of oxycodone misuse, it might be the right time to ask for help.

There are many options for treatment for oxycodone addiction treatment that can include:9-13

  • Inpatient treatment, which can provide you with around the clock supervision and treatment support to help you on your journey to recovery from oxycodone addiction.
  • Outpatient programming, which can vary in intensity depending on the needs of the person in treatment. An outpatient program can range from a few hours to 20 hours per week.
  • Various behavioral therapies, which can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or such approaches as motivational enhancement therapy. In general, behavioral therapy helps you learn how to stop using drugs and avoid relapse and stay in recovery.
  • Some programs also treat co-occurring disorders, which is when a person has another mental health issue that needs treatment in addition to their SUD. Ideally, both the substance use disorder and mental health condition can be treated at the same time to provide the best chance for sustained recovery.
  • Medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) is a vital component of treating opioid use disorders. MOUD includes the use of medications in combination with behavioral therapy. Medications are used to make withdrawal symptoms less severe and to control ongoing cravings for oxycodone and other opioids. Some of the benefits of MOUD are helping retain people in treatment longer and a higher survival rate among people with opioid use disorders. Medications that are approved for opioid addiction treatment include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.

Sources

  1. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Oxycodone.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: results from the 2020 national survey on drug use and health.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription opioids drugfacts.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Opioid overdose crisis.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2022). Misuse of prescription drugs research report.
  6. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Narcotics.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?
  8. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 3). Types of treatment programs.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 1). Behavioral therapies.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 13). What are treatments for comorbid substance use disorder and mental health conditions?
  12. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
  13. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). TIP 63: medications for opioid use disorder.

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