Oxycodone is used to treat pain by many medical practitioners. When this drug is abused for recreational uses, it can cause a serious addiction problem and the side effects can be fatal.
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Oxycodone is an opioid painkiller prescribed for the management of moderate to severe pain.1 When taken exactly as directed by your doctor, oxycodone is a therapeutic medication, but it has a high potential for harmful side effects, abuse, dependence, and addiction.2
In this article:
- What is Oxycodone Used For?
- Oxycodone Side effects
- Oxycodone Contraindications
- Oxycodone and Addiction
- Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Addiction
- Risk of Oxycodone Addiction
- Treatment for Oxycodone Addiction
What is Oxycodone Used For
Initially, oxycodone was approved to treat severe pain, particularly post-operative, but since its approval, other forms of oxycodone have been developed, including the extended-release tablet, OxyContin, and combination medications such as Percocet, which contain oxycodone and acetaminophen. These newer formulations are often used as long-term opioid treatment in which non-opioid painkillers are not effective.1,2
With this progress in pain-management efficacy, oxycodone is now commonly prescribed for the following:1
- Postoperative pain
- Cancer pain
- Osteoarthritis-related pain
- Neuropathic pain
Presently, opioids, such as oxycodone, are prescribed to 1 in 25 adults for the management of chronic pain.3 Although oxycodone has proven effective for many people struggling with chronic pain, the increase in prescriptions has contributed to an increase in misuse, abuse, and opioid-related overdoses.3
Oxycodone Side Effects
As with all opioid medications, you may experience unpleasant and distressing side effects when taking oxycodone. The risk of oxycodone side effects increases if you misuse or abuse oxycodone. Examples of misuse and abuse include:
- Taking higher doses of oxycodone than prescribed
- Taking more frequent doses than prescribed
- Combining oxycodone with other substances, such as alcohol
- Using oxycodone in a way other than directed (crushing and snorting or injecting)
The most common oxycodone side effects include:2,4
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Physical weakness or lack of energy
Other possible side effects of oxycodone use may include:2
- Low blood pressure or slow heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Stomach pain
- Inflammation of the tongue
- Respiratory depression
Most of the side effects from the medical use of oxycodone are mild and are not life-threatening. They will often decrease over time as your body adjusts to the medication, but sometimes an adjustment in oxycodone dosage is needed.2 Conversely, if you misuse or abuse oxycodone, you may be at an increased risk for experiencing dangerous side effects and consequences, such as an overdose.
If you are experiencing any oxycodone side effects, please speak with your medical provider so they can review the amount of oxycodone you are taking and potentially decrease the amount to ensure your best level of comfort.
There are some cautions to be taken before beginning the use of oxycodone, as the medication is not safe for use with some medical conditions.
If your medical provider has recommended you take oxycodone, please make sure you’re upfront about all of your medical history and other medication use to ensure that it is safe for you to begin taking oxycodone.
Oxycodone therapy is not recommended for patients with:2
- Respiratory depression
- Asthma (in unmonitored settings)
- Known or suspected bowel obstruction
- Certain blood conditions
- Those who are pregnant
- Previous severe reaction to opioids
Oxycodone and Pregnancy
Oxycodone has been given a black box warning for those who are pregnant. With this warning, medical professionals are advised to be highly cautious when prescribing a medication to those who are or may be pregnant.2
Because oxycodone can affect the developing baby, prescribing professionals are cautious on behalf of both the pregnant parent and the child. Studies have shown that oxycodone use during pregnancy may contribute to early delivery and birth defects, as well as negatively impact the baby’s overall development.2
Additionally, babies born to pregnant parents taking opioids are at a greater risk of experiencing opioid withdrawal, or neonatal abstinence syndrome, at birth. Neonatal abstinence syndrome refers to a postnatal withdrawal experience, as the infant detoxes from opioids after birth.5
Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome range from mild to severe and may include:5
- Excessive weight loss
Symptoms of withdrawal typically begin within the first few days after birth but can occur later on as well. The severity of withdrawal appears to be dose-dependent, meaning higher intensity opioid use during pregnancy results in more severe symptoms and withdrawal for the infant.5
Infants experiencing neonatal abstinence syndrome will most often be cared for in neonatal intensive care and traditionally require a 24- to 48-hour stay.5
If you are currently taking oxycodone and are planning to become pregnant or think you currently are pregnant, please speak with your medical provider to discontinue oxycodone use and find another medication for your pain management that is safe for use during pregnancy.2
Oxycodone and Addiction
Before beginning oxycodone use, you should be aware of its addiction potential, so you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s the best choice for you or not. If you have a family history of substance use disorders, it may be wise to try other forms of pain management. Oxycodone is in the opioid family, which means it has a high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Being in the opioid family, oxycodone is known to give users a sense of euphoria and relaxation.3 Because of this potential high, oxycodone is now closely monitored by prescribing professionals, as it is commonly used for non-medical purposes and is often sold illegally.
Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Addiction
Oxycodone addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition in which a person cannot control oxycodone use and continues to use this opioid regardless of negative consequences. Addiction is seen more often in people who are misusing this opioid painkiller, with or without a prescription, with the intent of seeking a high.
If a person is struggling with oxycodone addiction, they may exhibit some of these symptoms of addiction:7
- Oxycodone is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control oxycodone use.
- A great deal of time is spent obtaining oxycodone, use oxycodone, or recovering from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire to use oxycodone
- Recurrent oxycodone use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
- Continued oxycodone use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of oxycodone use.
- Recurrent oxycodone use in situations in which it is physically hazardous
- Continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by oxycodone
- Tolerance, meaning you need higher doses to achieve the desired effect
- Withdrawal, meaning you need to take oxycodone to avoid withdrawal symptoms
If you are concerned that you or someone you know is addicted to oxycodone, help is available. Call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) to speak to a caring and compassionate treatment specialist about rehab options.
If you are taking oxycodone as prescribed by a doctor, it’s possible you will develop tolerance and dependence. These are natural physiological adaptations that occur from continued use and do not necessarily mean that you have an oxycodone addiction. An addiction constitutes compulsive, uncontrollable oxycodone use; it is often a progressive condition, which means it tends to worsen over time.
Risk of Oxycodone Addiction
Anyone who misuses or abuses oxycodone and other substances is at risk of developing an oxycodone addiction, but some risk factors increase a person’s chance of developing an addiction, including:8
- Aggressive childhood behavior
- Lack of parental supervision
- Drug availability
- Substance abuse
- Low peer refusal skills
- Parents or family members with drug addictions
- Parents or family members with legal problems
- Academic problems
- Poor social skills
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Mental health conditions
According to research, the earlier a person uses drugs like oxycodone the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Furthermore, how you use oxycodone affects your risk of an oxycodone addiction—if you snort, smoke, or inject oxycodone, you may be at an increased risk.8
Genes also play a role in the development of oxycodone addiction. It is estimated that genes account for about 40 percent to 60 percent of an individual’s risk of a substance use disorder.8
Treatment for Oxycodone Addiction
Beginning treatment for an oxycodone addiction can feel intimidating, but there are many safe and effective options to help you overcome your addiction and seek long-term sobriety.
If you have an oxycodone addiction, please seek out professional help before discontinuing the medication. When you abruptly quit using opioids, such as oxycodone, you are likely to experience unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms. These can be distressing enough that you may return to oxycodone use in order to alleviate them. A professional detox program can provide you with the medical care needed to keep you comfortable during withdrawal.
Typically, opioid detox will involve opioid withdrawal medications that can ease your symptoms and cravings. These medications include:9
- Methadone: A long-lasting opioid withdrawal medication, methadone is a full opioid agonist that alleviates oxycodone withdrawal symptoms without causing a high.
- Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist that eases uncomfortable symptoms without causing an opioid high.
Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
Once you are medically stabilized and the oxycodone has cleared from your body, a treatment specialist will educate you on the benefits of transitioning into a oxycodone abuse treatment program and will refer you to one they think will suit your needs. Oxycodone addiction treatment occurs on an inpatient or outpatient basis, with inpatient treatment being the more intensive option.
Inpatient addiction treatment is done in a hospital setting, where you will typically stay from 30 to 90 days, but the program may last longer if necessary. Treatment includes therapeutic interventions, such as:
- Group counseling
- Family therapy
- Individual therapy
- Support groups
Depending on the program, you may attend 12-step meetings or more secular groups. Some programs also offer holistic interventions, such as yoga, meditation, equine therapy, and creative arts therapy.
Outpatient addiction treatment is held in a counseling center with a licensed professional. The difference here is that you will not be living at the facility during the treatment process. Rather, you will be living in your home and attending individual and group sessions throughout the week.
With both inpatient and outpatient treatment, your recovery plan will be individualized to tailor to your particular addiction, mental health, and needs. Once you complete your addiction treatment program, it’s important to receive ongoing support. Many people recovering from oxycodone addiction benefit from ongoing therapy, sober living communities, 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous, or secular groups like SMART Recovery.
- Kalso, E. (2005). Oxycodone. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 29(5), 47-56.
- Sadiq, N.M., Dice, T.J., Mead, T. (2021). Oxycodone. StatPearls Publishing.
- Kenan, K., Mack, K., & Paulozzi, L. (2012). Trends in prescriptions for oxycodone and other commonly used opioids in the United States, 2000-2010. Open Medicine: A Peer-Reviewed, Independent, Open-Access Journal, 6(2), e41–e47.
- Daoust, R., Paquet, J., Cournoyer, A., Piette, É., Morris, J., Lessard, J., Castonguay, V., Williamson, D., & Chauny, J.M. (2020). Side effects from opioids used for acute pain after emergency department discharge. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 38(4): 695-701.
- McQueen, K., & Murphy-Oikonen, J. (2016). Neonatal abstinence syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(25), 2468-2479.
- Sproule, B., Brands, B., Li, S., & Catz-Biro, L. (2009). Changing patterns in opioid addiction: characterizing users of oxycodone and other opioids. Canadian Family Physician, 55(1), 68-69.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July). Drugs, Brain, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Drug Misuse and Addiction.
- Veilleux, J. C., Colvin, P. J., Anderson, J., York, C., & Heinz, A. J. (2010). A review of opioid dependence treatment: pharmacological and psychosocial interventions to treat opioid addiction. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(2), 155-166.