Oxycontin Side Effects and Addiction Signs

OxyContin is an opioid medication classified as a Schedule 2 narcotic. If you are thinking of using OxyContin for pain management, it is important to be aware of the side effects that OxyContin can cause and its potential for addiction.

In This Article:

What Is OxyContin and How Is It Used?

OxyContin tablets in hand

When using OxyContin, it’s important to follow your doctor’s prescription and not change or discontinue your dosage without your doctor’s involvement.

OxyContin is the brand name for oxycodone hydrochloride, a medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. OxyContin uses include treating pain from surgery, injuries, neuralgia, bursitis, cancer, and arthritis.2

OxyContin is a semisynthetic opioid that is chemically similar to the pain medication morphine. A semisynthetic opioid is a legal substance that is made in laboratories from chemicals derived from the opium plant.3

OxyContin addiction continues to be a leading concern in the U.S. opioid epidemic that started in the 1990s. In 2010, Purdue Pharmaceutical reformulated OxyContin to be less addictive. 4 Studies confirm that the new extended-release tablets are less addictive than the original immediate-release tablets which are no longer prescribed.4 However, misuse of OxyContin continues to be a dangerous problem. In 2016, more than 6,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses involving oxycodone.5

OxyContin is prescribed only for daily, around-the-clock pain. Doses range from 10 mg to 80 mg. People with no prior exposure to opioids are advised to start treatment with the lowest dose.6 Because of OxyContin’s addictive properties and potential side effects, your doctor will closely monitor you use of this medication.

What Are Possible Short-Term OxyContin Side Effects?

When taken as directed, OxyContin can help alleviate severe pain. At the same time, short-term side effects of OxyContin are possible even when taken as prescribed. The most commonly reported OxyContin side effects in clinical trials include:6

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating

Other less frequently reported side effects of OxyContin include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Altered thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Blood pressure drop when standing up

When taking OxyContin, inform your doctor if you have any of the above side effects at a severe level or if they do not go away. Additional OxyContin side effects that would require emergency medical help include:6

  • Trouble breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of your face, tongue, or throat
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Light-headedness when changing positions
  • Feeling faint

In addition to these side effects of OxyContin, severe drug interactions, including overdose, can occur if you mix OxyContin with alcohol, benzodiazepine drugs (used to treat anxiety and insomnia), or various anti-depressant medications.6

What Are Possible Long-Term OxyContin Side Effects?

Taking OxyContin over a long period may cause you to experience significant adverse health effects. These long-term effects may include:7,8

  • An increased risk of treatment-resistant depression
  • Adverse effects on several organ systems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep-disordered breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fractures
  • Thyroid and adrenal gland dysfunction
  • Problems with water balance in the body
  • Decreased gastrointestinal movement
  • Decreased libido
  • Overdose or death

Use of OxyContin and other opioids during pregnancy can be dangerous to both mothers and their unborn babies.9 Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome can cause babies to be born premature, stillborn, or with birth defects.9

What Are the Risks and Signs of OxyContin Overdose?

The longer you use OxyContin, the more likely you are to develop a tolerance to the drug. Tolerance means you need to take higher doses of the medication to feel the same effects. Increasing the amount of OxyContin you take increases the risk of overdose.

The risk for overdose and death further increases if you take OxyContin with alcohol.6 This is because both alcohol and oxycodone are metabolized in the liver. In effect, they are competing for resources in the liver while being processed, and the liver is not able to keep up. Additionally, the added stress on the liver can lead to liver damage.10

Additional risk factors associated with OxyContin addiction and overdose include misusing other prescription or illicit drugs or having a personal or family history of depression or other mental health conditions.11

Signs of OxyContin overdose include:11

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Inability to be awakened from sleep
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Limp or weak muscles
  • Narrowing or widening of the pupils
  • Clammy, cold skin

If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, call 911 right away for medical help.

What Are the Signs of OxyContin Dependence, Withdrawal, and Addiction?

Over time, use of an opioid medication such as OxyContin can cause your body to become dependent on the drug, even if you use it as prescribed.12 The likelihood of developing dependence increases if you misuse OxyContin by taking it in higher dosages or for a longer period than prescribed. With prolonged use, tolerance will require you to need higher or more frequent doses of the medication to achieve the same effect.12

Once your body has developed opioid dependence, it becomes difficult to stop using OxyContin. Suddenly stopping OxyContin use or greatly reducing its dose will likely lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:12

  • Restlessness, physical discomfort, or uneasiness
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive yawning
  • Muscle aches
  • Excess crying or shedding of tears
  • Excessive discharge from the nose
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps on the skin

These symptoms can occur within hours or up to several days of stopping OxyContin use.11  If you or someone you know is exhibiting any withdrawal symptoms, it is important to get medical attention right away as it is possible to die from severe withdrawal symptoms.12

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is a sign of dependence and possible addiction, known clinically as opioid use disorder (OUD). To safely withdraw from OxyContin requires tapering off the drug gradually with medical supervision. This is so that your body can slowly get used to having less and less of the drug in its system. During this phase, also known as detox, some withdrawal symptoms can still occur.  Your doctor may prescribe other medications as part of withdrawal treatment to help to reduce the number and intensity of withdrawal symptoms.12

In addition to experiencing dependence and withdrawal symptoms, other signs of OxyContin addiction include:12

  • Taking the drug in larger amounts or for longer periods than initially intended
  • Having an ongoing desire or unsuccessful efforts to reduce or stop use
  • Spending a great deal of time in acquiring the drug or recovering from the effects of it
  • Craving OxyContin
  • Using the drug leads to unfulfillment of roles and responsibilities at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to use the drug despite social and interpersonal problems that result
  • Using the drug leads to giving up important social, recreational, or work activities
  • Using the drug in physically hazardous situations such as driving or operating other heavy machinery while high
  • Continuing to use the drug despite having physiological or psychological problems that are caused or exacerbated by it

To be diagnosed with an OxyContin addiction or OUD, two or three of the above symptoms must be present over the course of the past 12 months.12 However, even if you are struggling with just one of these signs of addiction, it is advisable to seek help so that you can reduce your risks of developing an OUD or worsening OxyContin addiction. Effective OxyContin addiction treatment is available through a variety of recovery options.

What Should I Discuss with My Doctor Before Taking OxyContin?

Before medical professionals prescribe OxyContin for chronic pain lasting more than 3 months, they are advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to first use non-opioid treatments.13 Given the risks of side effects and addiction when using OxyContin, it is important to work closely with your doctor to explore other pain medication options first.

It is dangerous to take OxyContin when you have certain health issues. Share with your doctor if any of these situations apply to you:6,8

  • Depression or a history of depression
  • History of any other mental health problems
  • History of head injury or seizures
  • Problems urinating
  • Liver, kidney, or thyroid problems
  • Pancreas or gallbladder problems
  • Pregnant or plan to become pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • A bowel blockage or narrowing of the stomach or intestines
  • Lung problems such as severe asthma or severe breathing
  • Any other prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements
  • History of addiction to, or misuse of, alcohol, street drugs, or prescription drugs

If you feel hesitant or anxious about discussing this last point with your doctor, know that information shared with a medical professional is confidential.

What Should I Do If I Start Taking OxyContin?

OxyContin can be an effective pain medication if you collaborate with your doctor. If you start taking OxyContin, it is important to follow these guidelines:3

  • Take OxyContin only as directed by your doctor; do not change your dose on your own.
  • Inform your doctor if the dose you are prescribed is not helping your pain.
  • Do not stop taking the medication before consulting your doctor.
  • Do not drive or operate machinery until you know how OxyContin affects you.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking OxyContin, as that can lead to overdose or death.
  • If your side effects do not get better or are severe, contact your doctor right away.

If you are concerned about your use of OxyContin or that of a loved one, call 844-431-5818(Who Answers?) 24/7 help to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.

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  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Drug Scheduling.
  2. National Drug Intelligence Center. OxyContin Fast Facts. U.S. Department of Justice.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013, September 4). Real Teens Ask: What are the Different Types of Opioids?
  4. Coplan, P.M., Kale, H., Sandstrom, L., Landau, C., & Chilcoat, H.D. (2013). Changes in oxycodone and heroin exposures in the National Poison Data System after introduction of extended-release oxycodone with abuse-deterrent characteristics. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, 22(12), 1274-82.
  5. Hedegaard, H., Bastian, B.A., Trinidad, J.P., Spencer, M., & Warner, M. (2018, December 12). Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016. National Vial Statistics Reports, 67(9).S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  6. S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018). Highlights of Prescribing Information – OxyContin.
  7. Baldini, A., Von Korff, M., & Lin, E.H.B. (2012, June 14). A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 14(3).
  8. Sullivan, M.D. (2018). Depression Effects on Long-Term Prescription Opioid Use, Abuse and Addiction. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 34(9), 878-884.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 20). About Opioid Use During Pregnancy.
  10. Blum, E., Crowe, B., Wilsmann, T., Helsel, H. & Kisor, D. (2013). Understanding the Pharmacokinetic Interaction Between Alcohol and Long-Acting Opioids. Pharmacy and Wellness Review, 4(2), 52-55.
  11. S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, February 15). Oxycodone. MedlinePlus.
  12. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-related and addictive disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.).
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, February 17). Opioids – Guideline Overview.

the Take-Away

If you use OxyContin, be sure to report any adverse effects to your doctor. Do not withdraw from OxyContin use or change dosing without your doctor’s involvement.