Percocet is a combination opioid painkiller comprised of oxycodone and acetaminophen (sold under the brand name Tylenol). It is prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain that cannot otherwise be treated with non-opioid pain medicines.1 Even when taken as directed, Percocet can cause side effects ranging from uncomfortable to dangerous. Many people misuse or abuse …
Percocet Side Effects and Addiction Signs
Percocet is a combination opioid painkiller comprised of oxycodone and acetaminophen (sold under the brand name Tylenol). It is prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain that cannot otherwise be treated with non-opioid pain medicines.1
Even when taken as directed, Percocet can cause side effects ranging from uncomfortable to dangerous. Many people misuse or abuse Percocet for its relaxing and euphoric effects, but abusing Percocet greatly increases the risk of experiencing severe side effects and complications, including overdose, dependence, and addiction.2
In this article:
- Percocet Side Effects
- Percocet Health Risks
- Percocet Dependence and Addiction
- Transition to Treatment
Percocet Side Effects
Side effects, also known as adverse reactions, can occur while using or misusing Percocet. Many factors influence how this prescription opioid will affect you, including your physical and mental health, as well as your individual physiology.
Some common side effects of Percocet use include:1
- Abdominal pain
- Profound sleepiness
These Percocet side effects are not typically life-threatening, although excessive vomiting could lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, so it’s important to call your medical provider if you aren’t tolerating this opioid medication well.
Some side effects of Percocet use are severe and require emergency medical attention. Get help right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:1
- Extreme sleepiness
- Faintness or light-headedness when switching positions
- Facial swelling
- Swelling of the tongue or throat
- Difficulty walking
- Increased body temperature
- Chest pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
This is by no means a comprehensive list of possible Percocet side effects, so it’s important to discuss any side effects that you experience or concerns you may have with your doctor. Anyone taking Percocet may experience adverse effects but misusing or abusing Percocet increases the likelihood and potential severity of these effects.
Percocet Health Risks
There are many health risks associated with Percocet use, including:1
- Risk of an allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis
- Life-threatening respiratory depression, particularly in elderly patients or those with a history of lung problems
- Adrenal gland complications, resulting in weakness, vomiting, dizziness, and low blood pressure
- Severe hypotension, particularly in those already taking blood pressure medication
- Increased risk of liver failure due to the effects of acetaminophen
- Severe skin problems, such as blisters, peeling skin, and rawness caused by acetaminophen
- Exacerbation of gastrointestinal problems
- People with seizure disorders may experience more frequent seizures
It’s not always possible to know how Percocet is going to affect you but your doctor is aware of the contraindications of prescribing Percocet and will educate you on any risks or will prescribe an alternative medication.
Percocet Use During Pregnancy and After Delivery
Chronic Percocet use during pregnancy can cause physiological dependence in the infant and subsequent opioid withdrawal symptoms (neonatal abstinence syndrome) at birth, which can be life-threatening without treatment and management.1 Neonatal opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:1
- High pitched cry
Furthermore, Percocet is excreted in breast milk, which could result in excessive drowsiness, lethargy, and respiratory depression in infants. And withdrawal symptoms may emerge in infants when the nursing parent abruptly quits opioid use or breastfeeding.1
Complications of Percocet Abuse
For those who misuse and abuse opioids like Percocet, either by taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed or by snorting or injecting Percocet, there are additional risks and potential complications.
Those who snort Percocet may experience:3
- Perforated nasal septum
- Nose bleeds
Injecting Percocet or any other opioids can cause:2,3
- Increased risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV
- Track lines
- Collapsed veins
- Inflammation of the heart lining, which can lead to life-threatening complications
A major concern related to Percocet abuse is the risk of switching to heroin use. Percocet and heroin produce a similar euphoric high, and since heroin is often cheaper and easier to access than prescription opioids some people may begin using heroin instead. Between 4% and 6% of individuals who misuse prescription opioids like oxycodone switched to using heroin.2 Heroin use introduces a whole new set of complications and risks as it is often cut with other substances, unbeknownst to the user.
Percocet Dependence and Addiction
Percocet dependence occurs when your body grows accustomed to the presence of the opioid and experiences unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop taking it. Unlike addiction, physiological dependence can develop even when you take your Percocet exactly as directed, but misuse and abuse can speed up the development of dependence. Quitting Percocet can be difficult due to the painful nature of opioid withdrawal symptoms, and many people return to use in order to alleviate these unwanted symptoms. This cycle can contribute to the development of a Percocet addiction or opioid use disorder.
A Percocet addiction is characterized by compulsive opioid use regardless of negative consequences. It is a pattern of drug-seeking and using behaviors, rather than a physical manifestation like dependence. It’s important to know the signs of a Percocet addiction so that you can get help for yourself or someone you care about.
Signs of an opioid use disorder include:3
- Taking higher or more frequent doses of Percocet than originally intended
- Failing to control or manage Percocet use
- Spending a large amount of time obtaining and using Percocet
- Exaggerating or providing false medical information to acquire Percocet
- Experiencing strong cravings or urges to use this opioid
- Using Percocet despite interference with work, school, or home
- Using Percocet despite negative effects on your physical or mental health
- Neglecting previously enjoyed activities or hobbies in favor of Percocet use
- Using this medication in dangerous situations, such as while driving
- Developing a tolerance, which means you need higher doses to get high
- Developing a dependence, which means you experience withdrawal when you abruptly quit using
Tolerance and Overdose Risk
If you use or abuse Percocet for an extended period of time, you are likely to develop a tolerance to the opioid painkiller. As such, you’ll require higher and higher doses in order to feel the desired effects, such as euphoria and relaxation. This is dangerous because taking Percocet in larger amounts increases your risk of an overdose.3 Overdose occurs when a person takes so much of a substance that they experience severe, potentially life-threatening effects.2 Knowing the signs of an overdose could save a life.
Signs of an overdose on Percocet include:1,2
- Dilated pupils
- Breathing difficulty
- Cold skin
- Low blood pressure
- Blockage in airways
- Slow heart rate
- Reduced blood pressure
If you suspect you or someone else is overdosing, call 911 immediately and stay with the person. If you have naloxone, you can administer it to reverse the effects of the opioid overdose. This antidote is available over the counter in many states and can be administered by anyone who has it.2
For overdose on the acetaminophen component of Percocet, medical personnel may administer activated charcoal before providing N-acetylcysteine. This intervention can reduce the amount of the substance absorbed into the body and lower the risk of liver damage.1
Percocet Withdrawal Symptoms
If you are dependent on Percocet, opioid withdrawal symptoms will emerge when you suddenly discontinue or reduce use. These symptoms aren’t typically life-threatening although they can be profoundly unpleasant and painful. Percocet withdrawal symptoms, which typically occur within a few hours after your most recent dose, may include:2,3
- Bone and muscle pain
- Vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea
- Stomach cramping
- Uncontrollable leg movements
- Sleep disturbances
- Severe opioid cravings
- Excessive sweating
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Professional detox treatment can help manage your opioid withdrawal symptoms and ease your discomfort while detoxing from Percocet. Inpatient detox programs provide around-the-clock supervision and medical treatment, while outpatient programs require that you visit the center for scheduled meetings then return home for the evening. It’s important to note that detox is not a substitute for addiction treatment—it is the first step on the road to recovery. Entering a professional recovery program will help equip you with the skills you need to obtain and maintain sobriety.
Transition to Treatment
If you’re addicted to Percocet, help is available through either an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program. Here are the different types of treatment settings:
- Inpatient treatment: You live at the facility for the duration of the program and receive a combination of interventions like individual therapy, group counseling, family therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.
- Outpatient treatment: You live at home while attending therapy meetings. Outpatient treatment can range in intensity from just a few hours per week to several hours per day.
Whichever treatment setting you choose, substance use counseling, such a Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can provide you with useful relapse-prevention and coping skills.4 Once you complete treatment, you may find that peer-led support groups like 12-step programs can help you find a community well-versed in the challenges associated with the recovery process.4
If your Percocet use has become difficult to manage, you are not alone. Inpatient and residential treatment centers can offer a foundation of safety, insight into managing addiction, and guidance as you seek balance in your life. Call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) today to speak with a treatment specialist about the best option for your recovery needs.
1. Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. (2020). Percocet.
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.
3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.
4. Miller, W. R., Forcehimes, A. A., & Zweben, A. (2011). Treating addiction: A guide for professionals. The Guilford Press.