Know the warning signs of oxycodone abuse so you can get yourself or a loved one needed treatment help.
What are the Signs of Oxycodone Abuse?
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Oxycodone is an opioid painkiller prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, such as migraine headaches, arthritis, post-surgery pain, and cancer pain.1 Oxycodone abuse is very common. In 2019, a survey found that just over 10 million people misused opioids, and more than 9 million people specifically misused prescription pain relievers.2 It’s important to know the symptoms and signs of oxycodone abuse so you know when to seek treatment for yourself or someone else.
In this article:
- What’s the Difference Between Use and Misuse?
- What Happens When You Misuse Oxycodone?
- What Are the Physical Oxycodone Abuse Side Effects?
- What Are the Mental Oxycodone Abuse Side Effects?
- What Are the Emotional Oxycodone Abuse Side Effects?
- How Can You Spot Oxycodone Abuse?
- What Can You Expect from Oxycodone Abuse Treatment?
What’s the Difference Between Oxycodone Use and Misuse?
Various terms are used when discussing drugs, and it can be confusing to understand what each term means. Oxycodone use refers to taking it exactly as prescribed by your doctor. You follow your dosing guidelines and treatment protocol closely and don’t deviate from it.
Conversely, oxycodone misuse involves the accidental or intentional use of oxycodone in a way it was not intended or prescribed.3 Some examples of oxycodone misuse include:
- Taking someone else’s oxycodone prescription
- Taking a higher or more frequent dose of oxycodone than prescribed
- Mixing oxycodone with other psychoactive substances like alcohol
- Snorting or injecting oxycodone
Another term for non-medical oxycodone use is oxycodone abuse.
What Happens When You Misuse Oxycodone?
Oxycodone interacts with your body and brain similar to other legal and illegal opioids. It acts by connecting to the opioid receptors in your brain, which then causes a release of dopamine.4
Dopamine is the “feel good” neurotransmitter, which activates the reward system of your brain and produces euphoria and feelings of well-being. When you use oxycodone and experience euphoria, you may begin to crave that feeling again, leading you to return to the substance for the pleasurable reward. This cycle of oxycodone abuse, craving the reward, and misusing oxycodone again can lead to a compulsive cycle that ultimately results in oxycodone addiction.
When you continue to misuse oxycodone by seeking the euphoric effects, you begin to become tolerant of the drug. Tolerance means that your body becomes used to the drug and its effects on your brain. You have to take more oxycodone to achieve the same effect as before when this happens. This is dangerous, since it can increase the risk of oxycodone overdose.
When you grow tolerant to oxycodone, you begin taking higher or more frequent doses, so you can achieve the desired efefcts. This continued oxycodone abuse leads to something called dependence in which your brain and body need oxycodone to function optiamlly. If you become dependent on oxycodone, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug suddenly. These symptoms can be extremely distressing and difficult to manage with professional help.
Withdrawal occurs when you are dependent on oxycodone and abruptly stop taking it.Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and sometimes even life-threatening. Some common oxycodone withdrawal symptoms include:5
- Feeling agitated or anxious
- Achy muscles
- Trouble sleeping
- Runny nose
- Sweating and/or chills
- Abdominal issues such as cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
Medications can help alleviate oxycodone withdrawal symptoms. If you seek treatment for oxycodone abuse, you will most likely start with a detox program where medical professionals provide 24/7 care and oversight to keep you safe and comfortable.
What Are the Physical Oxycodone Abuse Side Effects?
Withdrawal symptoms are not the only negative effects oxycodone can have on your body. Oxycodone abuse can cause a myriad of negative physical side effects. Side effects will vary from person to person, but may include:4,6
- Itchy skin
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Recurring headaches
- Feeling fatigued or lack energy
- Trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
What Are the Mental Oxycodone Abuse Side Effects?
In addition to physical side effects, oxycodone misuse can also severely impact your mental and psychological well-being. Some of the mental side effects may arise:4,6
- Paranoid thinking
- Hallucinations (seeing things that are not really there)
- Delusions (thinking things are true that are not)
- Abnormal thinking
- Experiencing strange or abnormal dreams
- Depersonalization (feeling like you are not yourself or a loss of identity)
You may or may not recognize that you are experiencing some of these side effects. Hallucinations and delusions seem completely real to the person experiencing them, and it can be frightening to learn that what you thought was real is not.
What Are the Emotional Oxycodone Abuse Side Effects?
Your physical, mental, and emotional well-being are all tied into one another. Often, if you have a negative impact on one, you will see impacts on the other areas as well. This is why you can also experience emotional disturbances if you are misusing oxycodone. Some of the emotional side effects are:6
- Experiencing mood swings
- Depression or extreme sadness
- Feeling anxious and nervous
- Agitation and irritability
- Feeling antisocial and wanting to isolate yourself or socially withdraw from others
How Can You Spot Oxycodone Abuse?
It can be difficult to know for certain if a loved one is struggling with oxycodone abuse, especially if they are trying to hide it from you. Here are some signs to look out for that could indicate your loved one needs help with their oxycodone misuse:
- You notice they are lying to you.
- They are going to multiple doctor visits.
- They are forging prescriptions.
- You see them borrowing or stealing pills that are not theirs.
- They begin to neglect responsibilities.
- They engage in risky behaviors.
- You notice a lack of hygiene or poor grooming.
- They are hiding things or being secretive.
- You see multiple prescription bottles from different doctors.
- They have track marks on arms or legs from intravenous drug use.
How to Help a Loved One
If you think you spot some of these signs in your loved one, you should do what you can to get them treatment. Ultimately, only your loved one can decide to deal with their oxycodone misuse, but you can be a supportive part of their healing process. Some things you can do to help are:
- Look into rehab centers near you and share it with your loved one.
- Educate yourself on oxycodone misuse and how it is impacting your loved one.
- Encourage your loved one and let them know that you will support them through their journey.
- Take them to a rehab center and visit them if it is allowed at the center.
- Help create a supportive environment for when they leave rehab.
What Can You Expect from Oxycodone Abuse Treatment?
Oxycodone misuse is a treatable condition along with other substance addictions.
Medical detox is often the first step in treating oxycodone abuse. It involves managing oxycodone withdrawal symptoms and cravings while the drug leaves your body. Detox services may include withdrawal medications, such as methadone, supportive care like IV fluids, detox counseling, and case management. The goal of detoxification is to achieve a medically-stable, substance-free state.
Once you complete detox, a treatment team will work with you to provide care specific to your needs. This often includes individual therapy to help you identify patterns of thinking and behavior that led you to misuse oxycodone. Other treatment modalities include family therapy, group therapy, peer support meetings, drug education classes, and addiction treatment medications, such as Suboxone.
Professionals will help you make a relapse prevention plan so that when you leave treatment you will be able to spot potential triggers for relapse and how to cope with those triggers.
If you or someone you love is misusing oxycodone, please call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) to speak to a specialist about finding an oxycodone addiction treatment program.
- National Library of Medicine. (2021, February 15). Oxycodone: MedlinePlus Drug Information. National Institutes of Health.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021, February 12). Opioid Crisis Statistics. United States Department of Health and Human Services.
- Smith, S. M., Dart, R. C., Katz, N. P., Paillard, F., Adams, E. H., Comer, S. D., Degroot, A., Edwards, R. R., Haddox, D. J., Jaffe, J. H., Jones, C. M., Kleber, H. D., Kopecky, E. A., Markman, J. D., Montoya, I. D., O’Brien, C., Roland, C. L., Stanton, M., Strain, E. C., Vorsanger, G., & Dworkin, R. H. (2013).Classification and definition of misuse, abuse, and related events in clinical trials: ACTTION systematic review and recommendations. Pain, 154(11), 2287-2296.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health.
- National Library of Medicine. (2020, May 10). Opiate and opioid withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders(5th ed.).