Oxycodone is an opioid pain medication that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone interacts with opioid receptors in the brain and suppresses the transmission of nerve signals, including the signals that cause pain. Oxycodone also causes the release of chemicals in the brain called endorphins. These chemicals cause a pleasurable sensation called a high. Experiencing a high can lead to oxycodone addiction when someone begins craving the drug for the high that it produces.
Oxycodone abuse occurs when someone takes oxycodone to obtain the high instead of for pain relief. As oxycodone is misused, the person misusing develops tolerance, which is when the body becomes used to the dose of oxycodone being used and requires a higher amount of oxycodone to generate the original high. Dependence can also occur, which is when the body requires oxycodone for regular functioning.
Withdrawal symptoms happen when the body becomes dependent on oxycodone and needs some level of oxycodone to function normally.
How Do People Abuse Oxycodone?
There are several ways people misuse oxycodone. The most common way in which oxycodone is misused is oral, using the original pill form that oxycodone comes as. While taking the pills is the most common method of oxycodone abuse, some people with severe addictions may try to use oxycodone in other ways to obtain a faster high.
Those with severe addiction may try smoking oxycodone by grinding it into a powder and including it in a cigarette. The oxycodone that is inhaled into the lungs crosses into the bloodstream from the lungs, making a stronger, but shorter, high. This method of oxycodone use can be risky because it can cause permanent lung damage.
One of the most popular ways people misuse oxycodone, besides taking it in its pill form, is by snorting oxycodone. This method involves crushing the oxycodone and inhaling it through the nose. The thin walls of the nose absorb the drug into the bloodstream faster than ingesting it would. Snorting oxycodone can lead to an increased risk of overdose and damage to the lining of the nose, along with a higher risk of serious infections, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C.
Injecting oxycodone is a less common way of misusing oxycodone compared to oral consumption. Injecting the drug is dangerous and likely to result in serious side effects, including death. Because oxycodone comes in pill form, people must liquefy it to be able to inject the drug.
Liquifying oxycodone is challenging. Without completely liquifying the drug it allows small particles to continue to exist in the injection solution. These particles can easily lodge in arteries, causing heart attacks, strokes or pulmonary embolisms. Liquifying oxycodone is almost impossible without introducing bacteria to the mixture to aid the liquefaction process, which then makes it probable that someone injecting oxycodone is also injecting potentially infectious bacteria directly into their bloodstream.
While these risks are all serious, the most dangerous aspect of injecting oxycodone into the bloodstream is that the dose needed to create a high will be much smaller. At least half of the oxycodone taken as a pill will be removed by the liver and never actually reach the bloodstream. If someone injects the amount of oxycodone that they take in a pill form, it can result in a fatal overdose because the liver isn’t involved in filtering part of it out.
Drug Tolerance vs. Addiction
Oxycodone tolerance is different from addiction but may increase the risk of addiction. Tolerance occurs when the body makes adjustments for oxycodone and does not have as strong a reaction to oxycodone as it initially did. This factor makes a stronger dose of oxycodone necessary to obtain the same results. While this process can occur for people trying to get high, it can also occur for someone who had major surgery and is taking oxycodone for the pain. After a few days, oxycodone will not give the same pain relief that it initially did.
Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse
There are physical and behavioral oxycodone addiction symptoms that may occur when someone is misusing oxycodone. These oxycodone abuse symptoms are not specific to oxycodone. Many of the specific physical signs listed may also be signs for opioids in general and many of the behavioral signs may be true for different kinds of addiction.
Physical signs of oxycodone abuse are typically related to the slowing of the nerve signals that occur with opioid misuse, or the signs may be related to the way in which the drug was used. Physical signs of oxycodone misuse include:
- Excessive drowsiness
- A decreased rate of breathing
- Shallow breaths
- Becoming less responsive
- Constricted pupils
- Needle marks in the arm (from injecting)
- Frequent nose bleeds (from snorting)
These signs do not necessarily always indicate an addiction, but in the presence of other indications, it may be a sign of oxycodone misuse.
There are changes in behavior that often accompany addiction. These behavioral signs of addiction may include:
- People acting angry or agitated when confronted or asked about their oxycodone use
- Decreased socialization with friends and family
- Legal problems
- New or escalated financial problems
- Poor performance at work or school
- Deterioration of previously important relationships
While one of these behavioral symptoms by itself does not indicate that an addiction is present, they may, as with the physical signs, indicate that a person is struggling with an addiction.
Side Effects of Oxycodone Abuse
Oxycodone addiction side effects are common when someone consistently consumes oxycodone. These side effects may occur from short-term oxycodone use or from long-term oxycodone use. Regardless of the length of time that oxycodone was used, short-term and long-term side effects can be dangerous.
Short-term side effects of oxycodone include: Dizziness or lightheadedness Drowsiness Itching of the eyes or skin Nausea Vomiting Constipation Decreased rate and depth of breathing In severe cases, side effects may lead to depressed breathing where breathing is unable to provide enough oxygen to the body, resulting in death. The long-term effects of oxycodone abuse are not particularly severe when compared to the long-term side effects of other drugs. The more dangerous, long-term oxycodone abuse effects are related more to the way in which oxycodone is used. Injecting, snorting and smoking will all lead to long-term health problems that may affect all areas of the body. With an addiction to oxycodone, long-term effects may include: Chronic constipation Excessive sweating Swelling of the feet and ankles Decreased sex drive Polysubstance (multiple drug) abuse is a dangerous form of oxycodone abuse. Because oxycodone depresses the neurological system, it is dangerous to mix oxycodone with other substances, especially when those substances also depress the neurological system. Mixing oxycodone and alcohol is common but possibly accidental, especially when someone who has prescription oxycodone forgets that they are not supposed to use alcohol with oxycodone. Mixing the two substances can be dangerous, as both of these substances depress the nervous system. Taking them together can be fatal. Mixing oxycodone with a drug that stimulates the nervous system, such as taking cocaine and oxycodone together can also be harmful. Taking a stimulant and depressant drug at the same time increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Short-term side effects of oxycodone include:
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Itching of the eyes or skin
Decreased rate and depth of breathing
In severe cases, side effects may lead to depressed breathing where breathing is unable to provide enough oxygen to the body, resulting in death.
The long-term effects of oxycodone abuse are not particularly severe when compared to the long-term side effects of other drugs. The more dangerous, long-term oxycodone abuse effects are related more to the way in which oxycodone is used. Injecting, snorting and smoking will all lead to long-term health problems that may affect all areas of the body. With an addiction to oxycodone, long-term effects may include:
Swelling of the feet and ankles
Decreased sex drive
Polysubstance (multiple drug) abuse is a dangerous form of oxycodone abuse. Because oxycodone depresses the neurological system, it is dangerous to mix oxycodone with other substances, especially when those substances also depress the neurological system.
Mixing oxycodone and alcohol is common but possibly accidental, especially when someone who has prescription oxycodone forgets that they are not supposed to use alcohol with oxycodone. Mixing the two substances can be dangerous, as both of these substances depress the nervous system. Taking them together can be fatal.
Mixing oxycodone with a drug that stimulates the nervous system, such as taking cocaine and oxycodone together can also be harmful. Taking a stimulant and depressant drug at the same time increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Causes of Oxycodone Addiction
Oxycodone addiction can occur from someone taking prescription oxycodone and becoming addicted to the high that it can create. While it is possible to become addicted to oxycodone simply because of its chemical effect, there are other factors that increase the risk of addiction. Genetics may play a role, with some evidence showing that opioid addiction may be influenced by hereditary factors. Environmental factors may also play a role, as parents, siblings or peers who use recreational drugs may normalize drug use and influence others to use drugs recreationally.
What Are the Symptoms of Withdrawal from Oxycodone?
Someone who used oxycodone and developed a dependence on it will develop oxycodone withdrawal symptoms when oxycodone use stops. Low dose oxycodone withdrawal may even occur if dependence has developed, but the degree to which withdrawal symptoms are felt depends upon the dose regularly used. Some of the withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced from stopping oxycodone use include:
- A craving for oxycodone
- Increased respiratory rate
- Excessive sweating and tear production
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Stomach cramps
- Goosebumps and chills
- Muscle twitching, tremors or spasms
- Fast heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
While the symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal may be unpleasant, it is unlikely that oxycodone withdrawal will be fatal. Oxycodone withdrawal will not cause seizures, fevers or changes in mental status. While the symptoms of withdrawal are not typically dangerous, many people prefer to have professional assistance during withdrawal to help manage the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that occur.
Oxycodone Abuse Facts and Statistics
Oxycodone addiction facts show that oxycodone is one of the top three opioids that are misused in the United States. Opioid-related overdoses are responsible for over 42,000 deaths per year — almost five deaths every hour. The number of opioid deaths was five times higher in 2017 than it was in 1999. Drug overdoses are a leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Oxycodone abuse statistics differ for different populations but are currently rising in all demographics.
- Prevalence in men: The rate of oxycodone overdose deaths in 2017 for men was 6.1 for every 100,000 people.
- Prevalence in women: The rate of oxycodone overdose deaths in 2017 for women was 4.2 for every 100,000 people.
While oxycodone abuse facts are grim, they cause more attention to be given to the ongoing opioid epidemic. The increased attention will likely lead to changes to promote opioid awareness.
Oxycodone Abuse and Treatment Trends in South Florida
From 2012 to 2016, the number of admissions for substance abuse in Southeast Florida almost tripled. In the same period, the number of drug-related deaths only increased by about 20%.
Overdosing on oxycodone is dangerous and can be deadly without immediate medical intervention. Overdosing on oxycodone will primarily affect the nervous and respiratory system and create a decreased level of consciousness along with decreased breathing.
Oxycodone overdose symptoms include:
- Decreased level of consciousness
- Decreased or no responsiveness to others
- Shallow breathing
- Decreased rate of breathing
- Pinpoint pupils
If you are with someone experiencing signs of oxycodone overdose, immediately call emergency medical services and begin CPR if they are breathing less than eight times per minute. If you or someone with you has Narcan, a nasal drug that reverses opioid effects, administer it to the person who overdosed.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Oxycodone
It can be difficult to give oxycodone addiction help to a loved one. People who are struggling with an oxycodone addiction will likely be defensive about their drug use or try to avoid conversations about it. Besides convincing someone to seek oxycodone addiction treatment, there are other ways that people can help someone with an oxycodone addiction. Encourage them not to use oxycodone alone or in an environment where they will not receive help if they overdose. Avoid doing anything that could enable their addiction and be there to support them if they are thinking about seeking treatment.
Talking to someone about their addiction can be difficult. There are a few things that people should keep in mind before approaching someone about their addiction.
Wait until the person with the addiction is sober. Doing so will help them to remember the conversation and to be more rational during the discussion. Ensure the person knows that others are concerned about them and care for them. Help the person understand that the intervention is happening because it’s important they consider how their addiction affects others in their life and their own health.
Avoid being judgmental. Someone is more likely to stick with a decision to seek help if they come to that conclusion for themselves rather than if others press their own opinions on the person. Telling someone that their addiction is hurting others, for example, is much less effective than helping them reach the same conclusion themselves. Be sure to listen to them during this conversation, giving them a chance to share their feelings and thoughts.
Oxycodone Addiction Treatment Options
There are several different treatment options for oxycodone addiction and the type of treatment that is best will differ based on the individual and their needs. The type of treatment will also depend on if someone has gone through oxycodone addiction treatment before and on the severity of their addiction. Some of the different components of oxycodone addiction treatment include:
- Detox. Oxycodone detox is the process of stopping oxycodone use and allowing the oxycodone to completely clear from the bloodstream. Some people may prefer to detox from oxycodone at home, while others will do better with professional supervision where their symptoms can be treated.
- Residential. Residential treatment involves checking into a rehab facility and staying there for treatment. Residential treatment allows someone to recover away from distractions and with a strong support system. Residential treatment also allows for close management of withdrawal symptoms during the detox process.
- Outpatient. Outpatient treatment is much less disruptive to someone’s normal life than residential treatment. Outpatient treatment consists of regular appointments and therapies that are part of someone’s day like a doctor’s visit would be.
- Dual Diagnosis. Dual diagnosis treatment is more in-depth than other forms of treatment. Dual diagnosis refers to someone who has a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder. Both disorders feed off the other so treatment will be more complicated. Dual diagnosis can be treated with outpatient or residential treatment and will be highly tailored to the individual.
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Key Points: Understanding Oxycodone Abuse
There are several key points to consider related to oxycodone addiction. These key points include:
- Oxycodone is an addictive opioid pain medication
- People may abuse opioids in multiple ways
- There are physical and behavioral symptoms of oxycodone abuse
- Side effects of oxycodone abuse are related to the suppression of nerve signals
- Oxycodone has unpleasant withdrawal symptoms they but are not normally life-threatening
- People should learn to recognize the symptoms of an oxycodone overdose
- Overdosing on oxycodone is a medical emergency and can be fatal if untreated
- There are multiple treatment options for someone with an oxycodone addiction
If you or a loved one struggle with oxycodone addiction, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.