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Oxycodone Addiction

For many people, oxycodone is synonymous with the term painkiller. This prescription drug is sold as a stand-alone product (OxyContin) and combined with acetaminophen (Percocet).[1]

Struggling with Addiction? Get Help Now

Years ago, a visit to a doctor’s office for a cut or sprain would result in an oxycodone prescription. As the dangers of oxycodone addiction became clear, fewer pills were distributed. Now, it’s relatively difficult to get oxycodone from a trusted source (like a pharmacy).

Even so, far too many people abuse oxycodone products, and some of them die due to drug abuse. Find out what addiction looks like — and how it’s treated — so you can help someone in need.

What Is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a prescription opioid pain reliever. This versatile medication is sold in solutions, capsules, tablets, and extended-release formulations.[1] 

Doctors use immediate-release forms of the drug for short-term relief of moderate-to-severe pain. Broken bones, torn muscles, or surgical injuries could all be treated with oxycodone-based drugs. 

Extended-release oxycodone versions are made for people who need around-the-clock treatment for significant pain.[1] 

Typically, doctors ask these patients to try other therapies first. If they don’t work, oxycodone trials begin. People with cancer fit into this category. 

Key Facts About Oxycodone

Key Facts

  • Since 2009, oxycodone has been the pharmaceutical drug law enforcement officers encounter most frequently.[1]
  • In 2020, approximately 3.2 million people in the United States misused oxycodone products.[2]
  • In 2021, more than 13,000 people in the United States died due to overdoses of drugs like oxycodone.[3]
  • Oxycodone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, altering the way pain signals are perceived.
  • Pills sold as oxycodone by street dealers often contain something else. In one 2019 drug bust, officers seized 20,000 pills marked as oxycodone that contained fentanyl instead.[4]

Common Street Names for Oxycodone

Slang can help people hide their oxycodone abuse. Since oxycodone is so popular, it goes by many different names. 

Oxycodone street names include the following:[1]

  • Oxy
  • Hillbilly heroin
  • OC
  • OX
  • Oxycotton
  • Kicker
  • Roxy
  • Perc or Percs
  • O.C.
  • Greenies
  • Rims
  • Tires

Common Forms of Oxycodone 

Oxycodone is distributed on its own in both brand-name and generic formulations and also in combination medications. Some products may be familiar to you, but you might also be surprised by how many medications contain this ingredient. 

OxyContin 

In 1996, Purdue released OxyContin. The marketing team hoped to reach patients with chronic pain not caused by cancer. 

A wildly successful campaign ensured that many doctors wrote prescriptions for this drug.[5] Some experts argue that OxyContin started the opioid epidemic within the United States.[6]

OxyContin is designed to enter the body slowly. For people with significant pain, it can be helpful when used short term. But doctors rarely refill prescriptions for this drug over the long term, as it comes with addiction and abuse risks. 

Percocet

Percocet combines oxycodone with acetaminophen. One ingredient reduces swelling and inflammation, while the other eases pain.[1] 

Percocet is typically prescribed to address workplace injuries, postsurgical discomfort, and other types of acute pain. Abusing this drug is particularly risky, as acetaminophen can cause organ damage at high doses. 

Roxicodone

Roxicodone is the brand name for another pure version of oxycodone. Doctors use this drug to address significant pain that hasn’t responded to other forms of treatment. Like all forms of oxycodone, it comes with addiction risks. 

NameFormulations
Oxycontin10, 20, 40, and 80 mg extended-release oxycodone tablets
Percocet2.5 mg oxycodone/325 mg acetaminophen, 5/325, 7.5/325, 7.5/500, 10/325, 10/650 
Roxicodone5, 10, 15, 20, 30 mg (immediate release)5 mg (capsule)5 mg to 100 mg (oral concentrate) 
Tylox5 mg oxycodone and 500 mg acetaminophen 
Percodan4.8355 mg oxycodone, 325 mg aspirin 
Oxycet325 mg oxycodone, 5 mg acetaminophen 
Roxicet325 mg oxycodone, 5 mg acetaminophen
Oxaydo5 mg, 7.5 mg
Endocet5 or 10 mg oxycodone, 325 mg acetaminophen 
Xartemis XR325 mg oxycodone, 7.5 mg acetaminophen 
Xtampza ER9, 13.5, 18, 27, 36 mg

Addiction Potential: How Addictive Is Oxycodone?

Researchers say oxycodone comes with supreme “likability.” It’s more likely to spark abuse and addiction than other similar medications. It’s so dangerous, they say, that the risks of this drug outweigh any potential benefits.[7]

Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, designated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for its high diversion, abuse, and addiction potential.[8]

Oxycodone changes the brain’s chemical makeup and can rewire some reward and motivation pathways. It’s hard to stop using this drug due to these alterations.

When the drug processes out of the brain and body after drug dependence develops, you can experience difficult emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms that encourage you to take more of the drug. Because of this, it can be difficult to stop taking it even if you want to.

Risk Factors & Causes of Oxycodone Addiction 

Oxycodone is powerful, and anyone who uses it could develop an abuse issue. But people who develop drug addictions often share risk factors, including the following:[12,13] 

Biological Factors 

Your brain and body are filled with opioid receptors designed to react to oxycodone. The more you have, the stronger your reaction to oxycodone. That big high could stick with you for the rest of your life. You may keep trying to recreate it.

Environmental Factors 

Some communities are deeply affected by the opioid epidemic. If you live in one of these spaces, accessing oxycodone from friends, family, and dealers is relatively easy. Continuing your addiction in this environment takes very little effort. 

Social Factors 

Isolation can make it easier for you to sustain an addiction. No one will hold you accountable or notice the daily changes you’re making. 

But a difficult home life can also trigger an addiction. Relationship problems might prompt you to use more drugs. 

Psychological Factors 

Living with an underlying health issue, like depression or anxiety, can increase your risk of drug abuse and addiction. Chronic pain problems can also introduce you to drugs, which might spark your addiction. 

Signs & Symptoms of Abuse: What to Look Out For

Any use of oxycodone beyond its prescribed and intended use is misuse. Signs of oxycodone abuse can include the following:[1,13]

Physical 

Opioids like hydrocodone are hard on the brain and body. People who use oxycodone may often seem sedated, slow, and forgetful. They may stumble, slur their words, and harm themselves in accidents. They may also develop gastrointestinal symptoms, including chronic constipation. 

When they quit suddenly or try to reduce their doses, they may experience flu-like symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting. 

Mental

Addictions are distracting. The person is always thinking about where to get more drugs, when to take them, and how to keep the addiction a secret. They may appear disinterested in the people, places, and things they once loved. And they may experience mood swings, anger, and paranoia. 

Behavioral 

Maintaining an oxycodone addiction means spending time with dealers, shopping for doctors, and asking friends and family members for pills. People may ask for privacy, especially if they’re hoping to hide an addiction. And they may spend less time at work or school as their substance abuse deepens. 

PhysicalMental Behavioral 
Sedation Distraction Spending time with dealers
Lack of coordination Mood swings Doctor shopping 
Chronic constipation AngerIncreased need for privacy 
Withdrawal symptoms Paranoia Lack of interest in work and school 

Sources: [1,13]

Side Effects: How Oxycodone Affects the Body

Oxycodone can trigger both short-term and long-term side effects that can alter how you think, feel, and behave. Understanding what they are could motivate you to quit using the drug as soon as you can.[1] 

Short-Term Effects

Sedation is a common side effect of opioids like oxycodone. You may also experience dry mouth, headache, and mood changes. Constipation is common at higher doses, and you might need laxative products to keep your intestines moving. 

Long-Term Effects

Continued oxycodone abuse can lead to drug tolerance. You will need more of the drug to cause effects that smaller doses once produced. 

You may also develop dependence. You won’t feel physically or mentally healthy unless the drug is available and active in your system. 

Short-Term EffectsLong-Term Effects 
Sedation Bowel obstruction 
Dry mouth Drug tolerance 
HeadacheDrug dependence 
Mood swingsOverdose risk 
Constipation 

Sources: [1,13]

Mixing Oxycodone With Other Substances

Oxycodone is particularly dangerous when mixed with other substances, especially other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. 

The risk of a fatal overdose is much higher when oxycodone is combined with other substances, particularly depressant substances. In 2019, nearly half of all drug overdoses involved more than one drug.[9]

In 2020, approximately 16% of all opioid overdose deaths also involved a benzodiazepine.[10] These two substances mixed can lead to fatal respiratory depression and the suppression of vital central nervous system functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, bringing them down to dangerously low and life-threatening levels. 

Oxycodone can also be very dangerous when mixed with stimulant substances. Oxycodone and cocaine, for example, can have a kind of yo-yo effect. The stimulant properties of cocaine can mask the depressant aspects of oxycodone, which can lead to taking too much of the drug, and this can cause a potentially lethal overdose.

Oxycodone Withdrawal Symptoms 

With repeated use, your cells become accustomed to oxycodone. If you quit the drug abruptly, you may experience deep discomfort. As your addiction deepens, you may even experience mild withdrawal between doses. 

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can include the following:[13]

  • Low mood and depression
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble focusing and remembering things
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Irregular heart rate and blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps, back and joint pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Sweating and excessive tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Drug cravings
  • Lack of motivation and trouble feeling pleasure
  • Tremors
  • Excessive yawning
  • Dilated pupils

Detox & Treatment Options for Oxycodone Withdrawal 

Quitting oxycodone without support is very difficult. Cravings can be overwhelming, and when they’re combined with withdrawal symptoms, it’s far too easy to slip back into drug use. 

Treatment programs can help you change your life for the better. Your program might include the following elements:

Medical Detox 

A medical detox program is designed to help you get sober safely. While quitting oxycodone cold turkey isn’t always life-threatening, severe dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting can cause organ damage. Medical detox is different. 

In an Oxycodone medical detox program, teams use medications to replicate the action of oxycodone. Prescriptions like buprenorphine and methadone don’t make you high, but they can keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay. 

Treatment teams may prescribe other medications to manage specific symptoms of withdrawal. 

Inpatient Rehab

In an inpatient rehab program, a team supervises your medications to ensure that you take them right on time. You can get therapy to help you change your habits and thought patterns, so you can avoid relapse triggers. 

An inpatient rehab program allows you to step away from your home-based stresses. You’ll be surrounded by therapy teams that are rooting for your success every day. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment 

Powerful opioids like oxycodone can alter your brain chemistry, making it difficult for you to stay sober. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves using therapies like buprenorphine and methadone for long periods as your brain cells heal.[13] 

Some people stay in MAT for just a few months. Others use MAT for extended periods, even a lifetime. 

Behavioral Therapy 

While medications can alter brain chemistry, your habits, and thought patterns can persist. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy can help you make lasting changes. 

Using therapy and medications together can offer the best path to long-lasting change. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Oxycodone Addiction 

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about oxycodone abuse. 

How long does oxycodone stay in your system?

Typical oxycodone pills stay in your system for about four hours. Other formulations can stay in your system for longer.

Is oxycodone an opioid?

Yes. Oxycodone is a pain medication in the opioid class.

Does oxycodone make you sleepy?

Yes, oxycodone is a sedating drug that can make you feel very sleepy.

What is oxycodone prescribed for?

Oxycodone is prescribed for pain that hasn’t responded to other forms of therapy.

What is the difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone?

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are both opioid painkillers. Oxycodone is the stronger medication, and it’s more likely to be abused. 

What does oxycodone look like?

Oxycodone comes in several different drugs and formats. Typically, it’s sold in pill form, but it comes in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. 

Updated October 31, 2023
Resources
  1. Oxycodone. Drug Enforcement Administration. April 2023. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  2. 2020 NSDUSH Annual National Report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published October 25, 2021. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  3. Opioid overdose deaths by type of opioid. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2021. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  4. Tarentino F. Dangerous fentanyl masked as counterfeit oxycodone: 20,000 pills seized in the Bronx and Manhattan. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published February 11, 2019. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  5. Chakradhar S, Ross C. The history of OxyContin, told through unsealed Purdue documents. Stat. Published December 3, 2019. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  6. What led to the opioid crisis, and how to fix it? Harvard School of Public Health. Published February 2022. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  7. Remillard D, Kaye A, McAnally H. Oxycodone’s unparalleled addictive potential: Is it time for a moratorium?. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019;23:15.
  8. List of controlled substances. Diversion Control Division. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  9. Polysubstance use facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 23, 2022. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  10. Benzodiazepines and opioids. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published November 7, 2022. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  11. Drug overdose deaths. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published July 10, 2023. Accessed July 18, 2023.
  12. Kendler KS, Prescott CA, Myers J, Neale MC. The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for common psychiatric and substance use disorders in men and women. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60(9):929–937. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.60.9.929
  13. Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorder. StatPearls Publishing. Published January 2023. Accessed July 17, 2023.
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