Oxycodone addiction can be challenging to overcome. But with the right treatment plan and support system, recovery can be within reach.
Perhaps you started taking oxycodone after a medical procedure, like knee surgery. The medication allowed you to feel relaxed, free of pain, and even euphoric so that you could focus on healing.
But now that you’ve filled a few prescriptions, you notice your tolerance has increased. You’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms and thinking about oxycodone more. Cutting back doesn’t seem like an option — in fact, it feels downright impossible.
Whether this is happening to you or someone you love, know that you’re not alone. With a little know-how, it’s possible to recover from oxycodone dependency or addiction.
In 2017, at least
An opioid is a natural or synthetic substance that interacts with the opioid receptors in your brain. Opioids include:
- prescription pain relievers, including oxycodone
Oxycodone is made in a lab, unlike other opioids that are naturally derived from opium.
Oxycodone comes in a liquid, concentrated solution, pill, or capsule form. It’s used for pain relief. Doctors usually prescribe it for moderate to severe levels of pain, such as after surgery.
Oxycodone has many brand names, including:
Oxycodone alters your brain and central nervous system’s response to pain.
It works by increasing dopamine levels. This neurotransmitter binds to receptors in the pleasure and reward areas of your brain.
“We get releases of dopamine, a feel-good chemical, from a variety of everyday activities,” says Daniel Crépault, the program director for Harvest House, a residential drug and alcohol treatment program in Ottawa, Canada.
“Essentially, these drugs produce a euphoric feeling by hijacking the body’s natural chemical reward system,” he says.
This is why people who take oxycodone may feel relaxed, tranquil, and “high.”
About 1 in 4 people who take oxycodone for chronic pain misuse the medication, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Some early signs of misuse are taking oxycodone more frequently than your healthcare professional prescribed, or taking a higher dose than you were prescribed.
You may also crave oxycodone or have frequent thoughts about taking it.
Some other signs of misuse may include:
Substance use disorder, including addiction, exists on a continuum.
It’s possible to only have a physical addiction, or dependence, which can go away once you detox off oxycodone.
However, it’s not uncommon to develop an emotional addiction to oxycodone. For many people, the euphoric effects are challenging to let go of.
In either case, an addiction is an inability to stop using oxycodone, even though you’re experiencing physical, emotional, and behavioral difficulties as a result of using it.
Oxycodone may lead to addiction because of the rush of dopamine in your brain and how quickly your body adapts to having it in your system.
“Over time, the regular use of oxycodone results in difficulties for the brain and body to produce natural opioids as well as other natural feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin,” says Aaron Sternlicht, a family addiction specialist in New York City.
When the brain is low on those neurotransmitters, it can create an experience known as anhedonia, when you lose your natural ability to feel pleasure.
The only relief is taking more oxycodone. But as you take more, you feel less pleasure. As you feel less pleasure, you want to take more oxycodone.
“Individuals with an oxycodone dependence often report having a low mood as well as other physical and mental feelings of discomfort if they are not under the influence of the substance,” Sternlicht says.
- slurred speech
- small pupils (pupil constriction)
- sleep interruptions
- difficulty with coordination
- changes in appetite
- memory changes
- difficulty with concentration
- impaired judgment and low impulse control
- changes in mood
- angry outbursts
- suspiciousness and distrust
- social isolation or withdrawal
- visiting multiple doctors for prescriptions
- taking or borrowing someone else’s prescription for oxycodone
- driving or drinking alcohol while taking oxycodone
- taking or borrowing someone else’s money to buy oxycodone
- being secretive with loved ones about your use of oxycodone
- using oxycodone instead of carrying out personal or professional obligations
An overdose is a medical emergency.
Important overdose signs to watch for include:
- blue lips or fingertips
- clammy or cold skin
- extreme confusion
- extreme exhaustion
- loss of consciousness
- shallow or slowed breathing
- small pupils
If you or someone you know is experiencing an overdose, get immediate medical attention. Call 911 or local emergency services, or go to the nearest emergency room.
You can also call poison control at 800-222-1222 in the meantime.
Some people may have a higher chance of developing oxycodone addiction than others.
“Individuals with a history of trauma, particularly in childhood, are most at risk of developing any addiction, including to opiates,” says Dr. Heather Roe, an addiction medicine specialist in Wichita, Kansas.
Other factors include having:
- a personal or family history of alcohol and drug misuse
- mental health conditions like depression and anxiety
- several surgeries or injuries that may require repeated oxycodone use
- chronic pain or illnesses, like cancer, that require repeated use
For some people, the fact that opioids come from a medical doctor’s office with a prescription may make them think they’re safer to use. While taking opioids as prescribed and under a doctor’s close care is indeed safe, opioids do come with side effects.
If people are unaware of the side effects, they may be more vulnerable to oxycodone addiction, says Crépault.
“Unlike heroin or other street drugs, prescription opioids like oxycodone are made by pharmaceutical companies and given out by doctors and pharmacists,” he says. “That gives them a legitimacy as medicine that can make us forget that they are as dangerous and addictive as heroin and sometimes far more potent.”
This can especially be the case when not used as prescribed.
If your body is used to the effects of oxycodone, reducing or limiting its consumption may cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms.
These may include:
- bone pain
- high body temperature
- muscle pain
- tapping or pacing (psychomotor agitation)
There are many resources and treatment options available if you’re living with oxycodone addiction.
“The key is to reach out and use these resources. That’s where recovery from an addiction begins,” Crépault says.
“As time goes on, the recovery process is about putting… lives back together by reconnecting with loved ones and learning how to navigate everyday life, including things like work, school, and other responsibilities, without going back to the addiction,” he says.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment. What matters is that you find one that works with you.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
Treatment for oxycodone addiction can vary based on many factors. It may focus on managing your withdrawal symptoms or addressing physical and mental dependence. Usually, it’ll include both.
Symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal can be challenging to cope with. This is why a healthcare professional may recommend you start your treatment with detox.
Not every detox program works in the same way. It will depend on your particular case and needs.
During detox, some medications may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms. Others will focus on managing the euphoric effects of opioids and chemical addiction.
In general, medications that may be used for withdrawal symptoms include:
- buprenorphine (Subutex)
- hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
For symptoms of addiction and chemical dependence, treatment may include short- and long-term use of:
- buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone)
Other medications, such as loperamide (Imodium), can also help with diarrhea, while hydroxyzine (Vistaril) can help with nausea.
Some of these medications have side effects, and they’re also contraindicated in some cases. This is why it’s advisable to discuss the options with a healthcare professional who can oversee these reactions.
The treatment of oxycodone addiction may include a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy, says Sternlicht.
One popular type of therapy for addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT focuses on changing distressing thoughts and feelings. It can help you improve behaviors, regulate your emotions, and learn coping skills.
“This is especially important in the treatment of drug dependence because negative thoughts and feelings can lead to relapse, so developing healthier thought patterns and coping mechanisms is key,” Sternlicht says.
“The treatment involves bringing awareness to unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts and feelings, known as cognitive distortions, and replacing them with healthier and often more realistic and factual ones,” he says.
An inpatient facility combines physical and mental healthcare away from your home environment. After you undergo a detox, you engage in individual and group therapy to address the root cause of your addiction to oxycodone.
You’ll also learn coping skills for when you transition back home, which can reduce your risk of relapse.
To find an inpatient facility near you, consider using this treatment locator through SAMHSA.
There are also intensive outpatient programs where you spend some hours at the facility but return home every night.
A local Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting may provide additional support by connecting you with a network of peers who get what you’re going through.
If you’re concerned about you or a loved one’s relationship with oxycodone, you may feel frightened, confused, or unsure about what to do next.
To take the first step, consider calling the free SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
If you want to learn more about addiction, including personal stories of recovery, these books may help:
- “Overcoming Opioid Addiction” by Dr. Adam Bisaga
- “High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict’s Double Life” by Tiffany Jenkins
- “The War on Sobriety: 40 Years of Lessons from the Trenches of Addiction” by Dr. Daniel Crépault
- “In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Dr. Gabor Maté
- “Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions” by Russell Brand
- “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” by AA
No matter how you feel right now, know that it is possible to overcome oxycodone addiction. You are not alone, and help is available. Take it one moment at a time.
Consider checking out these resources for more support:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Therapist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness helplines and support tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s helpline directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists