Abruptly stopping or decreasing oxycodone can cause withdrawal symptoms, but there are ways to manage them.
Oxycodone withdrawal is characterized by severely unpleasant symptoms arising from suddenly stopping or cutting back on oxycodone after heavy or prolonged use.
Withdrawal can look different from person to person. The symptoms you experience can depend on many factors, from how long you were taking the medication to your daily dose and frequency.
If you’ve been taking oxycodone and are thinking of cutting back or stopping, knowing what withdrawal can feel like can help you manage the symptoms when they arise.
Oxycodone is the active ingredient in several opioid pain medications, including OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan.
Opioid medications work by acting on opioid receptors in the spinal cord and brain to reduce our perception of pain.
These medications are typically prescribed for moderate to severe acute (recent) or chronic (long-term) pain. Prolonged use of oxycodone can lead to physical dependence on the drug.
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Oxycodone is safe to use in the short term, but after taking it for long periods of time, your body may build up a tolerance and need higher doses to relieve your pain.
The more time you’re on the medication, the more your body becomes dependent on it. So, when you stop taking it or lower your dosage too quickly, your body may react, and you might become sick.
Withdrawal symptoms can also be triggered if you take an opioid partial agonist (buprenorphine) or an antagonist (naloxone or naltrexone) while also taking oxycodone.
Consider talking with your prescribing healthcare professional about possible interactions if you’re taking one of these medications.
Oxycodone works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. This, in turn, reduces your perception of pain and also produces relaxing or euphoric feelings by altering levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Since oxycodone is far more potent than your natural neurotransmitters, your experience is much more intense.
In addition, as you take each pill, your brain releases positive feelings of reinforcement, causing you to want to retake it.
For some people, this may lead to the beginning stages of substance misuse, which might, over time, lead to a substance use disorder or addiction.
Oxycodone also triggers other physical changes. It can:
- slow your breathing and heart rate
- lower your body temperature and blood pressure
When taken in high doses, these effects can be dangerous or even fatal.
Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the constant presence of oxycodone and doesn’t function well without it. If you stop taking it, your brain may have to learn to rebalance itself without oxycodone, which can take several weeks.
In the meantime, you may feel an extreme reduction in the levels of dopamine being released. This can cause painful physical and emotional symptoms.
Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms are commonly compared to flu-like symptoms, but they’re often far more severe.
Acute symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal can include:
- fever and chills
- body aches
- runny nose
- trembling (feeling like you’re “jumping” out of your skin)
- muscle and bone pain
- stomach cramps
- vomiting or diarrhea
- increased blood pressure
- irregular heart rate
- thoughts of suicide
Psychological symptoms of withdrawal can last for several years or even longer. But typically, these symptoms will decrease in intensity over time.
Common psychological symptoms include:
In most cases, oxycodone withdrawal is not fatal, but complications — such as delirium, hallucinations, and seizures — can arise. Close monitoring can help manage or prevent these complications.
The timeline of oxycodone withdrawal varies from person to person. It can be based on the dose you’re taking, how long the substance has been used, and the length of time in between doses.
Other factors might include gender, weight, your mental health and medical history, and how the substance was taken — such as orally, nasally, injection, or mixed with other substances.
Immediate-release formulas of oxycodone will result in withdrawal symptoms beginning within the first 8 to 24 hours after the last dose. Acute symptoms may peak around 72 hours and gradually decrease, lasting up to 10 days. Psychological symptoms may last for several years or longer.
Timeline of withdrawal:
- Days 1-2: acute symptoms begin
- Days 3-5: acute symptoms continue and may peak around 72 hours
- Days 6-7: physical symptoms start to decrease, but psychological symptoms may intensify
- Days 8+: the worst of physical symptoms should be over; psychological symptoms may continue
A healthcare professional will diagnose opioid withdrawal syndrome when an individual has experienced either of the following:
- quitting or reducing oxycodone after heavy or prolonged use
- taking an opioid antagonist after a period of oxycodone use
To be diagnosed with opioid withdrawal syndrome, you’ll have three or more of the following criteria from the Subjective Opiate Withdrawal Scale (SOWS):
- low mood
- nausea or vomiting
- muscle aches
- running tear ducts or runny nose
- dilated pupils, sweating, or body hairs standing on end (piloerection)
Medications approved by the FDA for oxycodone withdrawal include:
- methadone (mu-opioid receptor agonist)
- buprenorphine (mu-opioid receptor agonist and kappa-opioid receptor antagonist)
Methadone can be administered in an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting, while buprenorphine (a partial agonist) can be administered inpatient and prescribed outside of a treatment setting by physicians who have completed a specialized training course.
Buprenorphine can trigger withdrawal symptoms if too high a dose is taken too close to the last oxycodone dose. Therefore, it must be started 12 to 18 hours after the last dose of oxycodone.
In 2018, the FDA approved lofexidine hydrochloride, the first non-opioid medication for managing opioid withdrawal syndrome. It works by binding to receptors on adrenergic neurons. This reduces norepinephrine release and has a calming effect on the nervous system.
Lofexidine hydrochloride is similar to the more commonly used medication for opioid withdrawal — clonidine.
Compared with methadone and buprenorphine, lofexidine hydrochloride has been equally
Other medications may be taken for specific symptoms:
- loperamide (Diamode or Imodium A-D) for diarrhea
- promethazine (Phenergan) for nausea/vomiting
- ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) for muscle aches
- clonidine (Catapres) to reduce blood pressure
In addition to medication, oxycodone withdrawal can also be treated with behavior therapy and counseling.
Withdrawal from oxycodone can be challenging, so it might be helpful to do it with support around you — either from a trained counselor or therapist or a support network of family and friends.
If you’ve been taking oxycodone for a long time and want to stop or reduce your dosage, consider discussing this with your healthcare or mental health professional before taking this step on your own.
They may be able to help you come up with a plan to taper off your oxycodone slowly and safely.
Tapering off slowly can help you have fewer withdrawal symptoms and reduce your cravings.
Withdrawal can happen at home around family and friends or at a treatment center. If your symptoms are severe, a hospital may be necessary.
There are also levels of treatment available depending on your needs. These can include inpatient and outpatient treatment. Your healthcare or mental health professional will help you determine which will be best for you based on your symptoms and medication history.
If you or a loved one is experiencing oxycodone withdrawal, you’re not alone. Reach out to a trusted healthcare professional who can direct you to the proper treatment, if necessary.
If you decide to withdraw from oxycodone at home, get as comfortable as possible and make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of liquids and electrolyte drinks. Vitamins — especially B and C — can help you recover from the stress your body will endure during withdrawal.
If possible, ask a family member or friend to keep in touch and check in on you.
There are many resources and support groups available to help. American Addiction Centers offers several tips and tricks to help you through the withdrawal process. You can also find encouragement by reading the stories of people who have been where you are now.
If you want to find out more about oxycodone withdrawal or find a treatment provider, check out these resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- American Society of Addiction Management
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
You can also check out our page on finding a therapist and mental health support.