Oxycodone is one of the most popular prescription opioids on the market, but it’s also a medication that can cause dependence and addiction. The opioid epidemic has caused people all over the United States to struggle with substance use disorders and fatal overdoses.
Research also shows a link between prescription drug abuse and the use of illicit opioids like heroin. Treating opioid abuse and addiction as early as possible is important. But to break opioid dependence, you will likely need to go through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Learn more about oxycodone withdrawal, the symptoms, and how it can be treated.
Oxycodone is an opioid medication that’s used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. It’s one of the most popular narcotic pain relievers on the market, and it’s often sold under the brand name OxyContin. Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid, which means it’s derived from modifying naturally occurring opium. The drug works in the body by binding to opioid receptors in your nervous system that would naturally bind with your body’s naturally occurring endorphins.
Endorphins are chemical messengers that are responsible for controlling the pain response in your nervous system. However, some pain is powerful enough that your endorphins are not enough to mask it. Oxycodone can be used to treat post-surgery pain, chronic pain, and injuries.
Oxycodone is significantly more powerful than naturally occurring endorphins. The drug can stop pain by binding to different locations on the pain trail, including the site of pain, the spine, and the brain. It can also cause euphoria, sedation, and hypnotic effects. Long-term use of the drug can lead to opioid dependence and addiction. Abuse can cause your brain to get used to the drug and start to rely on it to maintain normal balanced brain chemistry. It can also affect the reward center in your brain.
Your reward center responds to feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, which can both be affected by opioids. Addiction occurs when your reward center starts to treat oxycodone like other life-sustaining activities like eating and drinking water. Then it causes powerful compulsions to use that can be difficult to resist.
If you stop using the drug after becoming chemically dependent, it can cause your brain to become chemically unbalanced. As your body resets to normal life without the drug, you will feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
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Opioids like oxycodone affect the nervous system all over the body. For that reason, you may feel full-body withdrawal symptoms. Other drugs, like stimulants, may cause fatigue and psychological symptoms. However, opioids affect your pain system, so they can cause physical discomfort during withdrawal. Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms are often compared to the flu.
However, opioid withdrawal can be extremely intense. People who have gone through it compare it to the worst flu they’ve ever had. However, the severity of your dosage depends on several factors, including how long you’ve been dependent and how abruptly you stop using.
The oxycodone withdrawal timeline that you experience might depend on factors that are specific to you. How long you’ve used and the size of the dose you were dependent on are two major factors that contribute to the severity and timeline of your symptoms.
Other factors may be your age, weight, the size of your last dose, and whether or not you used other drugs alongside oxycodone. Though your timeline can vary based on your history with the drug, you will most likely experience symptoms on a general timeline.
You will most likely experience your first symptoms within the first 24 hours after you stop using the drug. If you are used to a consistently high dose, and you stop abruptly, you might experience symptoms more quickly. At first, it may feel like you’re coming down with a cold. You might experience chills, sweating, runny nose, and teary eyes.
After 24 hours, you will feel your symptoms intensify until about the 72-hour mark, when they hit their peak. At this point, you will feel the worst symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea, along with powerful compulsions to use.
After your symptoms peak, they will dissipate, starting with the intense physical symptoms. You may also experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which can cause sudden mood swings, anxiety, lack of focus, and apathy. In some cases, post-acute symptoms can be severe and need monitoring.
After two weeks, most of your symptoms will have subsided, especially physical discomfort. However, certain psychological symptoms may linger like depression and anxiety. You may also continue to feel drug cravings.
Symptoms last longer than a few weeks may need to be addressed in treatment. It’s common for people to find they have mental health issues like anxiety disorders or depressive disorders after they stop using drugs. You may also have to attend treatment to learn to cope with drug cravings effectively without relapsing.
Opioids like oxycodone are rarely life-threatening during detox. They’re less likely to lead to severe medical complications like alcohol or benzodiazepines that can cause seizures or delirium tremens. However, oxycodone withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant.
Like bad cases of the flu, oxycodone withdrawals can cause vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea, and that can make you lose water quickly. Dehydration can lead to potentially serious complications if it remains unchecked. According to researchers, this symptom has lead to opioid withdrawal deaths in situations where prisoners were neglected, possibly because caretakers assumed opioid withdrawal isn’t dangerous.
Opioid withdrawal can also be risky for people with other medical issues like heart disease or older people. Anyone who goes through sudden strain, changes in blood pressure, or changes in heart rate, might be in danger and need medical help to avoid dangerous symptoms.
If you can stay hydrated and are otherwise healthy, you may still run into problems if you try to go through withdrawal at home. The most likely problem is relapse. Between uncomfortable symptoms and powerful cravings, many people find using difficult to resist during withdrawal.
Medical detox programs can help to keep you safe, alleviate uncomfortable symptoms, and avoid relapse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox is an important part of the recovery process for many, but it’s not always enough to facilitate a lasting change. People who have been diagnosed with a moderate-to-severe substance use disorder may need long-term addiction treatment to help them avoid relapse after detox.
In treatment, you will address underlying issues like mental health problems, social issues, or other problems that may be a cause or consequences of your addition. You will also develop relapse prevention strategies that can help you to safeguard your recovery for years to come.
If you still need medical monitoring after detox, you may continue with an inpatient program that offers 24-hour medical monitoring. If you can live at home, you may go through an intensive outpatient treatment program that involves at least nine hours of treatment each week.
Partial hospitalization may include more than 20 hours of treatment services each week. If you only need a small number of treatment services each week, you may progress to outpatient treatment that involves fewer than nine hours of treatment per week.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
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