Like with many prescription medications, oxycodone side effects will vary depending on the dosage and length of use. Opioids can be especially problematic because of the way they make the user feel and their possibility of dependence.
Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that interact with opioid receptors in the brain. This type of drug includes any naturally occurring or synthetic drugs that are related to, or derived from, the opium poppy plant.
Because opioids are very powerful prescription painkillers, it’s important to identify any oxycodone side effects and understand how the drug can lead to opioid addiction.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is an opioid prescription painkiller that interferes with pain signals sent by the body’s central nervous system.
Painkillers like oxycodone bind to opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain stem, and an area of the brain associated with pleasure.
They essentially mimic the body’s natural ability to block pain. The drug tricks the brain into thinking there is less pain than the body is actually dealing with.
Oxycodone is generally prescribed for moderate to severe pain caused by injury or post-surgery related pain during the recovery period.
In some cases, the opioid painkiller oxycodone is prescribed for chronic pain related to illnesses like cancer, or for lingering pain due to a traumatic injury that has caused permanent damage to the body.
This prescription painkiller comes in a number of different doses and forms like capsules, tablets, liquid, and suppositories, is only supposed to be used for a short time because it is highly addictive and can be lethal when misused or abused.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 75 percent of the 92,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid, like oxycodone.
Oxycodone vs. Hydrocodone
Oxycodone and hydrocodone are both proven and powerful narcotic painkillers that are only available with a prescription. The two drugs also behave in the same way, by blocking or dampening pain signals sent by the central nervous system.
Each of the painkillers is often combined with other painkilling medications, such as acetaminophen.
The pure form of oxycodone is sold under the brand name Oxycontin, a tablet taken orally, usually every 12 hours. Zohydro ER is the brand name drug for pure hydrocodone, also taken by mouth every 2 hours.
Oxycodone and hydrocodone are both classified as schedule II drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that while they’re effective in treating pain, they come with a high potential for being misused and abused.
How Long Does Oxycodone Stay in Your System?
An effective pain relief dosage of oxycodone will vary from person to person. Physicians typically start patients on smaller doses and increase them until pain is under control. At the right dosage, oxycodone starts to take effect within 20 to 30 minutes after taken orally.
Oxycodone reaches its peak blood concentration at around the one to two hour mark, though extended release formulas generally take three to four hours to reach peak concentration in the bloodstream.
For most people, oxycodone fully metabolizes and clears the blood in a 24-hour period, though it is still traceable in urine, saliva, and hair for longer.
Even taken as prescribed, most people will quickly build a tolerance to oxycodone, meaning it may take longer to feel the drug’s effects or the prescribed dosage won’t seem as effective in treating pain as it did previously.
Opioid tolerance is one reason drugs like oxycodone can be so habit forming. People will often misuse the medication by taking more than prescribed in order to get the amount of pain relief they originally felt.
Painkillers like oxycodone become a problem when a person develops an opioid dependence and the doctor stops prescribing them. Many people will find any way possible to get more of the drugs.
Opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone purchased illegally can be expensive, so people turn to cheaper, more powerful opioids that lead to addiction.
Heroin and fentanyl addiction are fueling the opioid epidemic and many of the overdose deaths are caused by these powerful opioids.
Oxycodone Side Effects
While opioids like oxycodone are effective in relieving pain, they do come with side effects that can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous.
Some common oxycodone side effects may include the following:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or feeling restless
- Sleepiness, exhaustion, or fatigue
- Dry mouth
- Stomach ache or nausea
- Itchy face and nose
- Sweating and flushed face or skin
- Stiff muscles
- Constipation, as well as difficulty urinating
- Mild skin rash or hives
- Decreased heart rate
- Mood swings, from euphoria to anger or depression
Taking oxycodone for longer than the prescribed period or misusing the opioid can be much more serious, leading to addiction, potential fatal overdose, and painful withdrawal symptoms that can keep people in a cycle of abuse, if left untreated.
More serious oxycodone side effects may include the following:
Long-term Oxycodone Side Effects
- High tolerance to the medication and needing more of the drug to feel the original effects
- Mood disturbances, such as depression or anxiety
- Reduced libido
- Dental problems
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of pleasure in people, places, and activities once enjoyed
- Problems at work, school, or in established relationships with friends or family
Opioid and Oxycodone Withdrawal Symptoms
- Flu-like symptoms
- Difficulty sleeping combined with intense restlessness and mood disturbances
- Runny nose and watering eyes
- Muscle and joint pain, along with spasms and tremors
- Nausea and vomiting, combined with a loss of appetite
- Hot and cold flashes
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Uncontrollable yawning, as well as restless, kicking leg movements
Opioid Overdose Signs
- Slow or irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain and discomfort
- Small pupils
- Loss of consciousness or unable to awake
- Unresponsiveness or lack of awareness of surroundings
Combining opioids with other drugs, such as alcohol, can create more dangerous side effects because both substances are central nervous depressants. This may lead to problems breathing or be fatal in some cases.
Oxycodone Addiction Treatment for Opioids
Even though a person going through oxycodone withdrawal might feel very sick or like they are going to die, the truth is that opioid withdrawal is not typically fatal. It is however, incredibly painful and uncomfortable.
Withdrawal symptoms can be so extreme that many people continue using opioids instead of quitting to avoid feeling sick.
This is one of the reasons that anyone looking to recover from an oxycodone addiction to opioids should seek professional treatment at a facility that offers medically supervised inpatient detox treatment for opioid withdrawal.
In some cases, Medication Assisted Treatment can help ease some of the symptoms of withdrawal as the drug works its way out of a person’s system.
After detox has been completed, a person addicted to oxycodone or other opioids will start a recovery treatment program.
Addiction treatment after detox usually begins with an assessment and one-on-one counseling to address and determine each patient’s unique needs and develop a strategic plan for lasting recovery.
Oxycodone addiction treatment often includes:
- Individual Therapy
- Group Therapy
- Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Family Counseling
- Relapse Prevention Therapy
While these are some of the most effective evidence-based rehab therapies, there are many other holistic methods that also work well to heal the mind and body for a lasting recovery.
Although there are many oxycodone side effects of opioids that can cause problems for the user, the most complicated and troubling is the possibility of developing an addiction from misuse or abuse.
It’s important to speak with a doctor or treatment professional at the first signs of opioid dependence or addiction before it becomes too late.