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Oxycodone Abuse Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment

What Is Oxycodone Used For?

“Those addicted to prescription opiates like oxycodone are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin abuse problem.”

Oxycodone is a pain-relieving drug that is prescribed frequently to address moderate-to-severe pain. The substance is found alone and in combination with other pain relievers in tablet form under several brand names, including:

  • OxyContin—oxycodone; both immediate- and controlled-release formulations.
  • OxyIR and OxyFast—oxycodone immediate-release.
  • Percodan—oxycodone and aspirin.
  • Percocet—oxycodone and acetaminophen.

Oxycodone is synthesized, in part, by the chemical modification of opioid precursor molecules which are obtained from the opium poppy. Despite being manufactured in a lab, oxycodone impacts the user in ways similar to other legal and illegal opioids. Also, like other opiate and opioid drugs, oxycodone is capable of delivering a powerful high—rendering it a potential drug of abuse for an alarming number of individuals.

Additionally, oxycodone use will put someone at risk of developing tolerance and dependence. People are at risk of these phenomena even when the medication is taken as prescribed and, over time, addiction to oxycodone may be the end result. Those addicted to prescription opiates like oxycodone are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin abuse problem.

Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse

When someone uses oxycodone, they will experience a range of signs and symptoms related to its activity at opioid receptors throughout the body. It essentially depresses multiple functions within the body in a manner consistent with other opioid substances.

Signs of abuse will vary somewhat depending on the specific formulation of oxycodone. Controlled-release OxyContin will provide signs that may be of lower intensity which last for an extended period—as long as 12 hours—whereas drugs like OxyIR and other immediate-release variants can trigger stronger symptoms for a shorter duration. The specific dose and the method used to consume the substance will additionally influence the impact it has on an individual. Some of the ill-advised alternate routes of administration of oxycodone include crushing the tablets and snorting them and dissolving the tablets in aqueous solution to be injected.

Desirable Oxycodone Effects

  • Perceptions of less physical pain.
  • Feelings of joy and happiness—referred to as euphoria.
  • Release of muscular tension.
  • Mental calm or relaxation.

Unwanted Signs and Symptoms

  • Slowed or difficult breathing.
  • Constipation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Confusion.
  • Alternating periods of sleep and consciousness.

Potential Signs of Oxycodone Overdose

  • Constricted pupils, non-reactive to light.
  • Periods of extreme sedation; difficult to wake.
  • Lack of responsiveness (even to painful stimuli).
  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Cyanotic, or bluish appearance to lips, fingernails.


The following video shows interviews with several people struggling with oxycodone addiction. The video illustrates the powerfully addictive nature of this drug.

Warning: this video contains some explicit language.

Credit: Vocativ

Side Effects of Oxycodone Abuse

Oxycodone is considered an opioid receptor agonist. One of the effects of this molecular interaction between the drug and opioid receptors is increased dopamine activity in key brain regions.

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is in part responsible for the effects of oxycodone. Also, dopamine is associated with the brain’s reward system—meaning that people experiencing this type of dopaminergic activity will value the sensation and try to repeat it in the future. This leads to abuse of the drug and, as previously mentioned, some of the effects of abuse include tolerance, physiological dependence and, ultimately, addiction to oxycodone.


As the body continues to experience the effects of oxycodone, it begins to adjust so that the same amount will have a decreased effect. This process is called tolerance.

With tolerance in place, the oxycodone user will seek out more of the substance to achieve the drug’s desired effects. People who begin using oxycodone in excess of prescribed amounts, using it for reasons other than prescribed, and using oxycodone that is not prescribed to them are displaying indicators of addiction.

Oxycodone Addiction

An addiction is likely to have taken hold at the point that a person continues to use a substance that they know is having an unwanted influence in their life. People addicted to oxycodone may:

  • Lie and steal to obtain more of the drug.
  • Display changed interests and personality characteristics.
  • Neglect other aspects of life while devoting more attention to obtaining and using oxycodone.
  • Try to acquire more of the substance by providing false medical histories to medical professionals, forging prescriptions, or visiting multiple doctors to receive multiple prescriptions.
  • Continue use even when confronted by medical, interpersonal, legal, or financial hardships.

Oxycodone Dependence and Withdrawal

Dependence is when the brain becomes so accustomed to the presence of—as well as the physical and mental effects of—a drug that it cannot function normally without it. Once dependence is established, the user will need to maintain their supply of “oxy” or face opioid withdrawal symptoms like:

  • Rebound pain, or increased pain sensitivity.
  • Restlessness and agitation.
  • Inability to sleep.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including appetite changes, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Diaphoresis or excessive sweating.
  • Feeling cold and shivering.

Interestingly, people using other opiate or opioid substances—such as heroin—will sometimes use drugs containing oxycodone to reduce or eliminate their withdrawal symptoms.

Oxycodone Addiction Treatment

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can be quite uncomfortable and long-lasting. Because of this, individuals attempting to quit this drug often benefit from seeking professional oxycodone addiction treatment.

Depending on the amount used, frequency of use, and duration of time spent using oxycodone, a supervised detox may be recommended. Detoxification is the purposeful withdrawal of a drug from the body. This is often completed in an inpatient setting so that medical professionals can tend to the patient—ensuring safety and comfort.

drugabuse_shutterstock-292627211-therapist-welcoming-concurrent-ultram-350During this process, other medications may be prescribed to reduce cravings and other unpleasant symptoms.

When detox is complete, patients can be referred to a number of treatment options, such as:

Residential rehab programs have the patient in recovery live at the treatment center for a period of time. Treatment program lengths vary, but they tend to range between several weeks and several months long—a period throughout which there is an intensive focus on recovery each day. Addiction therapy can be administered via outpatient programs, as well. Outpatient addiction treatment is less time-intensive than inpatient or residential programs, but typically involves daily or weekly (depending on the level of need) counseling and education sessions to discuss recovery and teach methods of maintaining abstinence.

How to Find Oxycodone Treatment Programs

If you or a loved one is struggling with oxycodone addiction, help is available and recovery is possible. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for oxycodone treatment centers. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. If you need help with oxycodone abuse or addiction, please contact us free at . You can also call free drug abuse hotline numbers.

Statistics on Oxycodone Abuse

Oxycodone is a dangerous substance that has been growing in popularity over the last 20 years. Consider these statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration:

  • Nearly 60 million prescriptions for oxycodone-containing drugs were written in 2013.
  • In 2012, 16 million people reported abusing oxycodone in their lifetimes, which is an increase of more than a million individuals compared with the previous year.
  • In 2011, oxycodone was responsible for more than 150,000 ER visits.
  • In 2009, law enforcement documented more oxycodone-related infractions than those of any other prescription drug.

To learn more, visit our page, Oxycodone History and Statistics.

Teen Oxycodone Abuse

Adults are not the only ones abusing forms of oxycodone like OxyContin. Since the prescription drug is found in many home medicine cabinets, it is easily accessible for teens. Frequently, teens are introduced to OxyContin by friends at school.

Because it is a legal prescription drug, many teens may view oxycodone as a harmless high. As mentioned above, however, many abusers—including teens—end up becoming addicted. As a crackdown on overprescribing practices and heightened attention on a growing prescription drug abuse issue continues to upregulate the price and decrease the availability of drugs like oxycodone, young people are switching to illicit street drugs like heroin at alarming rates.

It’s extremely important to talk to your teen about the dangers of prescription opiate abuse before it’s too late.

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