Percocet Abuse Symptoms, Side Effects, and Addiction Treatment
Since the mid-1990s, rates of prescription drug abuse have skyrocketed. Today, the widespread abuse of prescription medication—whether this involves opioid painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants—is being recognized as a serious national health problem in the United States.
According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 6.5 million Americans reported taking prescription medications for non-medical uses—a number that represents 2.5% of the national population. More than 4 million of these individuals abusing prescription drugs reported abuse of pain relievers.
What Is Percocet Used For?
Percocet is the trade name for a prescription pain reliever that combines:
- Oxycodone, an opioid analgesic—or narcotic painkiller—with similar effects to heroin and morphine.
- Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol—a mild pain reliever and fever reducer.
What Does Percocet Do?
Percocet is prescribed for the short-term relief of moderate-to-severe pain that is not typically chronic in nature (i.e. post-surgical pain, pain from a sustained injury, etc.). Like heroin and morphine, Percocet affects the brain and the central nervous system, changing the way the brain perceives pain.
Percocet acts at opioid receptors throughout the body to initiate a cascade of chemical events that ultimately:
- Modifies pain perception.
- Elicits a dopamine response in key regions of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain’s reward system circuitry—it is instrumental in delivering feelings of pleasure and motivation, as well as reinforcing behaviors that initiated the dopamine release to begin with.
When taken in large doses, Percocet can cause a “high” similar to that of heroin, characterized by:
- Feelings of claim and relaxation.
- Heightened pleasure.
Percocet and other prescription drugs are often mistakenly viewed as safer ways of getting high than illicit street drugs like heroin and cocaine. People may think that since a doctor is prescribing the medications, they must be safe and effective for their needs. Unfortunately, however, Percocet abuse can lead to the same dangerous problems of dependence and addiction seen with use of the illicit street drugs that share their origin.
Street Names for Percocet
To become better acquainted with this substance, it is helpful to understand and know the slang terms for the drug. For example, Percocet is known by numerous names, including:
- Hillbilly heroin.
Signs and Symptoms of Percocet Abuse
One way to spot Percocet abuse is to detect some of the side effects manifesting in those using the drug. Some of the most common side effects of Percocet use include:
- Slow breathing.
- Dry mouth.
- Tiny pupils.
Other Signs of Percocet Abuse
When assessing someone for Percocet abuse, it’s important not to solely look for Percocet’s side effects. There are a number of other behavioral signals that may be red flags for abuse and addiction to this prescription opiate.
A major sign of opiate abuse is taking more of the prescription than directed by a physician. If someone you love has a prescription but is taking the pills more frequently than seems normal or is taking the drug in excessive doses, he or she may have a problem.
Taking Percocet using an alternate method is another warning sign of abuse. For example, if the Percocet is prescribed as a tablet but the user has begun crushing, chewing, snorting, or injecting the medication, this is a red flag.
Percocet is only available by prescription, so if you notice a loved one “doctor shopping”—or going to different doctors to obtain multiple pain prescriptions instead of using one doctor who can monitor use of the drug—it could be a sign of trouble. Someone struggling with Percocet addiction will forge prescriptions and buy/trade Percocet to get the drug, as well.
Development of Percocet Addiction
Opiate drugs like Percocet become less effective when they’re used over a period of time. The body develops a tolerance to the drugs and needs more of them to achieve the same level of pain relief and/or “high.” This propensity for tolerance makes this category of drug a prime candidate for abuse, even among people who started off taking a substance as prescribed.
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of Percocet abuse as early as possible, before the abuse cycles into physiological dependency and addiction.
The following video from Consumer Reports provides an overview of the addictive potential of prescription opiates like Percocet and how to stay safe when prescribed one of these drugs.
Credit: Consumer Reports
Long-Term Side Effects of Percocet Abuse
Percocet abuse can lead to dependence and addiction. As a person struggles with opioid addiction, compulsive misuse of the drugs can cause:
- Physical damage to the body, such as liver failure from too much acetaminophen.
- The onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms when drug effects wear off—further compelling continued misuse.
- An overdose that can result in death.
People with a Percocet problem sometimes find it difficult to obtain a regular supply of the drug, resulting in a cycle of abuse and withdrawal. Percocet withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Excessive sleepiness.
- Muscle pain and weakness.
- Panic attacks.
- “Flu-like” symptoms, including gastrointestinal upset and fever.
Percocet Overdose Symptoms
People who abuse Percocet are also at risk of overdosing on the drug, which can be fatal. Percocet overdose symptoms can include:
- Profound sleepiness.
- Muscle weakness.
- Markedly constricted pupils.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Respiratory failure.
- Cyanosis (blue-tinged skin, fingernails, or lips).
- Cold, clammy skin.
- Loss of consciousness.
Percocet Abuse Treatment Programs
Supervised detox can be an effective way to initiate the treatment of Percocet abuse and addiction. Coming off Percocet under medical supervision may ensure that withdrawal symptoms don’t cause an opioid relapse. The medical staff in a Percocet detox center can take you or a loved one off the drug slowly to minimize withdrawal symptoms that can be extremely uncomfortable.
Detoxification is only the first step in treatment for a Percocet addiction. Undergoing detox without following it up with rehabilitation therapy is more likely to lead to relapse.
If medically assisted treatment is recommended, individuals may be administered medications to help manage opiate dependence, such as methadone or buprenorphine. These substances work to relieve cravings for Percocet and withdrawal symptoms from the drug.
Other treatment methods aimed at treating the psychological aspect of substance abuse include outpatient mental health therapy and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment. Each treatment method will assist the addict in building awareness and understanding regarding the nature of his or her addiction. Sessions may focus on identifying people, places, and things that trigger use or feelings associated with use.
Additional Addiction Treatment Methods
Effective treatment plans will include relapse prevention measures that provide a course of action for when cravings are extreme. Aftercare programs—including sober living environments, check-ins, and follow-up counseling—will also play a role in preventing relapse.
Community options include local 12-step recovery programs that harness the power of the group and peer support. The most important part of designing a treatment plan for Percocet abuse and addiction is to tailor the plan to meet the needs of the individual involved. An addiction treatment professional will be able to prescribe the proper course of treatment.
Find Addiction Treatment Programs
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 opioid addiction 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. We can help you assess your options and choose a treatment center in your area. Our treatment support staff are available 24/7, 7 days a week to discuss how you can find help for yourself or someone you love. You can contact AAC free at .
Statistics on Percocet Use
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), almost 12.5 million Americans aged 12 or older reported taking prescription painkiller medication for non-medical uses—a number that represents 4.7% of the national population. More than 4 million of these individuals abusing prescription painkillers reported the abuse of oxycodone-containing pain relievers like Percocet.
Percocet facts and statistics are often aggregated with those of other oxycodone-based pain relievers. Percocet and other prescription pain medications comprise a growing percentage of the total number of substance abuse treatment admissions in the United States. According to the NSDUH:
- In 2015, 1.6% of the national population aged 12 or older used oxycodone medications like Percocet without a prescription.
- Almost 70% of the people reporting abuse of oxycodone products in 2015 were 26 or older.
In 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that 29% of the emergency department visits associated with prescription drug misuse involved narcotic painkillers.
Teen Percocet Use
The Monitoring the Future study, conducted by the University of Michigan, documents the alarming rates of pain medication abuse in teens. In 2015, 8.4% of seniors in high school reported having tried narcotic medications without a prescription at some point in their lives. Fortunately, this use rate marks a significant decrease from 2014 and a general trend of decreasing rates of use among 12th graders since 2012.
The NSDUH found that almost 1 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 abused painkillers like Percocet in 2015, with almost 300,000 using the drug in the month before taking the survey.