Effects of Roxicodone Addiction
Roxicodone (“Roxy”) is one available brand version of oxycodone—a powerful semi-synthetic opioid painkiller.1,2
The medicinal effect of opioids like oxycodone is brought on by a change in the way the brain and body respond to pain. Rather than “curing” pain, Roxicodone acts on the brain’s opioid receptors to reduce the person’s perception of their pain.
Is Roxicodone Harmful?
Abuse of these drugs has reached such a boiling point that hardly a day goes by without news of the current opioid epidemic in the United States.
Opioids act on the central nervous system to achieve their analgesic effects, but they also affect vital systems such as our brain stem’s respiratory control center. If taken in excess, opioids can depress breathing to the point of causing severe lack of oxygen, coma, and death.
Some opioids like buprenorphine (Suboxone) are partial opioid agonists and have a ceiling effect, which keeps the drug from producing effects after a certain limit is reached. Roxicodone, however, is a full opioid agonist with no ceiling, meaning that it will continue to produce increasing effects with higher doses up until the opioid receptor is fully activated.3 When abused, oxycodone’s effects are essentially indistinguishable from those of heroin (another full opioid agonist), making it a sought after drug of abuse.
Prescription rates for opioid painkillers skyrocketed over the last two decades with attempts by medical professionals to more effectively manage their patients’ pain. This huge increase in prescribing was unfortunately, but not surprisingly, accompanied by commensurate increases in rates of abuse and overdose.4 Abuse of these drugs has reached such a boiling point that hardly a day goes by without news of the current opioid epidemic in the United States.
Regarding prescription opioids like Roxicodone, recent research suggests not only a direct link to abuse and overdose, but other indirect risks, namely the increasingly common transition to more potent and dangerous drugs like heroin.4 Painkillers are expensive, and heroin is comparatively cheaper and more readily available on the street.4,5
Oxy’s Short-Term Effects
The primary short-term effect of Roxicodone, like other prescription opioids, is pain relief, but if taken in higher doses than prescribed, Roxicodone can also induce feelings of extreme well-being, or euphoria. These feelings are brought on primarily by artificial increases in dopamine activity, a brain chemical that plays a role in the generation of rewarding sensations and that makes people come back to using drugs like oxycodone again and again.
Roxicodone produces feelings of pain relief and euphoria but its use is also accompanied with a number of side effects that start off as uncomfortable and with increased use, can become harmful or even fatal. Normal side effects that might occur with prescription use include:2
- Stomach pain.
- Alterations in mood.
- Dry mouth.
Opioids can be profoundly impairing, and even prescribed use of Roxicodone can be dangerous in certain situations. Coordination and thinking can become severely compromised, putting one at risk of engaging in risky behavior or unsafe handling of machinery (such as a car).
However, the most significant danger Roxicodone poses is a dangerous or deadly overdose. High doses of Roxicodone can induce respiratory (breathing) depression, full loss of coordination, coma, and even death.2
Long-Term Effects of Abusing Oxycodone
Some individuals may never overdose or may recover from overdose but continue abusing drugs. Long-term abuse of Roxicodone, specifically injection use, can be disastrous to a user’s physical and psychological health. Long-term physical ailments particularly associated with shooting up opioids include:6
For women who become pregnant while using oxycodone, there are increased risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery.6 A newborn infant born to a Roxicodone-addicted mother may also be born addicted and go immediately into withdrawal (neonatal abstinence syndrome).
There is also evidence linking long-term opioid abuse to brain damage.7 The first way this can happen is when the brain is deprived of oxygen as a result of severe respiratory depression, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can result in neurological damage and other effects that may in some cases be long-lasting. Dangers include coma and permanent brain damage.7
Long-term opioid use may also decrease the brain’s white matter7 (found in deep brain tissue).8 White matter atrophy of this kind can negatively affect decision-making abilities, self-regulation, and responses to stressful information.7
Other than overdose, one of the greatest risks of abusing Roxicodone long-term is addiction. The so-called “feel-good” neurotransmitter, dopamine, is a main player in the development of opioid addiction.
Dopamine plays a vital role in movement, motivation, reward, and learning.9 These last two components, particularly, work in tandem. When we partake in a healthy enjoyable behavior (such as eating) we experience a normal spike in dopamine levels, which helps us remember to engage in the same behavior the next time we’re in a similar situation.
While opioids are responsible for the analgesic (pain-relieving) properties that make them medicinal, taking too much of them can cause an unnatural spike in dopamine activity. The human brain makes a connection between the action that prompted the dopamine spike and the reward that followed it. This connection serves to encourage that same behavior in the future. Continued Roxicodone abuse increases dopamine activity in a way that other healthy activities can’t, and so as addiction progresses, obtaining and using oxycodone becomes a priority.
Tolerance increases continually and so the dose must increase continually as well, setting the stage for a possible overdose.
As more of the substance is consumed, and over longer periods of time, the body develops a natural tolerance to it, so the user won’t feel the effects to the same degree unless they increase the dose or the frequency of an administered dose. Tolerance increases continually and so the dose must increase continually as well, setting the stage for a possible overdose (as tolerance to effects such a respiratory depression lag behind those of the more subjective, analgesic and euphoric effects).
Tolerance is closely related to and often confused with physical dependence, which means that the user’s body is sufficiently accustomed to the presence of oxycodone that it will not function well (will go into withdrawal) when the drug is not provided at the usual dose.
Any user can develop some degree of oxycodone tolerance and dependence, but these two phenomena alone do not necessarily mean that someone is in the throes of a significant addiction. Still, tolerance and dependence are risk factors for addiction and go hand in hand with the development of addictive behaviors, such as:
- Spending increased amounts of time seeking out, using, and recovering from Roxicodone use.
- Attempting unsuccessfully to stop using.
- Neglecting social or occupational responsibilities in favor of using.
- Seeking out multiple doctors (“doctor shopping”) to get Roxicodone.
While opioid withdrawal rarely puts the individual in danger of medical complications, the acute withdrawal period is extremely uncomfortable and includes intense flu-like symptoms such as:10
- Body and muscle aches.
- Excessively watery eyes.
- Stomach pain.
Withdrawal avoidance keeps many people using opioids far beyond the point where it’s no longer “fun.” Simply put, withdrawal feels bad. But there are ways to make it easier and to help prevent relapse. You can seek treatment from a substance detox/treatment center where you can receive the emotional and medical support to better endure your symptoms.
You can detox at home; however, if you’ve attempted to quit on your own and been unsuccessful, you may wish to seek out a facility (either inpatient or outpatient) that can help you endure the process and stabilize you so that you can begin addiction treatment in earnest. (Note: Detox is a precursor to addiction treatment; it is not a comprehensive treatment in itself. Without continued, post-detox therapy, the likelihood of relapse is extremely high.)
Some detox centers have an adjunct treatment facility on site, whereby individuals can seek any number of treatment options. Detox centers without an onsite treatment facility usually refer people to one once detox is complete.
Depending on your personal preferences and the severity of your addiction, you may move from detox to either an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment facilities provide around the clock care, medical management, and, in most cases, counseling services. One may receive the same kinds of services in outpatient treatment, but care is not around-the-clock and you will live at home as you go through the course of therapy. This may work in your favor if you have a great deal of support at home, but if you’re worried about a lack of support and a triggering environment, inpatient care might be better for you.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. (n.d.). Drug Fact Sheet: Oxycodone.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016, September 15). Oxycodone.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Clinical Guidelines for the Use of Buprenorphine in the Treatment of Opioid Addiction. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2004. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 40.) 2 Pharmacology.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, May 14). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.
- Slevin and Ashburn.Primary care physician opinion survey on FDA opioid risk evaluation and mitigation strategies. J Opioid Manag. 2011 Mar-Apr;7(2):109-15.
- Connecticut Department of Consumer Protect: Prescription Monitoring Program. (2016, September 15). Oxycodone: Protect Your Teens.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015, February 3). White Matter of the Brain.
- Volkow, N. D. (2010). Drugs, brains, and behavior-the science of addiction.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016, April 20). Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.