Oxycodone Addiction: Symptoms and Signs of Abuse

Summary

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The misuse of oxycodone, a generic opioid prescription pain reliever, can quickly lead to addiction. There is a host of physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of oxycodone addiction, such as:

  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Abnormal thoughts
  • Dilated pupils (during withdrawal)
  • Diarrhea (during withdrawal)
  • Poor grooming or lack of hygiene
  • Becoming secretive about one’s whereabouts
  • Being in possession of multiple prescription bottles from different doctors and pharmacies
  • Drugged driving

One of the most basic aspects of pharmacology is that a generic drug, such as oxycodone, can be a key ingredient in numerous branded drugs, such as OxyContin.
 
Typically, a generic drug and a branded drug do not have names that are so closely related; hence, there may be confusion between oxycodone and OxyContin. Other branded drugs that include oxycodone are Vicodin, Percodan, and Percocet. This article refers specifically to oxycodone.

Oxycodone is a narcotic pain reliever (an analgesic) that is used to treat moderate to severe pain in people with a host of conditions, episodic and ongoing (for example, post-operation or to help cancer patients). Oxycodone is chemically designed to replicate the structure of morphine (an opiate), and it classified as an opioid (because it is synthetic). Oxycodone, like all narcotics (e.g., heroin, morphine, fentanyl, and all prescription opioid pain relievers) has an acutely high addiction profile. These drugs have psychoactive effects if more than a medically necessary amount is used. No one is immune from developing an addiction to oxycodone.
It is necessary to highlight the distinction between symptoms and signs. A person who uses Oxycodone will experience symptoms, such as euphoria. An onlooker would see a sign, such as a person nodding off. In short, symptoms lead to signs. A concerned person may not be able to detect signs when a person who is abusing oxycodone is hiding symptoms. However, as a general matter, the more people engage in oxycodone abuse, the less able they will be to suppress the signs.

Physical and Psychological Signs and Symptoms

woman depressed and on drugs
The term addiction is deeply entrenched in the public domain; however, this term is no longer considered to be clinically accurate. Rather, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, uses the term substance use disorder, and even more specifically opioid use disorder (which is where oxycodone abuse would fall). In order for a person to receive a diagnosis of an opioid use disorder, at least of a possible 11 symptoms must be present within the same 12-month period of time. The severity of a use disorder is spread across a continuum, from mild to moderate to severe. The more symptoms that are present, the more severe the grade. In a sense, then, what the lay public refers to as addiction is probably in the range of six or more symptoms.

The 11 symptoms cover physical, psychological, and behaviors factors. The following are paraphrased descriptions of each of the 11 symptoms of an opioid use disorder, as applied to oxycodone:

  • When the individual first started to take oxycodone, an abuse intention was not present but still the individual started to consume too much of this drug or take it too often.
  • The individual wants to cease using hydrocodone, or at least cut back, but is not able to do so.
  • A significant portion of the individual’s life is dedicated to getting oxycodone, using it, and/or recovering from its effects.
  • The individual has urges or cravings for oxycodone.
  • As a direct result of the oxycodone use, the individual cannot adequately fulfill obligations tied to home life, work, school, or recreational activities, such as playing on a sports team.
  • The individual continues to use oxycodone even though there are negative outcomes on one’s relationships.
  • Despite the fact that the oxycodone use is putting the individual in dangerous situations, such as driving while drugged, the use continues.
  • Even though the oxycodone use is causing or worsening psychological or physical issues, the use continues.
  • The individual develops a tolerance to oxycodone (discussed below).
  • When the individual reduces their regular level of oxycodone intake, or stops using it completely, withdrawal symptoms emerge (discussed below).
Side effects are essentially symptoms of use. Side effects do not necessarily reflect the addiction experience. When a person has an opioid use disorder, the higher amount of opioids consumed means that the side effects can be more extreme. For example, if a side effect for a prescribed user is nausea, a person who takes too much oxycodone may vomit. Still, it is helpful to understand the side effects reported for OxyContin (which again, includes oxycodone) as they provide an indication of what a person who abuses this drug might experience (but again, possibly in a more severe way).

Side effects include but are not limited to:

  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Some individuals who abuse oxycodone may risk seizures or respiratory depression. In clinical trials, 1-5 percent of participants experienced psychiatric problems. Although it’s only a small percentage, and the study did not focus on abuse, it is helpful to know the true range of possibilities. Other effects of abuse include:

  • Abnormal thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Abnormal dreams
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Depersonalization
  • Hallucinations

Individuals who abuse oxycodone face an acute risk of overdose, which can prove fatal. The following is a partial list of possible overdose symptoms:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shallow breathing
  • Small pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness

It may seem obvious, but it bears discussing that addiction is always a possible side effect of oxycodone abuse. When a person uses a habit-forming drug, the body responds by building a tolerance. As a result, a person must use an increasing amount of the drug, such as oxycodone, in order to achieve the familiar, desired high. As steady use continues, dependence develops.

When a person stops using oxycodone or significantly reduces the familiar dosage, withdrawal symptoms will emerge. Depending on different factors, including the person’s duration and volume of abuse of oxycodone, withdrawal symptoms can emerge as soon as six hours or as long as 30 hours after last use. Symptoms may change over the course of the withdrawal process, but potential withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Yawning
  • Nausea
  • Tearing
  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Goosebumps
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting

It is critical to note that opioid withdrawal can be particularly hazardous due to complications from withdrawal symptoms, such as dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting. For this reason, there is a strong advisement that individuals seek the help of a medical detox center or a drug rehab center with a detox program.

In addition to the immediate health hazards, the severity of withdrawal symptoms can motivate a person to relapse. Oftentimes, individuals will relapse during withdrawal in an effort to make the discomfort of the symptoms go away.

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone Abuse

The behavioral signs of addiction depend on a range of factors, such as a person’s living arrangements, finances, assets, and the severity of the addiction. CBS News, in an effort to educate the American public in the midst of an opioid pill epidemic, provides the following five signs of painkiller abuse:

  1. Fatigue: The affected individual appears tired or drowsy as part of an ongoing pattern and outside of normal sleep or nap times.
  2. Inability to perform to familiar standards: Drug abuse disrupts a person’s cognitive functioning and makes it more difficult to concentrate. As a result, the individual may not be able to meet the requirements of home life, work, or school. The individual may miss work, not show up, leave early, or demonstrate a real drop in performance level.
  3. Lifestyle and personality changes: As a result of the drug abuse, the individual may have a difficult time maintaining family relationships and friendships. The individual may withdraw from once enjoyable activities, such as sports and other social activities. Social isolation can ensue, but at the same time, the individual may hang out with new people to do drugs.
  4. Appearance changes: In addition to showing signs like drowsiness, the individual may become lax in personal care routines. As a result, a person may look uncharacteristically disheveled, wear dirty clothes, and stop buying or using grooming products.
  5. Being secretive: Individuals who abuse oxycodone often end up living a double life of sorts. Since it’s an illegal activity, individuals who abuse oxycodone may strictly guard their use, and use code names or unfamiliar sounding terms to reference drug use. Street names for oxycodone include oxy, oxycottons, oxy 80s, kickers, blue, killers, and hillbilly heroin.

There are different methods of abuse of oxycodone that can bear on the type of paraphernalia that may be hidden in the individual’s living environment.

Oxycodone can be consumed orally in pill format, injected, taken rectally (similar to an enema), or smoked.

If an individual abuses oxycodone pills by swallowing them, one tipoff would be that there is no paraphernalia around. There may, however, be prescription pill bottles from different doctors and pharmacies, with dates within an overlapping time period. Individuals who abuse oxycodone can get it on the street, or from people who sell their prescriptions, but they may also doctor shop (i.e., going from doctor to doctor to obtain more than one prescription for oxycodone, all the while trying to avoid detection).

If a person is injecting oxycodone, accompanying paraphernalia would include a syringe, an instrument of some sort to cook the oxycodone in, a heat source, and a rope or belt (to tie to the arm and make it easier to find a vein). For rectal administration, the individual will need an enema or suppository, or something of that nature. The high from rectal administration is reportedly no greater than taking pills orally, but this method can help individuals to avoid unwanted gastrointestinal side effects.
Among people who smoke oxycodone, at a minimum, it is necessary to have a mortar and pestle-type crushing instrument, a pipe or pipe-like object to inhale the smoke, and a heat source, such as a lighter. Often, individuals use little slips of aluminum to heat up the oxycodone. These aluminum pieces may be rolled up and strewn about or thrown out. If unfolded, they will show burn streaks.

A Future in Recovery

treatmentCountless individuals have overcome addiction to oxycodone and other prescription opioids. In fact, there are special treatments, particularly medication-assisted treatments, that are designed to address opioid addiction. Compared to other drugs of abuse, there have been particularly significant strides made in the field of narcotics addiction treatment. Pharmacological treatment is not enough on its own; it must be combined with therapy and support to ensure lifelong recovery.

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