Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can last about a week and may include:
Medical detox can help, as providers can use medications and therapy to soothe severe symptoms.
Around 20 percent of the American adult population (those 12 and older) has abused a prescription medication at least once, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates.
Oxycodone is the active ingredient in OxyContin. It is a prescription painkiller that, by activating opioid receptors, modifies pain perception and also produces euphoric feelings by altering the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and chemical messenger instrumental in brain processes that mediate pleasure and reward. The effects of opioid use aren’t all positive—for example, respiration and heart rate slow, and blood pressure and body temperature lower as opioid receptors are activated.
The brain grows accustomed to the constant presence of oxycodone. After a consistent period of opioid receptor stimulation and altered chemical messaging, the brain might not function so well without it.
When someone quits oxycodone, the brain will attempt to rebalance itself, and withdrawal symptoms may occur.
Stopping oxycodone suddenly can send the central nervous system into a sort of tailspin, disrupting vital signs. Multiple side effects, both physical and psychological, accompany oxycodone withdrawal. It is not recommended to stop taking oxy “cold turkey,” without the help of a qualified professional.
Psychological side effects of oxycodone withdrawal may also be very uncomfortable as the chemicals in the brain responsible for positive emotions and motivation may take some time to recover to previous levels.
Emotional symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal may include:
An individual in oxycodone withdrawal may also experience powerful drug cravings and the desire to return to using the drug as a way to relieve the side effects of withdrawal.
Withdrawal is a collection of side effects that occur when someone who is dependent on a drug stops using it; while detox refers to the process of clearing the drug from the system.
Withdrawal from oxycodone usually starts within 8-12 hours of taking the drug, and it peaks in the first 72 hours. Symptoms generally subside in about a week, although some of the psychological effects and drug cravings may persist for longer.
The time within which withdrawal symptoms start depend on the formulation of oxycodone taken and the method it was taken. Immediate-release formats have a half-life of 3-4 hours, for example, while extended-release oxycodone has a longer half-life of around 12 hours, the journal Clinical and Translational Oncology reports. Injecting, snorting, or smoking oxycodone also may send the drug more rapidly into the bloodstream, meaning that it may take an almost instant effect and will likely be active for a shorter period of time, as opposed to when the drug is swallowed in pill or tablet form and digested.
In some cases, a detox program may begin even before withdrawal symptoms start—while the drug is still active in the body. This way the drug can be safely removed. During medical detox, individuals are monitored around the clock for 5-7 days, vital signs are continually checked, and medications may be used to control more difficult withdrawal symptoms. Detox may last somewhat longer, on the order of 10 days, if physiologic dependence is severe or if a person has a history previous difficult detox experiences. Medical detox ensures that an individual is stable before moving on with a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program.
Medical detox is oftentimes the initial stage of a more comprehensive substance abuse treatment program that can provide a strong foundation for recovery. There are several medications commonly used in opiate medical detox programs that not only help reduce the range and severity of withdrawal side effects, but also serve to help prevent a return to drug abuse, or relapse.
Relapse after detox can increase the risk for a potentially life-threatening overdose since the brain and body may not be used to the same amount of drugs that was used before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost 15,000 Americans die each year as the result of a prescription pain reliever overdose. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) also reports that over 175,000 sought emergency department treatment for a reaction to the abuse of oxycodone in 2009.
By decreasing drug cravings and other negative withdrawal symptoms, an individual may be less prone to seek out oxycodone again after detox.
Medical detox can help sustain abstinence and potentially prevent a tragic, relapse-related consequence.
Opioid replacement therapy is another method of ensuring that the opioid receptors remain at least partially activated, which reduces both withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Longer-acting opioid drugs, such as methadone, can be used to manage withdrawal with less-frequent dosing. Methadone is sometimes abused, however, so it may not be the first choice at a detox center for oxycodone.
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that remains active in the bloodstream for longer and does not produce quite the same euphoric effects as full agonists like oxycodone. The “high” of a partial agonist is of relatively low intensity if abused. Buprenorphine even has a ceiling to its effects so that after a certain amount is taken, the opioid effects will plateau, even with additional drug used.
Naloxone is added to buprenorphine products like Zubsolv and Suboxone, which is a opioid antagonist. Naloxone blocks opioid receptors from receiving any more opioid drugs, so if an individual taking one of these medications attempts to abuse oxycodone again, it will have no effect. The naloxone is also an abuse-deterrent because if these combination buprenorphine products are altered and then injected, the naloxone will precipitate withdrawal, which is very uncomfortable and can keep someone from wanting to try to abuse these medications. Naltrexone is another opioid antagonist that comes in pill form (Depade and ReVia) or even as a longer-acting injectable format (Vivitrol). These drugs are often considered effective at reducing potential episodes of relapse by acting as opioid-deterrents.
Most oxycodone detox providers agree that medications alone are not the complete answer for preventing relapse and sustaining long-term abstinence. Addiction is a brain disease that affects many aspects of a person’s psyche and personal life, including the regulation of emotions, feelings of self-worth, relationships with friends and family, motivation, and more.
Behavioral therapies, counseling sessions, and long-term support groups are also included in opioid abuse and dependency treatment centers. As a result, comprehensive care is designed to care for the person as a whole, from detox into recovery and beyond.