Oxycodone is a short-acting, semi-synthetic opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is prescribed for both acute pain (after surgery or injury) and chronic pain (from disease or damage). Oxycodone is the narcotic component of several common combination drugs, including Percocet and Percodan. Oxycodone is also the active ingredient in Oxycontin, an extended-release version of the drug.
Taking oxycodone for more than a few weeks causes tolerance and dependence, regardless of whether or not you are using it as directed. Whether you’ve been using oxycodone for pain or abusing it to get high, you can expect withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal From Oxycodone
Oxycodone withdrawal is different for everyone and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Your withdrawal experience will depend on a variety of factors, including your current dose and how long you’ve been using opioids.
People with an opioid use disorder (addiction) typically have a harder time detoxing. Opioid addiction is different from opioid dependence because it involves intense cravings and drug use that interferes with daily life. Oxycodone is a highly addictive drug, however, so it is not uncommon for a physical dependence to escalate into a full-blown addiction.
In recent years, prescription drug abuse has become more common across all age groups and demographics. In 2015, while only 591,000 people were abusing heroin, 2 million were struggling with an addiction to prescription opioids.
If you’ve never experienced opioid withdrawal before, then you’re probably worried about what to expect. Is it as bad as it looks on TV? It depends.
Without treatment, opioid withdrawal can be both uncomfortable and unpleasant, but you can rest assured that it is rarely dangerous.
Your withdrawal experience will begin within 8 to 24 hours of your last dose.
You can expect stomach and muscle cramps, diarrhea, sweating, chills, and insomnia, among other symptoms. Symptoms typically peak within a few days and then begin to resolve. The whole process rarely lasts longer than one week.
Oxycodone Withdrawal Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal can vary from person to person. Most people experience flu-like symptoms, but the severity of symptoms exists on a continuum. If you would like to get a better idea of the range of withdrawal symptoms, you can take a look at the diagnostic scale clinicians use, the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS).
The most common oxycodone withdrawal symptoms are:
- muscle aches and pain
- flu-like feeling
- runny nose
- nausea or vomiting
- cramping or diarrhea
- insomnia or disturbed sleep
- teary eyes
- anxiety or restlessness
- heart pounding
Symptoms generally appear within 8 to 24 hours of your last dose. If you’ve been abusing oxycodone by crushing it up to bypass the extended-release mechanism, then your withdrawal symptoms will come on quicker. If you’ve been using your medication as directed, on a regular schedule, then your withdrawal symptoms may be slower to appear (especially if you’re taking extended-release tablets).
Depending on your situation, your withdrawal experience may also be marked by the return of pain. Extended opioid use temporarily decreases your pain threshold, which means that your pain may feel worse than it did before you used opioids. Pain can complicate withdrawal, so you should work with your doctor to develop a plan to handle it.
The acute (immediate) symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal typically peak around day three and then begin to subside.
Acute symptoms rarely last longer than 5 to 7 days. There is, however, another condition known as protracted (long-term) opioid withdrawal, which can last up to six months.
Protracted withdrawal symptoms are much less severe, but they can be very frustrating and often lead to relapse. In the months following your last dose, you may experience:
- low energy levels
- a low tolerance for stress (short fuse)
- trouble sleeping
- the inability to experience pleasure from anything
- problems with memory or concentration
- irritability or agitation
These symptoms typically come and go in waves, which adds to the frustration of recovery. The important thing to remember is that they are only temporary.
Coping and Relief
Going through opioid detox without medical support causes needless suffering, so you’re going to need to reach out for help.
There are several ways you can go about this. You might find help from:
- an addiction treatment center
- a community health clinic
- your primary care physician
- a psychiatrist
- a doctor certified to prescribe buprenorphine (Suboxone)
Several medications can help prevent withdrawal symptoms and treat any symptoms that do develop.
- Buprenorphine (Subutex) or Buprenorphine-Naloxone (Suboxone). Buprenorphine is also a long-acting opioid that can prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms. It is most often found in combination with naloxone, an opioid antagonist sold under the trade name of Suboxone. Many doctors are certified to prescribe Suboxone for people to use at home. Suboxone is useful once some withdrawal symptoms have begun
Opioid withdrawal is rarely dangerous for healthy adults, but it can be extremely uncomfortable without detox medications.
While it is safe to detox at home, many people benefit from inpatient detox facilities where they receive 24-hour medical care.
Inpatient detox facilities are a great way to get through withdrawal in a safe, trigger-free environment, but they can be prohibitively expensive. If you have insurance, call and ask what type of addiction treatment they cover and how long that coverage lasts.
Inpatient treatment is a great option for people struggling with opioid use disorder. Detox is the first step in addiction treatment and it is an important one, but the key to long-term sobriety is long-term relapse prevention. Detox facilities can help you transition into something more long-term. Without continued addiction treatment, people who go through detox typically relapse within a year or two.
Because relapse is so common after detox, it is important to be aware of how quickly your tolerance level can change. Your pre-detox dose can cause an overdose after detox. Talk to your doctor about getting a Narcan kit that you can keep on hand in case of emergency (Narcan can reverse an opioid overdose).
Inpatient or specialty outpatient treatment is also a great option if you are pregnant. Oxycodone withdrawal can cause pregnancy complications, including miscarriage and premature birth. This means that it is particularly important for you to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, Subutex and Suboxone are proven safe and effective for use during pregnancy.
The main goal of long-term treatment is to prevent people with opioid use disorder from relapsing.
Long-term addiction treatment involves a multi-pronged approach that includes medical, social, and therapeutic support. Your medical approach may include a long-term maintenance dose of Suboxone/ Subutex or you might want to stop using opioids entirely.
Research shows that adding psychotherapy to medication increases your chance of maintaining long-term sobriety. Individual and group therapy takes place in a variety of settings, including addiction treatment programs, community clinics, hospitals, and private practices.
Finally, social support is the third leg of relapse prevention. Knowing you’re not alone is important. And a shared commitment to sobriety helps a lot of people stay strong. Most people find long-term support at local 12-step meetings, which are free and convenient.