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OxyContin Addiction and Abuse

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Last Updated - 6/17/2022

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Many parts of the United States have been struggling with opioid abuse and addiction for decades now. OxyContin, a Schedule II narcotic, has been a key contributor to this epidemic. In fact, many consider it to be what led to the nation’s opioid crisis in the first place.

The manufacturer of OxyContin has been at the center of federal, state and class-action lawsuits for years due to the drug’s misleading marketing, which often downplayed OxyContin’s addictive risks. Many people struggle with opioids like OxyContin, but fortunately, treatment is available and recovery is possible.

What Is OxyContin Used For?

OxyContin is a brand name for a long-acting form of oxycodone, an opioid drug. Chemically, it is similar to morphine, heroin and other addictive opioids. OxyContin is FDA-approved to treat pain that is severe enough to require an opioid. Because it is a long-acting opioid, OxyContin is meant to be taken twice daily for around-the-clock pain control. Unlike short-acting dosage forms of its active ingredient, oxycodone, OxyContin is not meant to be taken on an as-needed basis.

Little data is available on OxyContin prescriptions specifically. However, Americans received more than 14.6 million prescriptions for single-drug oxycodone products like OxyContin in 2019. Of these prescriptions, almost two-thirds were long-term prescriptions and were prescribed for 30 days. This is the maximum amount of time a Schedule II controlled substance can usually be dispensed.

Is OxyContin Addictive?

As a Schedule II controlled substance, OxyContin carries a high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. This is because the drug triggers the brain’s reward pathway, causing the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

Often, when a person begins to get addicted to a drug like OxyContin, they begin to display changes that may include:

  • Spending less time with friends and family
  • Spending more time with new friends
  • Different sleep habits than normal
  • Problems with school or work
  • Interpersonal difficulties
  • Legal problems related to OxyContin use, such as stealing

OxyContin Addiction Statistics

OxyContin’s manufacturer stopped actively promoting the drug to doctors in 2018. Before then, however, OxyContin had been at the heart of the snowballing opioid epidemic for many years:

  • OxyContin became the most commonly abused opioid in the U.S. in 2004.
  • In the U.S., OxyContin went from only 316,000 prescriptions in 1996 to more than 14 million prescriptions between 2001 and 2002.
  • Kentucky had a more than 500% increase in methadone treatment patients between 1995 and 2001, and around 75% of these patients were dependent on OxyContin.
  • Southeast Virginia had an 830% increase in opioid overdose deaths from 1997 to 2003.
  • In the early 2000s, more than 600,000 people started taking OxyContin each year without a medical reason.

OxyContin Side Effects

OxyContin can have many different effects on the body. Its side effects are similar to those of other opioids and can include both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms of OxyContin use:

  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in heartbeat
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Chest pain
  • Hives/itching
  • Rash
  • Swelling
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty breathing Or swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Extreme drowsiness

Psychological symptoms of OxyContin use include:

  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Feelings of euphoria

OxyContin and Alcohol

Because OxyContin is a central nervous system depressant, it can be dangerous to mix it with other depressants, such as alcohol. For this reason, the FDA has a Boxed Warning against combining OxyContin with alcohol. Mixing the two substances can increase the risk of side effects like:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Problems concentrating
  • Impaired thinking and judgment

In severe cases, mixing OxyContin and alcohol can lead to a life-threatening overdose.

OxyContin Overdose

An OxyContin overdose is an extremely dangerous medical emergency. Taking too much OxyContin can lead to symptoms that include:

  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Small pupils
  • Slow breathing and heart rate
  • Fainting
  • Coma
  • Death

If you suspect someone is overdosing on OxyContin, administer naloxone (Narcan) as soon as possible and call 911. An OxyContin overdose can be deadly, and you will not get in trouble for saving someone’s life.

OxyContin Withdrawal

OxyContin withdrawal is similar to withdrawal from other opioids. Because OxyContin is a long-acting opioid, it can take time for withdrawal to set in. Symptoms may take up to 30 hours to begin, and the most acute withdrawal symptoms can last up to 10 days. A longer-lasting but less severe form of withdrawal known as protracted withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can occur after the initial withdrawal is complete. This condition may last for weeks or months.

To help you avoid opioid withdrawal symptoms, your doctor might advise you to slowly decrease your OxyContin dose instead of stopping cold turkey. This is known as a taper, and the process can take anywhere from three to 30 days to complete.

OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms

The process of quitting a substance and allowing the body to naturally eliminate the substance from its system is known as detox. When someone enters OxyContin detox, it is often accompanied by unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms occur as the body tries to get used to the opioid’s sudden absence from the system. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Yawning
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms of PAWS are similar but less severe than the initial withdrawal. These can include:

  • Mood changes like anxiety, depression and irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Problems concentrating

OxyContin Detox

Detox is the first step in recovering from an OxyContin addiction. In a medically supervised detox program, a team of health care professionals can monitor and treat withdrawal symptoms around the clock to ease clients off OxyContin. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with methadone or buprenorphine may also be used to reduce OxyContin cravings and keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.

OxyContin Addiction Treatment

Just like cancer or diabetes, drug addiction is a disease that requires treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with an OxyContin addiction, it’s important to reach out for professional help. Fortunately, there are numerous rehab centers near Washington and Oregon that will provide you with OxyContin addiction treatment, including The Recovery Village Ridgefield.

Conveniently located near Seattle and Portland, our professional rehab center provides a variety of OxyContin treatment programs. These include:

  • Medical detox: To cleanse your body of OxyContin and begin the healing process
  • Inpatient rehab: To help you explore why you became addicted to OxyContin and develop healthier coping mechanisms and strategies
  • Outpatient rehab: To continue the work of inpatient rehab and get you used to living your life without turning to OxyContin
  • Aftercare: To provide you with the ongoing support needed for lifelong recovery from OxyContin addiction

If you’re thinking about starting down a path to recovery, The Recovery Village Ridgefield is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about OxyContin addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs.


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