Oxycodone Withdrawal Treatments, Length, and Help Options

Content Overview

What Are Oxycodone Addiction Symptoms?

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can last about a week and may include:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat

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.

Prescription opiates are among the most commonly abused. About 75 percent of those who abuse narcotics choose oxycodone or hydrocodone, and almost 45 percent of that group prefers Oxy, publishes the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD).

Oxycodone is the active ingredient in OxyContin. It is a prescription painkiller that blocks pain receptors and also produces euphoric feelings by altering the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that acts as one of the messengers between the brain and central nervous system, telling the brain that it is happy and relaxed. Respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature then slow down as opioid receptors along the central nervous system are activated.

After the brain gets used to oxycodone, stimulating these receptors and chemical messengers continually for a length of time, it begins to expect the drug and its interference.

When the drug use or abuse is then stopped, the brain will attempt to regulate 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.

Potential Symptoms of Oxycodone Withdrawal

getting helpPhysically, withdrawal from opioid drugs usually is similar to the experience of having the flu. An individual may experience body aches, chills, sweats, goose bumps, nausea, stomach cramps, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, a runny nose, and headaches. During oxycodone withdrawal someone may also yawn a lot more than normal and tear up easily. High blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and trouble breathing are more serious side effects that may also occur when someone is more physically dependent on oxycodone and stops taking it. Side effects of withdrawal are not usually fatal; however, hazardous complications can arise, so opioid withdrawal should be supervised closely.

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:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Mental “fog”
  • General malaise

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.

Detox and Withdrawal Duration

Withdrawal is the collection of side effects that occur when a drug is removed from the brain and body of someone who is dependent on it, while detox is the actual removal of the drug itself.

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.

Detox may begin before withdrawal symptoms start and 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. If an individual is heavily dependent on oxycodone, took large amounts of the drug for a long time, or has a family or personal history of addiction, medical detox may last up to 10 days. Medical detox ensures that an individual is stable before moving on with a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program.

Relapse Dangers

Woman with addiction feeling the pain of withdrawal

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.

Easing Opioid Withdrawal and Preventing Relapse

American Addiction CenterNIDA currently supports three main medications for the treatment of opioid abuse and dependency and the prevention of relapse: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. As it is not a good idea to stop oxycodone suddenly, a medical detox program may instead use a tapering method, wherein drug amounts are slowly lowered over a set length of time until the drug is removed fully from the body.

Opioid replacement therapy is another method of ensuring that the opioid receptors remain at least partially engaged, which reduces both withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Longer-acting opioid drugs, such as methadone, can be used to keep these receptors full with lower amounts and fewer doses. Methadone is sometimes abused, however, so it may not be the first choice during detox from oxycodone.

Buprenorphine is another 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” is not as intense if these partial agonists are abused, and buprenorphine even has a ceiling so that after a certain amount is taken, it no longer has any effect.

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 substance abuse treatment 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.

Learn More

Behavioral therapies, counseling sessions, and long-term support groups are also included in opioid abuse and dependency treatments. As a result, comprehensive care is designed to care for the person as a whole, from detox into recovery and beyond.


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